Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Vicente Fox and Mexico's greatest president

In Georgie Anne Geyer's article, Is the tide finally turning in Mexico?, she makes another error. She says,
There are no voluntary organizations, no civic involvement, no family foundations – and thus, no accountability, allowing corruption to flourish.
This is very much not true. Almost every wealthy Mexican family has some sort of philanthropic organization which the family funds. For example:

From Carlos Slim Helu, himself:
Telmex and Grupo Carso each have foundations, with a combined fund of $850 million, which will reach $1 billion this year. Last year, we gave out 17,000 scholarships to college students.

We fund infant nutrition programs. Last year, we helped cover the expenses of 11,000 surgical operations in rural areas.
Then, unfortunately, comes this laugher:
We paid bail for 5,000 first-time arrestees accused of minor crimes, so that they wouldn't sit for years in jail waiting for the slow justice system to move.
Imagine Bill Gates bragging about helping to put 5000 petty criminals back on the streets. And I love that name; Carlos Slim. It reminds me of the conversation between Arthur Kennedy and Sir Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia. Guinness, as Prince Feisal, had just offered a back-handed compliment on the cleverness of Peter O'Toole's T. E. Lawrence. Kennedy, playing American newspaperman Jackson Bentley, replied, "Yes, he's a slim customer, isn't he?" Feisal didn't understand "slim customer". Bentley said, "Never mind."

Mexico is filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteer organizations. They just don't stay volunteer for very long. The campesinos whom you see and read about marching in the streets can't afford to travel to the various state capitals to make their displeasure known, let alone all the way to Mexico City. So, someone has to pay their expenses.

Who pays for the transportation and their food when they travel and march, or riot? The political parties which are controlled by the oligarchs and the 40 rich families pay these expenses. The campesinos march around for awhile, disrupting traffic and the daily lives of the almost-just-as-poor city dwellers, then they return home having received platitudes and empty promises from the politicians. The politicians who are also controlled by those same oligarchs and 40 richest families.

What Ms. Geyer and most American pundits do not realize is that it is Mexican culture to be uncivil. A person who takes great pride in keeping their little part of the world clean and neat will thoughtlessly toss an empty sandwich wrapper or drink container out of the window of their taxi or bus so long as it lands in someone elses little part of the world. I see this constantly and still, after all this time, do not cease to shake my head in wonder. A person driving a car will honk their horn in a fury at someone who double parks in front of them forcing them to go around. Then, two blocks later, having arrived at their destination, the furious horn honker will do exactly the same thing to the car behind. Unbelievable.

Mexicans, at least the majority of them, want and expect a nanny state. The government owns almost everything that the oligarchs and rich families do not. The oil belongs to the government. Natural gas belongs to the government. The water belongs to the government. The electrical grid all belongs to the government. The two biggest airlines belong to the government (they are technically privatized but receive cost breaks on fuel which drives out competitors, hence they are owned by the government). Minerals and metals in the ground belong to the government. And on and on.

And Vicente Fox created none of this. His attempts to allow some private enterprise into the elecrical supply grid and the oil industry were soundly defeated in the congress. He stood no chance.

In 1994, the hand picked candidate for the presidency from the PRI, the political party that ruled Mexico for 70 some years, was Donaldo Colosio. Colosio seemed to be the typical party hack of the type usually chosen to run for and win the presidency for the PRI. But something went wrong. Colosio, both in public statements and in private shout fests, proclaimed his independence. Therefore, on a campaign appearance in Tijuana on March 22, 1994, Colosio received three bullets in the head -- in front of thousands of witnesses and on national TV.

The guy who managed to shoot him three times can be seen in the films firing one shot only into the back of Colosio's head before being swarmed under by bodyguards and the police. Where did the other two bullets come from? The man shown firing one shot into Colosio's head was paraded the next day before the press by the triumphant police. "We catcht dee keeler!" Only one small problem; no one could recognize the guy. His appearence had miraculously changed overnight. The police claimed that they had shaved him and given him a prison haircut but insisted it was the same guy. After much missing evidence, missing witnesses, bribes and payoffs and the typically corrupt and botched investigation, a judge ruled, and with a completely straight face, that the man committed the assassination alone.

In any event, a fellow by the name of Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon was chosen to succeed Colosio. Zedillo was another faithful party flunky who was expected to toe the line, especially given the somewhat glaring example of Colosio's fate. And, I suppose, for a little while, he toed that line. But not for long. Outgoing President Carlos Salinas de Gortari had presided over what was maybe the most corrupt 6 year presidential term in Mexico's long and horrific history of corrupt regimes. Zedillo had to take some kind of action as the county was sliding towards ungovernability. He arrested Salinas' brother, Raul, known as "Mr. 10 Percent", for, among other things, the murder of the PRI party president, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, on September 28, 1994, just 6 months after Colosio's murder. The Salinas boys were fighting desperately to cling to power. Raul was thrown into prison and Carlos fled the country.

Zedillo had a real mess on his hands. He tried to devalue the peso which had been propped up artificially by the Salinas regime. This was a common practice by the Mexican government and had been going on for many years. The outgoing president was required by custom to devalue the peso just before leaving office so that the incoming president could begin the artificial currency inflation anew. Kind of like a courtesy flush. Carlos Salinas didn't do this for Ernesto Zedillo. Zedillo foolishly allowed the peso to float freely for a couple of seconds too long. It crashed.

The Mexican peso lost a full 60% of its value almost overnight, plunging Mexico into a financial disaster. Only emergency loans, guaranteed by the USA, bailed Mexico out. However, Mexico's budding middle class was devastated. I was here at that time and several of my employees lost their homes and cars. Mexican banks at that time only issued variable rate loans. The interest rates they charged caused people's mortgage and home loan payments, as well as tens of thousands of business loan payments, to double and triple within weeks of the peso disaster. Just about everybody, except, of course, for the oligarchs and rich families who owned the banks, got wiped out.

This was not really Zedillo's fault. He trusted his economic advisers -- who else did he have? -- and they had no idea that the peso was so falsely overvalued by the Salinas regime or what was likely to happen with a free float. In any event, Raul Salinas was still in jail and Carlos Salinas was still out of the country. Zedillo spent the next 6 years trying to rebuild Mexico's shattered economy.

As for Raul, he received a sentence of 30 years for the murder of Massieu. Then, as time went by, he was charged with additional counts of illegal enrichment and money laundering. He had his sentence increased to 40 years and then to 50 years. Then a friendlier judge reduced it back to 40 years. Then a still friendlier judge reduced it again to the original 30 years. Then the friendliest judge of all tossed out all the remaining charges due to "lack of evidence" and Raul, after 12 years in prison, walked out a free man just about 3 weeks ago.

Meanwhile, shoes kept dropping on Zedillo's head. He appointed a Mexican Federal drug czar, one Gen. Jose de Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo. Gutierrez Rebollo, who America's very own drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, called, "an honest man" and "a guy of absolute unquestioned integrity," was arrested by Zedillo's federal agents. Gen. Gutierrez Rebollo was arrested for being in the long-time employ of Mexico's most notorious narcotraficante, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the alleged leader of the Juarez drug cartel.

All this supposedly happened without the knowledge of the American government. I don't think that is true. I have been told that the CIA was well aware of Gutiérrez's involvement with Carrillo Fuentes and had been for several years. I have been told that the CIA went into shock when Zedillo announced the general's appointment. I have been told that the CIA dropped this bombshell into Zedillo's lap and then sat back to see what he would do. It is possible that the CIA did not inform President Clinton or Gen. McCaffrey beforehand. Zedillo did the right thing. Gutierrez Rebollo went directly to jail, did not pass GO, and did not collect $100.

Meanwhile. in the state of Guanajuato, Vicente Fox had been elected for the second time to the governorship. He would, however, be serving his first term. He had run for the post in 1991 and been elected, but again, as has happened so often in Mexico, the PRI which controlled the ballot counting announced that their candidate had won. The stink raised by Fox and the PAN was so smelly and noisy that President Carlos Salinas was forced to remove the newly installed PRI governor. And did he give the job to Vicente Fox, the election winner? No, as El Presidente, he decided to pick another PAN political hack more friendly to his regime and installed him as the governor. Unbelievable. Fox was so disgusted that he dropped out of politics completely.

Then, in 1995, Fox decided to run again, was elected again by a wide margin and this time he was allowed to take his rightfully won office. He soon began to campaign for president without the full support of the PAN. By the time the candidate choosing process began, he was so popular that the PAN had no option but to choose him as its candidate. The PRI, headed by President Zedillo himself, chose a guy named Francisco Labastida Ochoa, who makes the word "colorless" seem too colorful, as its candidate. And, of course, old leftist PRD warhorse Cuahtemoc Cardenas rounded out the 3 man field.

Just a second on Cardenas. He actually won the presidential election in 1988, defeating Carlos Salinas. However, there was a mysterious computer crash at the department of the interior, run by a guy named Manuel Bartlett Díaz. It took 10 full days to get the computers up and running again, during which time Salinas miraculously vaulted from 3rd to 1st place. Adios, Cuahtemoc Cardenas. Bartlett's reward was the governorship of the state of Puebla. He made a run for the PRI nomination for president to face Fox in 2000 but his involvement in the massive election fraud in 1988 made him poisonous to even the PRI. Also, the CIA planted some stories, maybe false, maybe true, of his alleged involvement with narcotraficantes. He is now, I think, in the national senate.

And now we return to Ernesto Zedillo. I believe, with very little supporting evidence, that Zedillo, even as a party hack who had seen the inner workings of the PRI at almost every level, from local to state to federal, was stunned at the grip that the party had on the country. He was aghast at the control exercised over the party by the oligarchs and the rich Mexican families. He stood by with his hands tied as billions of dollars so desperately needed by the people were squandered by the PRI governments, federal, state and local. Sweetheart loans that were never repaid which drove the banks into insolvency which the government then had to take over, privatization deals where valuable government owned assets, like Telmex, were sold to rich oligarchs, like Carlos Slim, for a pittance, and example after example of corruption that Zedillo simply could not control.

So, when Vicente Fox decided to set out to wrest the presidency from the PRI after 71 corrupt and disastrous years, Ernesto Zedillo decided to sit out the wresting. Instead of using his considerable power as president to back the ghostly Labistida, Zedillo, quite simply, did nothing. I believe that he knew in his heart that Mexico could not survive another PRI regime.

Oh, he occasionally made a little noise, probably just to keep up appearances for his friends with whom he had worked for so many years. But Zedillo did not ever intend to do anything to help assure another PRI victory, tainted or otherwise. How much he did behind the scenes to torpedo his party remains open to speculation. But it is certain that he did little or nothing to help the PRI and Labastida.

When the dust settled in the 2000 election, Vicente Fox was the first opposition candidate elected president since the founding of the PRI in 1929. And Ernesto Zedillo left Mexico to become the president of the International Development Bank. He now lectures, I believe, from behind the safe confines of the ivy covered walls of Harvard U.

I think that it is fair to say that, without the withdrawal of Ernesto Zedillo from active participation in the 2000 Mexican presidential election, Vicente Fox would never have been president. That makes Zedillo, in my mind, anyway, arguably one of Mexico's greatest presidents, if not the greatest.

Francisco Madero led the Mexican revolution against president and dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1910 and was subsequently elected president. But he was also subsequently soon shot dead. His presidency never had a chance to be judged. The mythical Benito Juarez successfully took back control of the country from Emperor Maximillian. But Juarez's repudiation of the country's foreign debt which led to the French invasion and Maximillian's rule in the first place has tainted his reputation, except among the indigenous peoples because he was one of them.

And President Lázaro Cardenas, a Priista but also father of the PRD's Cuahtemoc Cardenas, is revered in Mexico for nationalizing the oil industry in 1938. But he formed PEMEX, probably second only to Nigeria's state owned oil company for incompetence and corruption. In addition, the expropriation of the property of 17 international oil companies caused several governments, most notably those of the United States and Great Britain, to boycott Mexican oil. Only WWII saved the Mexican economy. In 1942, Cardenas was forced to sign a reparations agreement that brought Mexico's foreign debt to a number that was staggering in those days, some $130,000,000. That debt, now in the hundreds of billions of dollars, remains to this day.

So I say that Ernesto Zedillo is Mexico's greatest president. He presided over the partial recovery from a financial meltdown that was not of his making, tossed one of the most powerful and corrupt men in the country who was also an ex-president's brother into the slammer, forced that corrupt ex-president to flee the country and arrested one of the most powerful military generals in the country as well as one who had the support of the country's most feared and deadly narcotraficante. And Ernesto Zedillo got out of Mexico alive. Viva Zedillo!

Next up: Immigration, legal and otherwise.

Please visit the Pale Horse Galleries online store. Thanks!

Note: I didn't use Spellcheck because the Spanish accent marks drive Blogger nuts. It takes me 15 minutes to fix my post.

TAGS: , , , ,

No comments: