In This Review

Mexico: The Policy and the Politics of Modernization
Mexico: The Policy and the Politics of Modernization
By Carlos Salinas de Gortari
Random House, 2002, 1371 pp

An odd doorstop of a book -- more than 1,300 pages long, including a careful index of names so that the friends and enemies of the former Mexican president can quickly see what he has to say about them. But it is also a remarkable work, perhaps the most revealing book that any former Latin American president has ever written. Salinas tells his story in closely argued, documented details, airing grievances, settling scores, and savaging his successor, Ernesto Zedillo, whenever the author thinks appropriate (which is often). The best and most interesting part is Salinas' portrayal of the struggle from within to reform the Mexican system. Here he outlines the battles to open up and modernize the Mexican economy and embrace the North American Free Trade Agreement. The George H.W. Bush administration, he claims, asked him directly to get Mexico involved in U.S. domestic policies -- first, so Bush could win "fast-track" trade negotiating authority in Congress, and then to promote NAFTA against strong opposition in Congress and from the powerful U.S. trade unions. Mexico spent $35 million on this effort, according to Salinas. Not surprisingly, Salinas sees the old guard behind those forces he sought to remove from power within the state apparatus and the ruling party -- a move that led to the dramatic change in his stature from praised reformer to pariah. He is particularly incensed when it comes to Zedillo's actions, especially the latter's attempt to shift blame for the 1994 peso crisis to Salinas and his family. Such subjectivity does not always make for edifying reading. But it is clear from Salinas' sad reflections on his years at the head of Mexico's "perfect dictatorship" (as the writer Mario Vargas Llosa so memorably called it) that he tried to reform it -- and in the end it consumed him.