(b. Mexico City, 3 Apr. 1948)
Mexican; President of the Republic 1988–94 Carlos Salinas was born into the Mexican political élite. His father, Raul Salinas Lozano, was Minister of Industry and Commerce under President Lopez Mateos, 1958–64. After school in Mexico City Carlos studied economics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), from which he graduated in 1971. He then moved to Harvard University for postgraduate work, mixing his studies with terms of employment in the Ministry of Finance and the academic world in Mexico. He eventually graduated with three degrees from Harvard, including a doctorate in economics (1978).
He returned to Mexico and a typical two-track career, teaching at the Centre for Monetary Studies of Latin America (CEMLA) and working as an economic planner in the Treasury. In that ministry he worked under José López Portillo (President of the Republic 1976–82) and Miguel de la Madrid (President of the Republic 1982–8). When the latter was selected as the governing party's candidate in 1981 he invited Salinas to help run his presidential campaign as director of the PRI's ‘think tank’, the Institute of Political, Economic, and Social Studies (IEPES). He was rewarded with the post of Minister of the Treasury for the whole of the de la Madrid term, that is, until his own nomination by the PRI in 1987.
The 1988 campaign proved to be a landmark in Mexico's electoral history. A group of leftists, led by Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the son of a famous reformist president of the 1930s, had left the PRI in protest at the conservative policies being pursued by the government and the undemocratic way in which Salinas had been foisted on the party by the retiring president. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas as the National Democratic Front's (FDN) candidate attracted more votes than other previous opposition candidates and claimed that the government falsified the results in order to secure a victory for Salinas (de la Madrid indicated as much in his autobiography published in 2004). Even so the victory was narrow, with less than half of the voters supporting Salinas, a drop from a level of 76 per cent in 1982.
The congressional elections were just as bad for the government. The PRI failed to win the two-thirds majority of seats required to confirm the President's election and to pass constitutional amendments. Salinas thus started his term in an unprecedentedly weak situation, that is, dependent upon the votes of opposition parties. Despite this handicap Salinas launched himself enthusiastically into a campaign of radical economic reforms. He was fully committed to the ideas of neo-liberal economics favoured by the International Monetary Fund and began the process of restructuring the Mexican economy. This involved efforts to reduce the size and scope of the state in economic life and an encouragement of foreign investment and free trade. He began negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in order to facilitate commerce between Mexico and its northern neighbours, the USA and Canada. He thus sought to reverse the Mexican government's post-revolutionary commitment to nationalism, import substitution industrialization, and state-sponsored social protectionism.