murder money and mexico
family tree
interviews
readings
maps
mexican news
links
discussion
interviews


adolfo aquilar zinser

Adolfo Aquilar Zinser is a Mexican congressman involved in the Mexican Congress's first independent investigation into corruption.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT CARLOS SALINAS NOW?

Carlos Salinas has a lot of power today because most of the privatization projects that were done during his administration, and large number of the contracts, were part of corporate arrangements that he himself designed and put together, and in which he had something at stake.

AND WHAT WAS RAUL BASICALLY .......

Raul was basically his bag man. Raul was the intermediary that made these transactions possible. But Raul did not make decisions about who was going to get what, at that time the larger decisions were made elsewhere, presumably in the presidency.

YOU DESCRIBED THIS AS THE SALINAS CORPORATION. ... YOU DON'T MEAN BY THAT A REGULAR COMPANY DO YOU?

No I mean it . . . in real terms. When you move assets of the Mexican state like no other president has moved assets, shifting assets around and transferring assets from the public to the private sector in huge amounts, and you do it with no regulatory guidelines that will make it astutely accountable, when you do it on the basis of full discretionality, and when you do it with your brother as the middle man, what you have then is that all of those operations are configured in certain corporate structures, allowing certain groups to grow and to be in competition with others. And the government in a very discretionary way decided who was going to get what and when.

All of these things were done not in the best interests of the country, and not to create a vital efficient capitalist system, but they were done on the basis ultimately of private interest, of corporate interests. Salinas is in the core of those decisions and he is the architect of the rearrangement of corporations in Mexico. That is what I mean by the Salinas Corporation, that in a sense President Salinas is and continues to be the chairman of the board of many of these corporations whose existence and strength are due to the decisions he made when he was in office.

SO DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE'S IN EXILE, DESPITE THE FACT THAT HIS BROTHER IS IN PRISON, DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE IS HELD IN LOW REGARD POPULARLY, HE'S STILL A MAN OF GREAT POWER?

He has extraordinary powers that are not expressed publicly but that are eventually going to be manifested one way or another. President Salinas, from his exile, can pick up the phone and simply hint to any head of a big corporation about the information he holds on the operations that benefited that corporation during his administration. This is a very powerful tool to induce behavior in those corporations.

WHY SHOULD THOSE OF US IN NORTH AMERICA CARE ABOUT THIS?

Well, because first of all, this is a major, major stumbling block for the transformation of the country into a viable democracy. Is the United States interested in seeing Mexico become a viable democracy? Ten years ago, you might have said: well, it would be good but not necessary because stability was guaranteed by forms other than a viable democracy.

However, today this system is breaking down, its ability to govern the country is being reduced, and probably will be exhausted in the next few years. This old time authoritarian ability to govern will be replaced by a breakdown of political authority. Mexico needs to find a way out of this situation. And the complicity of the United States is creating a stumbling block for Mexico to find its way out.

So for the United States, there is larger national interest in the democratization of Mexico. And the United States has to understand what the role of corruption is in preventing the democratization of Mexico. And secondly, because many of Salinas's operations were conducted in transactions that touch upon the financial and corporate system of the United States, Mexicans have not appropriated illegal government funds without those government funds eventually reaching a bank in the United States, a commercial or corporate transaction.

There is the third factor which we were already starting to hint at when our investigation was closed : the money that is transferred and moved in large quantities out of the country at some point becomes melted with drug money. Why? Because Mexican government officials have become increasingly involved in large drug money laundering. And you cannot distinguish now clearly the limits of drug and corruption money. They are becoming one and the same, melted in this process of complicity and corruption of government officials.

TALK ABOUT THE BUSINESS ESTABLISHMENT AND AN INFLUX OF DRUG MONEY AS WELL.

A large portion of the money that came to Mexico in the past few decade as loans to government investments in infrastructure or government expenditures of that money was overspent thanks to corruption operations. If you were going to build a road that cost $100 million, the cost of that road would be doubled by corruption. So the cost for the country's financial system is great. Eventually the country has to pay the money anyway. What this means is that because of corruption we have not been able to make an adequate and efficient use of the massive resources that have been transferred to Mexico by international financial operations over the past ten years. With a fraction of that money, put to a better use and more carefully controlled, Mexico would have been better off than it is today.

SO WE WOULDN'T SEE SO MANY PEOPLE FROM YOUR COUNTRY COMING TO NORTH AMERICA?

And we wouldn't see so many investments that were totally ill conceived, we wouldn't see so many infrastructure projects abandoned, we wouldn't see so many over expenditures by the federal government. All of these things can be explained by the total lack of accountability and total discretionary powers of the executive to spend the money, and they don't have to explain to anyone how the money is spent.

I'VE KNOWN YOU FOR YEARS AND I'VE COME TO MEXICO FOR MANY YEARS AND THE IDEA OF MEXICO BEING CORRUPT, OF THE GOVERNMENT BEING CORRUPT, AND OF MAJOR BUSINESSMEN BEING INVOLVED IN CORRUPTION, IS NO BIG SURPRISE. BUT IT SEEMS TO ME THAT WHAT HAS BEEN DIFFERENT THE LAST FEW YEARS IS THAT WITH THE ARREST OF RAUL SALINAS, A WINDOW OPENED UP.....

Well, the question that we have to understand here is that corruption happens everywhere in Latin America. It happens in the United States, it happens even in Canada. However, what is the systemic nature of the corruption? That has to do with the system of accountability. As the Mexican system has been for 70 years, not even military regimes are asked about the use of the national patrimony. Mexican corruption plays the key role to understanding the nature of Mexican authoritarianism. As much as you need to understand repression to understand a military regime, or counter insurgency as the systemic element that explains the authoritarian character of those regimes, in the Mexican case you have to look to corruption as the institutionalized process by which power is distributed, controlled and retained. So the transition in Mexico is putting all of this out into the . . . When you discover that the brother of the president is involved in operations that gave him enough cash to deposit $100 million in one single bank account in Switzerland, you realize how large, how complex, and how unaccountable those operations have been for years, for decades. And we haven't even touched the many families that for generation after generation have been involved in business with the government, and have been government officials on and off.

WE HEAR A LOT ABOUT THE HANK FAMILY AND WE ALSO RUN INTO A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO ARE AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT THEM.

Absolutely. The Hank family is not the only one but is one of the most visible because they are very smart and they set a pattern, they established a school which others followed. They built large, large emporiums on the basis of little small and medium sized contracts from the government, contracts for transportation of products, contracts for construction, for public works, contracts on selling and buying transactions of government procurements. Over the years, you grab a little bit here and you grab a little bit there. Then you can form many, many companies.

Mr. Carlos Hank Gonzalez has business in automobiles, transportation, real estate, and banking. He started as a humble school teacher whose only job was as a government official. To have such large, diversified, well located, and highly protected holdings of thousands of companies means that on the basis of these small initial transactions they operate on a larger scale and they share with everyone that comes along. Mr. Hank Gonzales can give you a house as a present. He doesn't ask anything in exchange. Today or tomorrow you will willingly pay back the favor of having a house of your own in Acapulco or somewhere in a resort instead of Mexico. Of this generosity Mr. Hank Gonzales used to say that wherever it rains on him, he can share some of that rain with others.

DOES HE STILL HAVE POWER IN THE GOVERNMENT?

Absolute power in - whenever he wants to intervene he can take up the phone and call any official at the middle and at the highest levels of government. He is less interested now in power or money than he is in impunity. This is the key of all of these discussions within the Mexican government. It is not ideology; it is not even holding offices for the sake of holding them. It is the issue of impunity. Is somebody going to come and open up the files as the Conasupa commission did and start investigating and creating - having a vision of all of this network. They don't want that and they are going to defend themselves to the teeth in order to prevent that from happening and that is a stumbling block to democracy in Mexico.

THAT SUPPOSEDLY IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY LOZANO WAS FIRED.

Yes we don't know exactly why Lozano was fired because he himself has not advanced an explanation and I think he should. But nobody can go into the core of law enforcement and not discover what lies behind impunity. Lozano is better off out of the office where he maintained absolute silence because he runs great risks if he ever dared to say what he saw inside.

A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK CARLOS SALINAS IS JUST ONE OF MANY IN THE LONG DICTATORSHIP OF MEXICO, THE SYSTEM OF CORRUPTION YOU'VE DESCRIBED. IS HE ONE OF MANY OR IS THERE SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT HIM?

Well in terms of the discretionary powers, in terms of the use of the presidency for private interest he might be one of many but there's a distinct factor. He privatized most of public enterprises and he conducted larger operations than were ever conducted by the Mexican government. So it's only because of the sheer size of the resources and the discretion with which he transferred all of the resources that he managed to do things that other presidents were not able to do, and did not attempt to do. He completed profound and far reaching privatization projects without accountability. That's what makes him the beneficiary of corruption operations that are larger than usual in Mexico.

EXPLAIN HOW YOU HAVE SAID THAT RAUL, HIS BROTHER, IS THE BROKER IN THIS PATTERN OF CORRUPTION.

Raul is the broker. Raul is the broker so that if you want to buy something from the government or sell something to the government, you ultimately had to walk into Raul's office and Raul would facilitate it for you. And if you didn't get it this time, Raul would assure that you would get it next time. You also got into serious difficulties when asking other people that lost the bid if they have lost it, because a bidder that loses today might win tomorrow. But if a bidder blows the whistle, he will never get it.

WHAT DID RAUL GET FOR THIS?

Raul got bribes, commissions, and probably shares of some of those transactions. But these transactions are typical of the larger Salinas Corporation operations because Salinas himself, the president, was involved in determining the direction of these transactions. His middle man was Raul. Raul was very greedy and was doing a lot of little business on the side which damaged the larger operation. But when Raul was involved in transactions and used his brother's name to assure contracts with privatized companies, it was done not for any specific, or not done exclusively for any specific commission or bribe. It was done in order to configure strategically the position of the various different corporations and groups all converging on Salinas. That is why Salinas has so much power today because everybody owes something to Salinas.

WHERE IS CARLOS SALINAS IN THIS PATTERN?

Carlos Salinas was the president of Mexico. None of the major transactions would have been conceivable without his okay. No government official would make such decisions without the endorsement of, or specific instructions from, the president. This is a presidential system. There is no doubt that the buck stops in the house, and in the office of the president . There's no way the president can elude responsibility because this is a strictly hierarchical presidential system. Anybody else can say I didn't know; it was not my responsibility. But everyone's responsibilities are also the responsibility of the president, and the president cannot claim that he does not know what was happening with his brother. That's simply absurd.

WAS CARLOS SALINAS INVOLVED WITH DRUG TRAFFICKING?

I have no evidence that Carlos Salinas was involved in drug trafficking or in operations of drug trafficking. But what we know is that corruption is the basic tool of drug traffickers. Corruption is their basic strategic weapon. When American helicopters come to fight them, they fight back through corruption. They don't need another helicopter to bring down the American helicopters. They need to buy and to bribe the officials that run those helicopters and they do this all of the time. Every single big drug lord, every single cartel boss that has been detained by the Mexican authorities, has been detained in the company of federal police officials. They have always been around drug traffickers. If a whole group of federal police officials are around drug traffickers protecting and working for them, can their bosses really not know?

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT IS GOING TO HAPPEN IN MEXICO IN THE NEXT COUPLE OF YEARS?

It's going to be very difficult because unless we are able as a society to deal with the pressing issues of the government transition, one central one being the corruption and accountability, and do it in a fashion that will reduce the risk of violence, breakdown, and the fight back into an authoritarian posture. If we are not able to do that, the breakdown of the system is going to be followed by confrontations and violence and not by cohesive responses to build a new consensus.

I think that the first thing we need to do in the next two years is to assemble the opposition, bring the government into the . . . negotiations and say we're going to build a bridge, and part of this bridge is going to be to determine the nature of investigations of corruption and the limits of responsibility that are going to be pursued. Something like the commission of truth in South Africa that will even include an amnesty. It will be necessary to talk about amnesty and to execute amnesty in order to make the transition peaceful by offering a bridge out to the .... If we don't do that, there is going to be no stimulus for the current officials to leave office and they will defend their positions to their teeth -



home · interviews ·  family tree ·  readings ·  maps ·  chronology ·  mexican news ·  links ·  discussion
tapes & transcripts ·  press
FRONTLINE ·  wgbh ·  pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation


SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Solitary NationApril 22nd

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS