Monday, July 21, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Ginger Thompson, of the New York Times, has a wonderful little piece on Mexican ex-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. All in all, it is a fairly positive look at a man that is considered one of the country's most corrupt politicians of the post-Revolutionary 20th Century Mexico. The article seems to gloss over the really seedy and base aspects of the Salinas sexenio (a term Mexicans use to describe their country's 6-year presidential term). Such events include widescale corruption, extortion, murder, and - some would say - gangsterism. But Salinas really was a very popular President in Mexico throughout his six years in office - and his popularity emerged very much out of his very macho and quite effective leadership style. (You would never think this by looking at a picture of the man - a small, bald fellow.)

As someone who has studied very closely the Salinas regime's foreign policy, I have argued in the past that the impressive reforms carried out by Salinas in the foreign policy realm, particularly in foreign economic policy, were possible principally because of Salinas's dogged and persistent determination to push his reform agenda AND to wage a very intensive and successful public relations campaign to convince the Mexican people of the correctness of his chosen policy direction. I think Mexicans respond well to decisive and forceful leadership, even if at times this leads to the types of abuse of power that the Salinas administration carried out. And this might explain, as Thompson suggests, why Salinas is witnessing a comeback of sorts from the deepest recesses of Mexican anger and resentment over his administration's abuses.

From a moral and ethical viewpoint, I find Salinas to be an ugly fellow; but I cannot but admit that he, like Napoleon and Kutuzov as depicted by Tolstoy in his epic novel War and Peace, fits the "Great Man" theory of historical change. I do believe that Salinas, through sheer force of his own leadership, changed Mexico's relationship with the world in remarkable and impressive (and I would argue positive) ways. Before Salinas, Mexico was still quite xenophobic and insular, suspicious of the foreign. After (and because of) Salinas, Mexico is boldly open to the world and has embraced an internationalism that has served Mexico well on so many levels, but which could not have been imagined a mere 10 years ago.

I will be very curious to watch how Salinas (still a young 55 years-old) will evolve in the Mexican political dynamic over the next 10-15 years. He could very well yet show a staying power in the long term that could rival Plutarco Calles. Stay tuned and pay attention to any stories you come across that profile this man.

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