Union Tribune

December 7, 2002 

Salinas a NAFTA conference headliner
Mexican ex-leader hailed and hated


WASHINGTON – Carlos Salinas, the embattled former Mexican
president who was first hailed as a genius for modernizing the
Mexican economy and then despised for leading the country
over the brink of a massive peso devaluation, will be a featured
attraction here Monday at a conference to evaluate the North
American Free Trade Agreement.

Salinas will join two other key NAFTA architects, former U.S.
President George H.W. Bush and former Canadian Prime Minister
Brian Mulroney, to discuss the legacy of the controversial
agreement, which was unveiled in 1992 and went into effect in

Their joint appearance will kick off two days of NAFTA reviews
at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The event will mark a rare public appearance for Salinas, who is
roundly despised in Mexico because of the devastating peso
devaluation and recession that staggered the country shortly
after his term ended in 1994. He has lived most of the time since
then in self-imposed exile, first in Ireland and then in Cuba.

Salinas has been dogged by reports of widespread corruption,
stemming not only from his rapid-fire privatization of the
economy but also from the scandalous life of his brother Raúl.

Raúl Salinas is in jail, convicted on charges of plotting a murder
that wrote a new chapter in Mexico's long, melodramatic and
often farcical history of political intrigue. Revelations that he
squirreled away tens of millions of dubiously obtained dollars in
Swiss banks only lengthened the suspicions that shadowed his

Sidney Weintraub, an expert on Mexico at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, said Carlos Salinas leaves a
mixed legacy of scandal and accomplishment. 

"In some respects, he wasn't the most savory character in the
world, but he profoundly transformed Mexico, and I think for
the better," Weintraub said.

Weintraub said the Salinas-era reforms pulled Mexico decisively
away from long-standing protectionist policies that erected tariff
walls, behind which much of Mexican business grew fat and
inefficient, at the cost of the nation's overall economic health.

To win acceptance of NAFTA, Salinas exercised persuasive
talents that Mexican historian Enrique Krauze said made him
"the best international salesman ever born in Mexico." Salinas
touted the agreement as a sure-fire program for economic

Proclaiming that Mexico was committed to "export products,
not people," he also declared that it would reduce illegal
immigration to the United States by building hope in Mexico.

Some parts of the Mexican economy have flourished with
NAFTA's preferential access to U.S. markets. Others haven't.

"Whereas wage ratios between Mexico and the United States
were 8 to 1 before NAFTA's implementation, they are now 10 to
1," UCSD political scientist Peter H. Smith and Canadian scholar
Edward J. Chambers report in their just-published book,
"NAFTA in the New Millennium."