Page 23


LAS AMERICAS Mexican Soap Opera BY BARBARA BELEJACK Mexico City OU WOULDN’T THINK there would be standing room only at 9 in the morning for an economics lecture delivered in ever so slightly Teutonicaccented English, but that’s the way it was last week at the Hotel Maria Isabel Sheraton, just a block away from Mexico City’s landmark Angel of Independence. The occasion was a forum sponsored by the Mexican Association of Industrial Relations Executives. The lecturer was Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Rudiger Dornbusch, best known in Mexico as the former professor of former Finance Minister Pedro Aspe and the man who spent three years preaching that the Mexican peso was seriously overvalued. Just the night before Dornbusch spoke, Mexico’s current Finance Minister, Guillermo Ortiz; announced a few more drastic measuresa nearly 10-percent cut in the government budget, a 35-percent increase in the price of gasoline, 20-percent increase in the price of natural gas, an increase in value-added tax from 10 to 15 percent, and a continuing squeeze on credit. If you believe official projections, Mexico can look forward to 42percent inflation and a 2-percent contraction in GDP, all of which means massive loss of jobs and smalland medium-sized businesses, all in the name of the kinds of belttightening, harsh-medicine measures designed to squeeze the Mexican economy to death and keep those anonymous investors out there in global investorland, happy. The industrial relations executives paid between 500 to 700 seriously devalued Mexican pesos to hear Rudi contemplate the opportunities and risks in the global economy and place a lukewarm seal of approval on the latest Zedillo economic plan. Whether they got their money’s worth just to find out that there is growing inequality of income distribution and growing economic risks and opportunities is hard to say, particularly those who don’t realize they’re already plugged out of the global economy because they had to listen to Rudi via simultaneous translation in Spanish. But in Mexico these days, there’s probably some value to be hadeven if you Barbara Belejack is an editor at the weekly El Financiero International in Mexico City. are monolingualin plunking down your hard-earned pesos just to hear some guy with a slight Teutonic accent refer to Carlos Salinas de Gortari, as “the Nick Leeson of Mexico.” Think of it, the former president, the poster boy of neoliberalism, the man who was never written about without the words “Harvard-educated” attached to his name, compared with the 28-year-old rogue trader who broke the bank and brought down Barings. T. PERUVIAN NOVELIST Mario Vargas Llosa once described Mexico as the perfect dictatorship, with all the trappings of democracy wrapped up in an authoritarian presidential system. Lately another Vargas Llosa phrase comes to mind. In Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, the thinly disguised auto-biographical novel of his youth, Vargas Llosa weaves together the story of his courtship and first marriage to operas produced by the overworked, erratic “scriptwriter” for whom the young man, Varguitas, works part-time. As the harried writer, producer, director and actorthe scriptwriter of the titlebecomes more and more overworked, he goes over the edge. Characters from one soap opera begin to show up in other soap operas, until all of the stories seem to blend and the scriptwriter seems to go mad on-air. Need we say more? In one week, Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of the former president, was arrested for killing a former PRlista official \(also a nas began calling up news programs defending his economic record and absolving himself of obstructing justice in the murder of former PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. He then announced he was going on hunger strike to clear his name. The former president conducted a self-styled hunger strike via a private jet, flying back and forth between Mexico and Monterrey, where he camped out at the home of a diehard Salinas loyalist in a poor neighborhood that had been substantially enriched by government funds during his administration. Clad in a leather jacket with sheepskin trim, Carlos Salinas called off the hunger strike after 44 hours. Meanwhile, Mario Ruiz Massieu, the brother of the slain PRlista official/former Salinas brother-in-law, was picked up by U.S. Customs at the Newark airport. He is now alleged to have covered up the investigation of his brother’s murder by omitting references to Raul Salinas. He is also alleged to have benefitted from an expanding bank account, presumably related to narcodollars. As if that weren’t enough, Mexican officials leaked information to the Wall Street Journal \(on the board of whose parent company Massieu, the slain former brother-inlaw/PRlista official, might have been doing a little money laundering of his own. Then there is the case of superlawyer Juan Velazquez, who represents Carlos Salinas. He recently joined the Raul Salinas defense team and was reportedly at the home of Adriana Salinas, \(sister of Raul and was once married to Jose Francisco, whom Raul is accused of killing. Velazquez also represented Ruiz Massieu’s widow and the widow of Luis Donaldo Colosio. DORNBUSCH NOTED emphatically that he does not answer “political questions.” He does not shy, how ever, from assessing blame for Mexico’s current economic crisis, As far as blame is concerned, “you can argue [Salinas] should get 55 percent.” Like Leeson, Salinas gambled big on foreign exchange and failed. Rudi bristled when a Mexican reporter, confused MIT with that other school in Cambridge. He assured the reporter that he does not know about Harvard, but at MIT, “we teach the Chilean model.” Which brings us back to Carlos Salinas. Dornbusch insists that over a period of years he had several conversations with the former president about Chile, particularly how Mexico was beginning to look a lot like Chile in the early 1980sa booming miracle about to go bust. Since Dornbusch doesn’t answer political questions, we don’t know what he thinks about former presidents who go on bizarre hunger strikes or their effect on the economy. And no one asks about the impact of drugs and drug money on the global economy, but perhaps now that they’ll both be residing in the Boston area \(at and the former president can discuss that for the next few years. iii 16 MARCH 24, 1995 4.4,004.00,11dRII. elevc ,