Last updateFri, 06 Mar 2015 4pm

South of North: The lives of non-saints, or presidential optimism – speculative, dramatic, preposterous and flailing

President Enrique Peña Nieto visited China, Australia and the United States after the disappearance of the 43 students in the village of Iguala, Guerrero.  As public pressure forced him to meet with the students’ families, he insisted the encounter take place not in Guerrero, but in presidential territory.   Those grieving and incensed families were not at all pleased.  

From the beginning of the negotiations with the Guerrero families, it appeared that Peña Nieto wouldn’t have time for them.  But after a month’s worth of harsh comments and accusations from country wide demonstrators, he finally consented.  His reluctance proved what was noticeable during his campaign for the presidency.  Peña Nieto has peculiar ideas of what his job demands of him.     

And this has bred some harsh public views.  “He reminds me of Carlos Salinas de Gortari,” said Paco Muñoz, a Mexican acquaintance who was still young when Salinas was president from 1988 to 1984.  

As soon as he was 18 Paco had rushed to vote.  It was as a sign of reaching manhood. 

That surprised me.  His parents had voted for Salinas simply because no matter how they voted, the ballot outcome was guaranteed by the government – meaning the PRI.  And, of course they ended up being discouraged once again with the usual faux voting process.  Paco was both naive and just old enough to happily vote for the first time.  

It was apparent early in Salinas’ political career that he could out-work, out-think and out-remember most people – both allies and opponents – with whom he dealt.  But in 1988 voters wanted to get rid of the the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), Mexico’s “ruling” party for 71 consecutive years.   But neither Salinas nor the leaders of the PRI were going to bow before competitors that they viewed as inferior.  The honesty of all politicians was in question in the minds of candid voters.  It was a matter of whether a dishonest candidate held convictions one favored, or at least could stomach. This guaranteed that the 1988 election would clearly be a crooked one.   

Both Paco Muñoz and Salinas were displeased and angry with the results.  Disgusted by the clumsiness of the false election, Salinas dove into his term of office fiercely.  He was going to prove that even a distorted election result could be the right one for the Republic.   

But Peña Nieto is in no way similar to Salinas, who embraced free market economic views and brought on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The current president is characterized – as one financial newspaper put it – as being known for his U-turns, fumbles and gaffes.  On the other hand, Salinas very early on shaped himself politically into an unmistakable caudillo, a stern political ruler.  Slight of build, he charged full-tilt – exuding swiftness and mental muscle – into his presidential chores.  It was clear that he was determined to restore the presidency to the former “monarchical grandeur” favored by the early PRI.  

Please login or subscribe to view the complete article.