Ernesto Zedillo could not be more qualified to head the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization — at Yale, he attained the highest credential available to academics and in Mexico he attained the highest political credential by being elected president of a country with 90 million people.
But the credential he lacks is transparency. Mexican glasnost of the late 1990s was a convenient fiction. Despite an influx of good intentions, corruption remained as fixed as flies in honey. The oligarchy of narco-traffickers never disappeared, except maybe in the whitewashed stories of the puppet press.
As president of Mexico, the promising new head of Center for the Study of Globalization may have faced up economically to the rogue bank owners who lent themselves $8 billion of Mexico’s money. According to Business Week, some $71 billion went to cleaning up the problem under Zedillo’s watch. Although he tried, he failed miserably in facing up to the deeper institutional problems which kept his government chock-a-block with scandals.
Paco Stanley’s killing is a case in point. When the high-profile journalist and television personality was assassinated in 1999, Zedillo had just delivered his annual speech, saying: “If there is something we can be sure of at the end of this century, it is that in our country whoever has something to say can do it in full liberty without repression or censorship of any kind.”
It was eventually revealed that Stanley — who had been a PRI candidate in the 1980s, had numerous government connections, and acted as spokesperson for the “Live Without Drugs” campaign waged by TV Azteca, the main media apologist for the ruling PRI — was himself a narcotics trafficker known to the American DEA.
Immediately after the killing, TV Azteca and Televisa, the other national network, blamed the opposition leadership of Mexico City for Stanley’s killing. They failed to mention their own incriminating links to racketeer extraordinaire Raul Salinas — now in prison on a murder conviction and corruption charges, and banker cum-major media patron Robert Hernandez, an alleged cocaine trafficker and money launderer. They made no mention of the fact that getting rid of Stanley would scuttle the anti-drug campaign and give a pretext for demonizing the PRI’s newly potent opposition. The major networks hid their dirty connections to protect themselves and the PRI oligarchs, already embroiled in bank scandals.
Journalists who chose to speak up were kicked out — or worse. This was something of a tradition under Zedillo. During his presidency, some 400 foreign journalists and human rights observers were deported from Mexico. The assassination of Paco Stanley was the 630th attack against journalists during Zedillo’s first five years in office. According to the Mexican Network for the Protection of Journalists and Media, 202 of these attacks had occurred in 1998 alone, after Zedillo had supposedly addressed the depraved legacy of Carlos Salinas and issued in a new era of press freedom.
Stanley’s high-profile killing shed light on the anarchy of Mexico’s elite: they still had the carte blanche to do what they pleased, fraternize with whom they pleased, and take money from whom they pleased, and the PRI wouldn’t stop them, as long as the feathers of the narco-traffickers weren’t ruffled. The media could and would be harnessed to protect the power elite. Continued corruption was a big reason for Vicente Fox’s successful opposition candidacy in 2000.
As for Zedillo, the PRI’s long connection with the drug trade would have been too painful to reveal. Even one of the good guys couldn’t break the mold. Faced with cover-up or collapse, Zedillo gladly chose the former.
None of this is to say that Zedillo did anything worse than act in line with political expediency; it is certainly not to say that he cannot fulfill his duties in the academy. Yet the worldliness which distinguishes Zedillo may also be his Achilles heel. A teaching environment is as much about dispassionate inquiry as it is about first-hand familiarity. Mexican narco-corruption is a difficult problem worthy of study, just not by someone who had a hand in perpetuating it.
Aaron Goode is a sophomore in Calhoun College.