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Salinas--Carlos, That Is--Is No Friend to Mexico

October 13, 2000|HECTOR AGUILAR CAMIN | Historian Hector Aguilar Camin's latest book is the novel "El Resplandor de la Madera" (The Shining of the Wood) (Alfaguara, 1999)

MEXICO CITY — The just-released 1,400-page book by former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari in defense of his government has been destroyed by a few sentences uttered in a secretly taped conversation Oct. 7 by a man who all of Mexico now believes is Carlos Salinas' brother, Raul. In those few lines, Raul Salinas admits that the tens of millions of dollars he deposited in a sadly celebrated Swiss bank account came, at least in part, from public funds. Raul, who is serving a 27-year prison term for murder, reveals in this conversation with his sister Adriana that their brother Carlos knew about the transfer of funds, since the operation was done under his instruction. Raul affirms also that part of the money in the bank account is the former president's, not his.

These are hurtful accusations that, if true, are irrefutable proof of the complicity of the brothers Salinas--a charge that the former president has denied consistently.

The revelation angered everyone, especially, I believe, those of us who had given Carlos Salinas the benefit of the doubt. Why had we not wanted to believe these charges? In my case, it was for reasons of friendship and because of an extreme dislike of the Mexican custom of figuratively hanging former presidents who during their time in office had been glorified. It was also because I have a profound conviction in the process of modernization of this country, which began in 1982 and for which Salinas was a decisive, if not the central, leader.

Salinas dedicated six years to preparing his defense in the form of his book, "Mexico, a Difficult Step Towards Modernity." But during its launching in Mexico, it was clear to everyone that the book was written in the spirit of vindication and revenge, more than a wish for reconciliation and clarification.

In the television program "Open Zone," where Salinas presented his book, I asked him if he came to Mexico with revenge in mind like the Count of Monte Cristo, or with a spirit of humility like St. Francis of Assisi. I also asked him if he had an apology to make to the Mexican people.

But going forth in the spirit of his book, Salinas lost the opportunity to offer apologies and instead went on the offensive, blaming other people, in particular the outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo. Carlos Salinas' offensive strategy offended even his older brother, Raul, who felt betrayed. Thus, apparently, the telephone conversation with Adriana.

The allegations made by Raul are enough to destroy Carlos Salinas' credibility, if any credibility remained. Raul's denouncements were the last straw in throwing the former president into the pit of corruption that Mexicans had perceived as part and parcel of his administration.

On Dec. 6, 1995, I was interviewed by [reporter] Gerardo Galarza of Proceso magazine and said the following:

"I was and I am an ally of modernization in Mexico through opening our economy to the world and liberalizing our economy and our political life. I was friends with [Carlos] Salinas as far as I could be while he was president. Presidents don't have friends, they have collaborators. I was not a collaborator of Salinas, even though he offered me various positions in his administration, which I refused.

"I have tried to remain his friend today, as much as I can, even when his presidency was over and along with it, the collaborators and the party loyalists. It has not been easy, fundamentally because the crimes proven committed by his brother Raul have cast a suspicious cloud over the impunities of his government.

"I am not and and have not been a party to the excesses, much less the possible crimes, but I am a supporter of his projects for modernization. Modernization implied, according to me, a commitment to democracy, a following of the rule of law and a decision to end the impunity in the judicial system which my generation--Salinas' generation--refuted in 1968.

"My friendship with Salinas was never synonymous with complicity, just as political and economic modernity in Mexico cannot be built at the same time that family members of the president are opening multimillion-dollar overseas accounts under pseudonyms. It's very simply not right."

Through words attributed to Raul Salinas, the former president has been clearly implicated in the illegal machinations of his brother, and he should respond to the allegations.

Postscript: The telephone recording in which Raul apparently admits and denounces the complicity of his brother was obtained, it appears, illegally. The tapping of telephones in Mexico is a crime if it's not authorized by a judge. Thus the impunity of Carlos Salinas has been discovered amid an illegality that was allegedly done by the government.

Mexico has changed a lot, but not enough. In terms of the rule of law, Mexican politics continues to bite its own old tail with its own old teeth.

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