From Socialist Voice, April 2011

“Message to Salinas”

Elaine Byrne is a young Irish artist who found herself being asked constantly about the disgraced ex-president Carlos Salinas during her stay in Mexico in 2010. Most Irish people would not be aware that Salinas has been living in Dublin since 1996, after he fled Mexico, believing he could be charged with the murder of his successor. Elaine Byrne’s research led to this project, in which she invited the people of Mexico to send a message to their former president.
     The exhibition presents these messages in the form of a video, in which people sat in front of the camera and spoke for two minutes each. There is also a book that accompanies the exhibition, composed of e-mail messages sent by more than fifty Mexicans.
     In the artist’s accompanying statement she says: “The work is my commentary on the socio-political powerlessness of people and is both a portrait of a place and of an artist’s half-sceptical, half-hopeful attempt to become an agent of social good.”
     Any Irish person looking at these messages would wonder why our Government decided to give refuge to this controversial figure. Carlos Salinas de Gortari, elected under dubious circumstances, was president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994 and is probably best known for negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada. In Mexico, however, he is credited with the collapse of the economy and is described by many of the participants as a fraudster and a thief. One woman asks: “Why did you go so far from us? Is Dublin a meeting point or shelter for gangster politicians?”
     More than forty state companies were being privatised while Salinas was implementing a dubious scheme called “Solidarity,” which was supposed to help the poor. However, some critics pointed out that it was merely a politicised repackaging of traditional welfare that ameliorated but did not address the root causes of poverty.
     While in Ireland, Salinas took on a more personal project: he wrote a book to explain and defend his actions, called Mexico: The Policy and Politics of Modernisation. Not short of a few bob (of course), he published it himself and then paid to have it distributed throughout schools and libraries in Mexico.

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