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Mexican Interest A Political Analyst Considers Salinas de Gortari’s First Year BY BARBARA BELEJACK Mexico City 4111 ORGE CASTANEDA is the coauthor, with Robert Pastor, of Limits to Friendship \(Alfred A. Knopf, of historical, economic, political and cultural aspects of the United States and Mexico relationship. “Because of the tremendous importance relations with the United States represent, all Mexican leaders, intellectuals, and politicians dream of ‘solving’ the problems, ‘improving’ the relationship, and at the same time `defending’ and ‘promoting’ Mexico’s interest,” wrote Castafieda. “The two ambitions . are incompatible, although a precarious and peaceful coexistence can be achieved.” Castafieda, 36, is a professor of political science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, a former adviser to the Mexican government on international affairs, and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times editorial page. The following interview was conducted with Castaneda in Mexico City shortly before President Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s October visit to the United States. Let’s start with a variation on the old Ed Koch question with respect to President Salinas: How’s he doing? The key point right now at least in terms of how he’s doing domestically, which is after all what counts, is that the honeymoon does seem to be over. He was clearly on a roll during his first four or five months in office, but since early July he seems now to be in a rut. There has been a similar succession of mistakes or failures dating from the Michoacan elections, which were handled the old-fashioned way by stealing them the debt agreement, which over a period of time appears to be doubly insufficient, because in itself what the debt agreement brought Mexico was much less than what was needed and much less than what was expected, and secondly because it was oversold. Since the president presented it as the deal to end all deals, the deal that would allow Mexican children to sleep at night, and the Mexican people to no longer carry around this enormous weight on their shoulders, and then it turned Barbara Belejack is a journalist working in Mexico City. out that none of that was true. There’s a significant amount of backlash. He’s had the Cananea Copper Mine problems. Cananea was the cradle of the Mexican revolution, a large important copper mine which on the one hand is inefficient and featherbedded, but on the other hand does earn the country two to three hundred million dollars a year in copper exports. When the collective labor contract was due to be renegotiated, instead of pursuing negotiations, the government declared the mine bankrupt, closed it down, sent the army in, and decided to lay off all the mineworkers with the possibility of rehiring them in different conditions sort of a Mexican version of industrial Thatcherism, cactus Thatcherism. Of course, what happened was that it’s Mexico and not England, so there was tremendous indignation about why was the army being sent in to the cradle of the revolution, why was the mine being closed down, if a few months before there was an attempt to sell it off and it was presented as highly profitable? Why was the union being blamed for the inefficiency? They stopped blaming the union and threw the former director into jail, beat him up and forced him to confess that he had done all sorts of terrible things with the mine. Finally, they decided they wouldn’t sell the mine to any foreign concern, they would sell it to the workers. Which workers? No workers wanted it, so now they’re going to lend money to the Confederation of Confederation can buy the mine with government money. All of this is not extraordinarily coherent. Let’s go back to some of those spectacular coups, which have earned the president great recognition in the U.S. press. How much of a change resulted, for example, from the demise of former oil workers boss, La Quina? Is there any difference in the union or the industry? No. I think what perhaps explains this apparent inconsistency of six months on a roll and six months now in a rut is that the initial successes were of a very superficial nature. It was important to liquidate the corrupt leadership, but only if it was a first step toward democratization of the oil industry. None of that has happened. The new union leadership is as authoritarian, as corrupt, as undemocratic as the old one. It’s just that the new leader is Salinas’s boss . . . or Salinas’s crook, let’s put it that way, as opposed to being an independent crook. But he’s still a crook. Much was made about the fact that the former leader of the teachers’ union, the largest union in all of Latin America, was forced to step down partly by Salinas, partly by a very strong protest movement within the union, but the fact is that the new leadership is just about as bad as the old leadership. With regard to the stock exchange swindles, the high government officials who were involved in this are scot free. Was it all symbolism? Would you concede that there was or is a serious intent to reform institutions? Or are you saying that these were all steps taken to influence public opinion, particularly U.S. public opinion? Clearly, a lot of these things were done above all for the benefit of American public opinion, which explains why Salinas is certainly more popular in the United States than he is in Mexico. For example, the drug issues are, I wouldn’t say irrelevant in Mexico, but certainly not paid as much attention to here as they are in the United States. I think what’s most important is that this is a country whose problems are so serious that you can’t just take first steps and leave it at that. If you only take first steps and not go beyond them, you transform something intrinsically good, positive, into something which becomes highly questionable. There’s a lot of questioning in Mexico today with regard to the way in which the president has carried out many of these things, whether there is not an indiscriminate use of the army, whether there is not a new authoritarian sort of sheriff-type mentality appearing, whereby it doesn’t matter whether a law is respected or not. Are you surprised by the president’s actions so far? What I have found surprising, and what many people have found to be different from what we expected of him, is that he seems to be much more desperate, much more in a rush to do things than one would have expected. But all of them or most of them have taken place much sooner than was expected. One of the major criticisms of the debt agreement was that Mexico was in too big of a rush to sign an agreement. The same is true of the whole privatization THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11