Zedillo, Ernesto

Zedillo, Ernesto
▪ 1995

      When Mexican presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was assassinated on March 23, 1994, while campaigning in Tijuana, campaign manager Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León stepped in to replace him as the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PRI, which had governed Mexico for more than 60 years, was expected to continue to operate in a similar fashion. Zedillo's refreshing campaign, however, centred on promises to open and modernize Mexico's economy. Though not with as wide a margin as predicted, Zedillo on August 21 defeated eight other candidates with 50.18% of the vote to become Mexico's newest president. Mexico's economic future and its ability to respond to the demands of open trade in the 21st century rested squarely on Zedillo's shoulders.

      Zedillo, the son of an electrician, was born on Dec. 27, 1951, in Mexico City. After spending most of his childhood in Mexicali, just south of the California border, he returned to Mexico City in 1965 to attend the National Polytechnic Institute. A decisive moment in Zedillo's career came when he joined the PRI in 1971. After obtaining his doctorate in economics from Yale University and working for Mexico's central bank, he was appointed undersecretary of planning and budgetary control in 1987 by Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexico's president-elect from the PRI. In that position Zedillo earned his reputation as an economic wizard and technocrat by reducing the inflation rate from 160% to only about 8% in five years. He also helped Mexico achieve its first balanced budget. Becoming secretary of education in 1992, Zedillo overhauled the public school system by decentralizing it and giving each of the 31 states more responsibility and control over their own schools.

      Against a tense economic backdrop of lingering recession, hesitant foreign investors, high interest rates, and a devalued peso, Zedillo's challenge after taking office on December 1 was to spur Mexico's economy and to combat unemployment. He also promised to spend more money on education, health, and basic services while remaining within the constraints of a balanced budget. Zedillo's hopes of an early start were quickly dashed, however. The stock market plunged, and on December 20 the government was forced to devalue the peso by about 14% against the U.S. dollar and then allow it to float. By year's end, despite an economic restructuring plan and promises of support from other nations, the value of the peso had dropped by more than 40%. (SUSAN RAPP)

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▪ president of Mexico
in full  Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León 
born December 27, 1951, Mexico City, Mexico

      president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000.

      Reared in a working-class family in Mexicali, Mexico, just south of the California border, Zedillo returned to his native Mexico City in 1965 to study at the National Polytechnic Institute. In 1971 he joined the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the dominant political party in Mexico since 1929. Zedillo also studied in the United States, receiving his doctorate in economics from Yale University in 1981. He then worked for Mexico's central bank and at the Ministry of Programming and Budget, becoming secretary in 1988. As such, he successfully controlled Mexico's immense foreign debt and reduced the inflation rate from 160 percent to only about 8 percent in five years. He also helped Mexico achieve its first balanced budget. Appointed secretary of education in 1992, Zedillo decentralized the public school system and attempted to revise textbooks and raise the literacy rate. In 1993 he became campaign manager for PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, and when Colosio was assassinated on March 23, 1994, Zedillo was named the party's candidate. He won by a comfortable margin, although the election was the closest in the PRI's history. As president he continued the economic policies of his predecessor, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, but devoted a major effort to restoring public confidence, which was so badly damaged by the scandals of the Salinas administration.

      Soon after taking office, Zedillo faced an economic crisis as the country was forced to devalue the peso, causing the Mexican stock market to plunge. In 1995 he accepted the terms of a U.S. plan to stabilize the currency, and by the late 1990s Mexico's economy was slowly improving. Zedillo also instituted a number of reforms designed to end political corruption and create freer elections. Barred by the constitution from running for reelection, he announced in 1999 that the PRI would, for the first time, hold a presidential primary; critics, however, charged that the vote was rigged. Francisco Labastida Ochoa was selected PRI's candidate, but he was defeated in the 2000 presidential election by Vicente Fox Quesada of the National Action Party (PAN). Zedillo left office later that year, ending the PRI's 71-year rule of Mexico.

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Universalium. 2010.