March 6th, 2019
Dear Dean Elmendorf,
It has recently come to our attention (we are a group of Mexican students at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) that the former President of Mexico, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was appointed last semester as a member of the Dean’s Council. In the true spirit of knowledge, diversity, and dialogue, embodied by HKS, we as Mexicans appreciate the effort of incorporating into the school new perspectives that represent our countrywoman and men. Nonetheless, some of us consider that President Salinas’ political legacy tainted by corruption and fraud to such an extent, that it harms and contradicts the school’s values and mission to have him on the Dean’s Council.
We urge you to reconsider the decision of granting President Salinas this honorary appointment that associates him so tightly to our school.
We consider that the HKS website announcing Salinas de Gortari as a member of the Dean’s Council is grossly mistaken when it states that during his tenure “there was a reduction in income inequality and an increase in real wages” and that he set up “new electoral institutions under the control of civil society.”
President Salinas is well known for negotiating and signing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into action in 1994. Thanks to NAFTA, the US, Mexico, and Canada significantly increased collaboration and trade. However, there is no conclusive evidence that NAFTA led unprivileged Mexicans to “safer, freer, and more prosperous lives.” Soon after NAFTA came into action and President Salinas left office, the Mexican economy faced one of its worst economic crises in history, causing the worst devaluation of the Mexican peso in the country’s history and inflation rates to rise over 50%. Furthermore, the neoliberal economic policies implemented during Salinas’s administration did not take into account gradual change or alternatives to mitigate the blow to local farmers and indigenous populations, who were forced out of their lands and livelihoods.
President Salinas’s opaque personality as a public leader is further obscured by the electoral frauds and corruption charges linked to him. During the 1988 presidential election, the people of Mexico were shaken to their core when the vote counting system unexpectedly shut down, only to find out that when it was fixed. Salinas won that polls by a huge margin.
As described by the school’s website, the Dean’s Council is a group of “global leaders who provide financial and practical advice that advance our efforts to effect positive change in the world.” As HKS students, eager to learn and exchange ideas freely in pursuit of public service, we believe that taking financial aid and advice from a person who has misused his power and failed to serve citizens, sets a dangerous precedent that misrepresents the type of leaders HKS students strive to be. Moreover, we believe that it is impossible and unethical to minimize corruption and fraud in exchange for publicity and money. Doing otherwise would damage the reputation of HKS as well as its alumni.
Hence, we urge you to reconsider your decision to have Carlos Salinas de Gortari as a member of the Dean’s Council. We respectfully suggest that you replace him with one of many other Latin American or Mexican public figures with better records. Such an action will only exalt HKS’s mission by contributing to more democratic societies where “people can lead safer, freer, and more prosperous lives.”
Daniela Philipson MPP 2019
José Luis Gallegos MPA 2020
Daniel H. Aldaco MPP 2020
Rodrigo Cordova MPA/ID 2019