Pri and Carlos Salinas

Salinas PRI

Carlos Salinas de Gortari and the turning Point for Mexico and the PRI

Mexico is a nation long embattled by poverty, political corruption and exploitation by powers foreign and domestic. This disposition is best captured by a consideration of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held the office of the presidency from 1930 until 2000. The dominant political party would be notorious for acts of political and electoral repression as well as for the ultimate mismanagement of the Mexican economy, leading to its fundamental meltdown and its inflation ailment in the 1980s.

1988 would mark a turning point for Mexico, with the PRI candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari taking office under the heavy shroud of election fraud. Consistent with the hostility which the party had come to increasingly face from the Mexican people, Salinas would become a target for the anger of the Mexican people. Ironically, he would also become a reformer, bringing about many of the changes in Mexican policy and practice that would ultimately lead to his party's first electoral defeat. While it cannot be said that this was his intent, we can see in Salinas the contradiction that also seemed to afflict Mexico for so long. Within, progress and corruption commingled problematically, producing the discussion here on Mexico's electoral and economic history leading into the election, the massive fraud occurring during the election and the legacy of the resultant Salinas administration.

Part 1: The Decline of the PRI (1968-1987)

Just as with the President Salinas discussed here, the PRI's history is one of internal contradiction. Historically claiming to represent the interests of the Mexican revolution, and thus, the sentiments of popular ascension, the PRI has nonetheless employed its unentitled self-identification as a socialist state in order to nationalize state industries, dominate media outlets and exact an overwhelming control over the political process. Though across its unchallenged history during Mexico's first century of independence the PRI would engage Mexico in some periods of positive gain, it would ultimately be the force that, across the 20 years leading up to the administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, would subject the people, the economy and the government to serious misfortune.

Given its history as an oligarchic force in the political and economic processes, the PRI has long resisted with aggressive force the entitlement of its political opponents. However, for nearly three decades beginning in 1940, Mexico would enjoy rapid growth and theretofore unseen prosperity. For the Mexican people, the swell of available jobs, the increasing value of the peso and the positive influx of foreign investment all would help to retain the authority of the PRI. Indeed, never was it very far from the minds and hearts of the Mexican people that the continuous rule of the PRI should be seen as indicative of the unaccountability of the electoral process. Namely, that the PRI was the only party to enjoy majority rule suggested that elections were little more than a show of democracy atop a totalitarian rulership.

That is why, with the economic collapse that would follow this period, the public would increasingly set its attention on the inherently counter-democratic nature of the PRI's authority. An incident on Oct. 2, 1968 would mark the beginning of a period of increasing tumult in Mexico which would persist until the reformations at the center of this discussion. (McDonnell, 1) the Tlateloco Massacre would pit progressive college students against the government and its dominance over economic industries, at which it was now increasingly proving to be a poor hand. Inequality and an evident disinterest by the government in advancing the cause of the poor would collide with sentiments of suspicion as to the government's even more problematic disinterest in the democratic process. Thus, when Mexico City was selected to host the Olympic Games that year, students at the National Polytechnic Institute used this as an opportunity to protest inequality and political injustice in Mexico. Just as the student sought to bring international attention to the behaviors of the PRI, so would they succeed, instigating the military engage lethal force on unarmed student protesters, killing hundreds and subsequently suppressing the numbers and the cause of the violence through mainstream media outlets. This would not only touch off a subsequent two decades of fomenting crisis in the relationship between the PRI and the public, but it would also have a direct connection to the policies and perspective of Salinas, who is by no accident the controversial figure at the center of this discussion. Indeed, often identified as a neo-liberal economist, his association to these protests is in a way more than just theoretical. "The national university that produced most of the 1968 protesters was the intellectual enclave for Mexico's elite, and the youth of then-prosperous middle classes. Mexico's top officials-including President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, several of his Cabinet and possible ruling party nominees to succeed him-are not only alumni of the school. They are also alums of the 'Generation of 1968,' and their attitudes were shaped by that drizzly October evening." This should not, of course, dissuade from a central reality to this discussion which would be Salinas identification with the ruling party in a time when Mexicans would demand change and democracy.

This is a premise which will be revisited with greater depth in the critical discussion hereafter on the inherent contradiction in this unique administration.

In the lead up to this administration would be two decades of deepening strife, stimulated in no small degree by the rearing of massive foreign debt and a national dominance over Mexican industries. Pairing this with a continued impression of exclusion of political, ethnic and economic groups, the PRI would find the 1970s to be a difficult era. The nationalization and overleveraging of the oil industry, pooled upon by a short-sighted dependency on foreign borrowing, would land the PRI in a very serious economic predicament. False impression and the manufacturing of the image of prosperity, two calling cards of a totalitarian government, would help to demonstrate the manner in which the PRI would succeed in maintaining its authority. Such is to say that where its inequities and failures to represent the public had fallen short, its control over media outlets and its proclivity toward deception had allowed it to retain the impression of proper governmental stewardship.

During this time, false optimism would belie a brewing disaster in the Mexican economy. In 1978, positive reports would about, with the Washington Post, for example, consenting to the impression that "in the short span of less than two years, the Mexican economy has shifted from crisis to recovery, with bankers banging on the door for the privilege of lending big money to the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world." With the discovery and exploitation of several new oil fields during this time, Mexico would experience a recovery allowed by these eager lenders of the world. When a 1982 disruption in the value of the oil market, paired with the PRI's reckless over-production and over-reliance on its oil resources reached the core of the Mexican economy, the peso turned sharply downward in value. According to 1982 article published by the Miami-Herald., "Mexico's inflation rate tripled in 1982, reaching 98.8 per cent, just shy of the 100 per cent that President Miguel de la Madrid had predicted in his inauguration speech Dec. 1, the Federal Bank reported. The annual rate was more than three times the rate of 1981, when prices rose 29.9 per cent. The government has said the 1982 inflation rate was one reason Mexico was forced to devalue its currency three times last year." This was the beginning of a long and miserable period under the leadership of Madrid, who would steward Mexico to its high point of inflation in 1987, where it peaked at 159%. This would produce a dire economic condition in Mexico and, with it, a powerful hostility directed at the PRI just as a successor would be handpicked by the outgoing president. The selection of Carlos Salinas de Gortari would in and of itself produce a great deal of consternation both within and without the party, not owing in specific to his specific character and more reflecting crisis in the economy and in the splintering PRI. His nomination would be unpopular and would be met with the prominent displays of opposition, in the form of party splintering and the consequent formulation of the first meaningful political organizations to take effective electoral formulation.

In 1988, the PRI was reported to be "showing strains over the selection of Salinas. Labor leader Fidel Velazquez quietly walked off the stage as Salinas began his open-air acceptance speech Sunday. A leftist faction within the PRI calling itself the Democratic Current all but rejected the choice because it was made in the old-style way, by the outgoing president, Miguel de la Madrid, and in secret. Such dissidence puts to the test the PRI's near-legendary ability to pull together at election time." Indeed, having never lost an electoral ventureā€¦