Carlos Salinas de Gotari -
an unwelcome visitor to these shores

Carlos Salinas de Gotari ws President of Mexico from 1988 to 1994. Shortly after leaving office, his brother Raul was arrested on charges of corruption and complicity in politically motivated murder. Carlos Salinas left the country, moving to Cuba and Canada before arriving in Ireland in the Spring of 1996, allegedly posing as a banana importer. Salinas took up residence in a small townhouse behind high security gates off Grand Canal Street in Dublin 2, behind the old Sir Patrick Dunne's Hospital.

Why Salinas chose to come to Ireland is not absolutely clear, but it hardly had anything to do with the weather. He has told reporters that he is a friend of Albert Reynolds and an admirer of Charles Haughey, which may well be true, as Reynolds is well connected in Mexico,having visited the country and holidayed on the yacht of billionaire Irish Honorary Consul Romulo O Fairril. O Fairril contributed US$75 million to Carlos Salinas' election campaign fund. Another factor in Salinas' decision to come to Ireland could be the fact that Ireland has no extradition treaty with Mexico.

Why we think he should leave Ireland as fast as possible is, on the other hand, absolutely clear. Our objections to Carlos Salinas have relatively little to do with his brother's speedy accumulation of nearly a hundred million US dollars in Swiss bank accounts while on a salary of less than $200 000 a year (one of the charges he faces in Mexico is 'inexplicable enrichment'). Carlos did give his brother the job (boss of the state food subsidy organisation, supposed to help the poor), and a Citibank manager has testified that documents relating to Raul's amazing money moving were collected from her office by the President's limousine, but compared to the rest of his achievements, this is all very small beer.

The Salinas presidency started on a sour note. A bigshot in the PRI (Party of Institutional Revolution) which has been the only party in government since 1929, Salinas was unlucky to face a serious opposition candidate, Cuautemoc Cardenas. Cardenas, whose father had been a popular president due to his policy of giving land to peasants in the 1940s, left the PRI and ran as an independent, left-wing candidate. Despite a campaign that cost far more than the average US presidential campaign, and a vast party machine to back him against Cardenas, Carlos Salinas is widely acknowledged to have got far fewer votes than his rival. This did not mean that he lost the election, however. The computers used to calculate the results broke down for several weeks, and when the result was finally made public, Salinas had 'triumphed'. This was just the start of a presidential career that would result in the living standards of most Mexicans - and eventually the economy - careering ... down the hill to disaster.

Salinas continued the economic policies of his predecessor, President de la Madrid, which in turn were largely dictated by the international lenders who 'restructured' Mexico's foreign debts after the threatened defaulting in 1982. But the new president had ambitious dreams: he would modernize the Mexican economy and bring Mexico into the First World. Two events at towards the end of his period in office are held up as evidenceof his success: Mexico joining the OECD in 1993 and NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), which came into force on the first of January, 1994.

This transition was to be achieved by the application of an economic theory which came out of Harvard in the US. Called 'neoliberalism', it has become the watchword of the IMF and World Bank and governments all over the world. What it means for the vast majority of people anywhere it is applied can be clearly seen in the case of Mexico.

The super rich elite benefit greatly. Mexico is now number five on the scale of countries with the most dollar billionaires, according to Forbes, the US business magazine. Industrial workers' rights come under attack from the government, particularly rights to organise unions and strikes: in Mexico this has effected even those sectors where corporatist, government-friendly unions have been strongest. The establishment of open markets such as the NAFTA area benefits multinationals, who can move with ease, weakening the bargaining power of workers, who are not granted any freedom of movement, and smaller producers. Evidence of this can be found in plenty in Mexico, from the terrible working conditions in the 'maquila' factories of the North, to the ruination of peasants caused by the 'dumping'at low prices of grain by agribusiness giants.

Salinas harvested great unpopularity for his land policy. As president he tried to roll back the gains which peasants had won (largely under the father of his rival, Cardenas, almost 50 years earlier). Huge areas of land had been taken into common ownership by rural communities and administered according to customs rooted in the pre-colonial civilisations. Salinas began to dismantle this system, changing the constitution to allow peasants to become owners of their land on an individual and permanent basis, rather than as part of a collective. The direction this would lead in was easy to predict: smallholders would be forced into spiralling debts by unequal competition from multinational agribusiness and, eventually, would sell out to those interests, migrate to the cities and swell the armies of unemployed, depressing the price of labour.

The President's policies met with resistance in many instances and where this was the case, the administration resorted to varying degrees of human rights violations to crush the opposition. Organisations such as Amnesty International documented many cases of torture, imprisonment, attacks and murder of political opponents of the regime during the Salinas presidency. The most serious challenge came towards the end of his time in office, and lead to the president declaring war on the indigenous people of Chiapas, a state in the South East, who had risen against his neoliberal economics.

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) emerged from the jungle of Chiapas, a state rich in natural resources whose people are among the poorest in Mexico, on the first of January 1994, the day the North American =46ree Trade Agreement came into force. This was no coincidence: the Zapatistas, indigenous peasants from remote communities, issued a Declaration of War, in which they condemned the marginalization and oppression of the indigenous peoples over the centuries and in its current form. They called on all Mexicans to liberate the nation from the threat of neoliberalism and to replace the president and his party with a truly democratic Mexico. The most despised of Mexican Society, furthest in all senses of the word from Salinas and his First World billionaires, had arisen from the grave to challenge his power.

Salinas recovered from the shock extremely quickly, and ordered an immediate offensive against the rebels. The Federal Army, which had been equipped (supposedly for the 'war' against drugs) by the US, rushed troops into Chiapas and launched an all-out assault on the rebels. But the latter proved more difficult to find than Salinas had expected, and their call to the nation, which was circulated around the world, proved extremely attractive to a great many people.

Massive demonstrations in Mexico and international protests forced the President to call off the invasion, but not before almost 150 people had died and others imprisoned and tortured. (It must be stressed that the Zapatistas withdrew from three of the four towns they had taken without engaging with the Federal troops, and only returned fire when trapped in the fourth, Ocosingo.) Throughout the rest of Salinas' term of office, a high troop presence was increased in the region and a policy of low intensity warfare was pursued by the government. By the time Salinas left office there were 40 000 Federal troops in the areas where the rebels were active. The government accepted an EZLN offer of peace talks in February, but consistently stalled and introduced obstacles, leading to the collapse of the talks.

The gross violation of human rights increased steadily during the years that Salinas was president, bringing Mexico back to a low similar to that of the 1970s. At the end of his term of office, Amnesty International reported:

"Hundreds of people were tortured and ill-treated by the army and other security forces in Chiapas. In other parts of the country the frequent use of torture by law enforcement agents, particularly the state judicial police, continued to be reported. Torture methods included beatings; near-asphyxiation with plastic bags; forcing peppered water into the nose; electric shocks and burning. Some detainees died as a result. Confessions extracted under duress continuedto be admitted as evidence in courts, and medical treatment for detainees who suffered torture was frequently not available. By the end of the year none of those responsible for any of the hundreds of cases of torture reperted in Chiapas and throughout the country had been brought to justice."

We hold Carlos Salinas de Gotari responsible for these violations of human rights, for the continuing war against the indigenous peoples of Chiapas and for the rising tide of poverty in Mexico, brought about by his economic policies and worsening as those policies are continued by the successor he appointed as PRI candidate in 1994, the current president Ernesto Zedillo.

We believe that a person responsible for murder, torture and the ruin of millions of people deserves no welcome in this country, and are opposed to any toleration of Carlos Salinas de Gotari in Ireland. We believe it is a disgrace that many people fleeing from persecution are treated with suspicion if they seek asylum in Ireland, while Salinas is free to remain here. Is money the loudest voice on this island?

The Irish Mexico Group, February 1997

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