Monday, December 14, 2009

Bactrian Camels and Bactrian-Dromedary Hybrids

Daniel Potts1

University of Sydney

If the Silk Road may be described as “the bridge between Eastern and Western culures,” then the Bactrian camel should rightfully be considered the principal means of locomotion across that bridge. Yet there is a great deal of misinformation concerning the Bactrian camel and its relatives, particularly in the ancient Near Eastern literature. This paper explores some of the problems surrounding Camelus bactrianus and the little-known hybrids of the Bactrian with the Arabian dromedary (Camelus dromedarius).

Fig. 1. Pre-historic cave image of camel. Display in
National Museum of Mongolian History, Ulaan Baatar.

Zoologists nowadays tends to favor the idea that Camelus bactrianus and dromedarius are descendants of two different sub-species of Camelus ferus (Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 652), and modern research suggests that the original habitat of the wild, two-humped camel extended from the great bend of the Yellow River in northwestern China through Mongolia to central Kazakhstan (Schaller 1998: 154; Nowak 1999: 1078; Bannikov 1976: 399) generally at elevations of 1500-2000 m. above sea-level. Although some scholars have suggested the original habitat of C. ferus may have extended as far west as the Caspian Sea, this is unlikely. If this were true, we should expect to find C. ferus faunal remains at prehistoric and early historic sites around the Caspian, but this is not the case. Moreover, to suggest that the natural distribution areas of the wild two-humped camel extended so far to the west flies in the face of everything that is known about the physiology and environmental adaptations of C. bactrianus (see below).

The survival of C. ferus in Inner Asia was long suspected but no firm evidence was available until N.M. Przewalski killed and described several specimens in 1873 (Camelus ferus Przewalski 1878 [?]). C. ferus has been described as “relatively small, lithe, and slender-legged, with very narrow feet and a body that looks laterally compressed” (Schaller 1998: 152).2 C. ferus has “low, pointed, coneshaped humps - usually about half the size of those of the domestic camel in fair condition” (Bannikov 1976: 398). Representations of camels in the rock art of Palaeolithic caves in eastern Mongolia, such as Chojt-Zenker Cave, show what are believed to be C. ferus (Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 653, 661).3 (Fig. 1) C. ferus were still hunted in the medieval era in the Khotan, Turfan, Tarim, Lob and Katak regions of Inner Asia, and in Mongolia (Roux 1959-60: 50-51), while 18th-century Chinese records attest to the presence of wild camels on the northern and western edges of the Chinese empire (Lehmann 1891: 99). Small numbers are present in the region to this day (Heptner, Nasimovic and Bannikov 1966: 85-94; Bannikov 1976; Schaller 1998: 151-162).

The wild range of C. ferus, in all likelihood, extended only as far west as central Kazakhstan. This is significant for a number of reasons but first and foremost because this means that the natural distribution of the wild, two-humped progenitor of what we know as the domesticated Bactrian camel would not have included Bactria (northern Afghanistan/southern Uzbekistan) at all. How, then, to explain the name “Bactrian” given to the domesticated two-humped camel?

The term “Bactrian” was first applied to two-humped camels by Aristotle, who wrote of “the two species of camel, Bactrian and Arabian” (Historia Animalium 2.1 [498b9]) and noted that “The Bactrian camel differs from the Arabian in having two humps as against the latter’s one” (Historia Animalium 2.1 [499a15-17]). Some scholars have suggested that the name “Bactrian” became associated with the two-humped camel because camel-breeding developed in Bactria after initial domestication in eastern Iran and/or southern Turkmenistan (Schuegraf and Terbuyken 2001: 1225), but, as indicated above, this is not supported by the faunal evidence and it seems more likely that the Bactrian camel was introduced into Bactria proper from further east, not the south (eastern Iran/Seistan) or the west (Turkmenistan). Thus, like many commodities one can think of — Brussels sprouts or India ink — C. bactrianus would seem to be a misnomer. We have no idea where Aristotle got the designation “Bactrian” for the domesticated, two-humped camel, but he seems to have been responsible for introducing a term into the literature which should never have been applied to a mammal that was almost certainly domesticated outside of the region with which it is popularly associated.

Pure-bred Bactrians stand 1.5-2.4 m high to the top of the humps and are normally 1.68-1.63 m long, with a mean weight of 460 kgs (Epstein 1969: 118). They have been known to carry loads of 220-270 kgs some 30-40 kms daily, or 80-100 kms if pulling a loaded cart (Walz 1954: 56).4 Bactrian camels, which can live to be 35-40 years old, are generally put to work at the age of four and can expect to have 20-25 years of productive work (Epstein 1969: 120). They are at their best in the dry cold of the winter and spring months in Inner Asia, when their thick coats provided them with ample warmth. Able to withstand extremes of heat and cold, Bactrians prefer temperatures below 21° C but are capable of tolerating a 70°-broad range between winter lows and summer highs (Manefield and Tinson 2000: 38). Consistent heat, however, is intolerable for Bactrians and the caravans which once set out from China westwards across the Gobi desert always traveled in winter (Walz 1954: 55-56). Bactrians have been known to function at altitudes of up to 4000 m. above sea level, e.g. in the Pamirs (Gauthier-Pilters and Dagg 1981: 6). After a long journey they were typically rested for 1-2 weeks and were pastured for the summer months on the steppe, where they built up their fat reserves again in anticipation of further caravan crossings the following winter (Walz 1954: 56).

The precise chronology of the gradual westward spread of the Bactrian camel is difficult to determine, but the available evidence nonetheless suggests we are dealing with a “sloping chronology,” i.e. a progression from earlier finds in the east towards later finds in the west. The principal difficulty that arises in verifying this hypothesis is the relative paucity of well-studied and dated faunal assemblages from sites within the range of C. ferus. Camelid faunal remains are said to have been found (Olsen 1988: 21)5 at Neolithic sites near Baotou (Inner Mongolia) and Lake Barkhol (northeast Xinjiang), and although it is not certain that these are C. bactrianus as opposed to C. ferus, they were certainly two-humped. The likelihood that these were domestic Bactrians is considered strong given that the locales would have been difficult to reach without the use of the camel (Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 661). As Lehmann wrote in 1891 (p. 141; my translation): “Without the camel neither the icy steppes of Western Siberia nor the inner Asian plains were inhabitable; they would have remained until today an insurmountable obstacle to communication and would have made a nomadic existence impossible.”

By the middle of the fourth millennium BCE C. bactrianus was probably present in southern Turkmenistan. This being the case, and assuming a more or less continuous distribution of C. bactrianus from central Kazakhstan to the west, the animal was probably already present in Bactria by this time as well.6 Other sites on the southern (Iranian) side of the Kopet Dagh, however, do not show evidence of C. bactrianus at this early date.7 More Turkmenian evidence of C. bactrianus dates to the first half of the third millennium BCE. This includes terracotta models of wheeled carts drawn by Bactrian camels found at Altyn-depe in contexts dating to the Namazga IV period (Kohl 1992: 186) as well as faunal remains from Shor-depe, Chong-depe and Hapuz-depe (Compagnoni and Tosi 1978: Table 3).8 By the late third and early second millennium BCE the Bactrian camel is attested in the iconography of copper stamp seals and figurines thought to be from Bactria.9

Looking much further west, an unprovenanced cylinder seal in Old Syrian style in the Walters Art Gallery on which a Bactrian camel is depicted has been dated stylistically to c. 1750-1700 BCE (Gordon 1939: Pl. 7.55; Collon 2000: Fig. 8), but whether the fact that it bears a rider should be read as an indication that Bactrians were being ridden (e.g. Pohl 1950: 252) is unclear. Gordon noted that the awkwardness of the camel’s form on the Walters seal indicated that the seal-cutter was unfamiliar with Bactrian camels. We cannot say whether this seal reflects the presence of Bactrian camels in the Syro-Anatolian area in the early second millennium BCE, direct contacts between Syro-Anatolia and a region in which Bactrians were present (whether native or introduced), and/or indirect contacts between such regions via intermediaries like Elam or Assyria.

A possible indication of the northwestward spread of the Bactrian camel by or during the third millennium BCE may be provided by faunal remains in today’s Tatarstan and Ukraine,10 and there is evidence of the southward and eastward spread of C. bactrianus into Pakistani Baluchistan beginning in the early second millennium BCE.11 As we move ahead into the Iron Age, there is little persuasive evidence to demonstrate the presence of Bactrian camels in western Iran.12

Fig. 2

This brings us, chronologically speaking, to the Achaemenid period when the Bactrian delegation, illustrated on the Apadana reliefs at Persepolis (Fig. 2), is shown bringing Bactrian camels to the imperial capital, and a Bactrian camel appears on one of the small gold plaques from the Oxus Treasure (Curtis and Searight 2003: Fig. 6.50). Thereafter, depictions of Bactrian camels become increasingly common, e.g. the Sarmatian gold plaques at Filippovka near the Ural River on the Eurasian steppes north of the Caspian (Aruz et al. 2000: Figs. 68, 96, 98) of fifth/fourth century BCE date. A particularly clear depiction from the late fifth century BCE occurs on a red-figured squat lekythos (E 695) in the British Museum (Curtius 1928: Abb. 6). Some scholars suggest that the Greeks first came into contact with Bactrian camels in Asia Minor, to which region they had been brought as a result of Achaemenid expansion (Schauenburg 1962: 99). Indeed Herodotus says that camels carried provisions for the advancing Persians, marvelling that Xerxes’ camel train was attacked by lions while marching between Acanthus and Therma, even though the lions “had never seen that beast before, nor had any experience of it” (7.125). We do not know whether these were dromedaries, like those used by Cyrus against Croesus of Lydia (Herodotus 1.80).13

According to Soviet research (cited in Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 662), Bactrian camels were present and probably eaten during the Hellenistic period in Choresmia, between the Aral Sea and the Amu Darya (Oxus) River. Finally, T’ang period (seventh/eighth century) tomb figures of Bactrian camels from China, some of which stand more than half a meter tall, are shown heavily laden with cargo (Vollmer, Keall and Nagai-Berthrong 1983: 47, 66) confirming their use as pack animals at this time.

In summary, the evidence just reviewed attests to an ever-expanding zone in which C. bactrianus is attested archaeologically outside the presumed native habitat of C. ferus. Although the data are not as plentiful as one would like, there is a general sense in which we move from the earliest evidence in the east (Neolithic Inner Mongolia) towards the west, with evidence beginning to appear in Turkmenistan (mid-fourth millennium BCE), Margiana and Bactria (mid-third millennium BCE) and surrounding areas to the north (Andronovo, Tripolye contexts) and south (Pirak, in Pakistani Baluchistan) as we move into the later second and early first millennium BCE. Above all, the available evidence flatly contradicts the idea that the two-humped camel was first domesticated in Bactria, and then spread eastward to China. In fact, it was precisely the opposite.

It is against the background of the archaeological evidence just reviewed that we turn now to some important epigraphic evidence attesting to the presence of C. bactrianus in Assyria from the end of the second through the middle of the first millennium BCE.

In a badly preserved fragment of the annals of Assur-bel-kala (1074-1057 BCE) on a tablet from Assur, the Assyrian king says that he sent merchants to acquire female Bactrian camels, udrate (Heimpel 1980: 331). On the Kurkh stele, Shalmaneser III (858-824 BCE) says that he brought back seven Bactrian camels as part of the booty from a campaign against Gilzanu (Mitchell 2000: 188, n. 7 with refs.), now thought to have been in the area south of Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran (Zadok 2002: 142-143). These are indeed illustrated twice, on the Black Obelisk, excavated by Layard at Nimrud, where they occur in Band 1 (Bulliet 1975: Fig. 70), and on the bronze gate decoration (Band 7) from Balawat, ancient Imgur-Enlil, several kilometers northeast of Nimrud (Bulliet 1975: Fig. 71). Interestingly, Bactrian camels are also shown in Band 3 on the Black Obelisk as tribute from Musri (Egypt).

Roughly a century later the Iranian stele of Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727 BCE), the exact provenance of which is unfortunately unknown, itemizes a long list of rulers from whom tribute was exacted, including several in the Zagros region of northwestern Iran. There we read, “And as for Iranzu of Mannaea, Dalta of Ellipi, the city rulers of Namri, of Singibutu (and) of all the eastern mountains - horses, mules, Bactrian camels, cattle (and) sheep I imposed upon them (as tribute) to be received annually in Assyria” (Tadmor 1994: 109). (15) In his first Babylonian campaign, the army of Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) seized both Bactrian and dromedary camels in Merodach-Baladan’s abandoned camp near Kish (Luckenbill 1924: 56, l. 7). Esarhaddon (680-669 BCE) campaigned against Patusharra to the east of Assyria, seizing Bactrian camels as booty.16

A debt-note from the reign of Esarhaddon, dating to 674 bc (Postgate 1976: 149, no. 38), shows us an Assyrian official named Dannaya putting two Bactrian camels at the disposal of three individuals. The text reads (Kwasman and Parpola 1991: no. 241):

Two double-humped camels belonging to Dannaya, at the disposal of Yahutu, Ilu-kenu-[usur], and Adad-aplu-[ddina]. They shall give the camels back on the first of [Marchesvan] (VIII). If they do not give them, they shall pay 6 minas of silver. Month Tishri (VII), 14th day, eponym year of Sarru-nuri. Witness Siqi-Issar. Witness Sulmu-sarri. Witness Adad-dan. [I]f they do not pay the silver, it will increase by 2 shekels per mina.

These sources raise a number of questions. First, what of the lands from which Bactrian camels were acquired? With the possible exception of Patusharra, which may have been located as far east as the Pamirs (thus Vallat 1993), all of the regions mentioned as sources of Bactrian camels were situated in western Iran, from modern day Iranian Azerbaijan southwards to western Luristan. Yet as our review of the available faunal and other archaeological evidence of C. bactrianus has shown, nothing suggests that these areas were even remotely close to the most westerly regions where Bactrian camels are known in iconography and the faunal record. Indeed, judging by the faunal inventory at sites on the Iranian Plateau, Turkmenistan seems to be the most westerly of those areas where Bactrian camel use could be said to have become common. On the contrary, the presence of C. dromedarius remains at Chalcolithic Tepe Ghabristan (period 4, c. 3700-3000 BCE) and early Iron Age Tepe Sagzabad (late second millennium BCE) shows that the dromedary was known on the Iranian Plateau from an early date. In view of this evidence, it could be suggested that the Bactrian camels demanded of Mannaea, Ellipi, Namri, Singibutu or Gilzanu would not have been native to those districts, but themselves imported from further east. Presumably, however, the Assyrians would not have demanded Bactrian camels of these regions if they had not seen them there. The question arises, therefore, why were west Iranian communities keeping Bactrian camels, and might this have something to do with their eventual use by the Assyrians? The answer, I suggest, lies in camel hybridization.

From the seventeenth century onward, a series of European travelers, anthropologists and veterinary scientists have amassed an important record of observations of the intentional cross-breeding of Bactrian and dromedary camels (Kolpakow 1935; Menges 1935; Tapper 1985). As with most hybridization, the aim in crossing camels has been to produce a “better” camel, in this case a more robust individual, stronger as a pack animal. In general, the best first generation hybrids are the products of male Bactrians crossed with female dromedaries, although female Bactrians crossed with male dromedaries are also attested. In cultures which practised camel hybridization, the stud function of Bactrian males was paramount, while small numbers of Bactrian females were kept in order to maintain a supply of pure Bactrian males. Tapper provides evidence on this practice over a region extending from Afghanistan to Anatolia. For example, amongst the Shahsevan of Azerbaijan, he observed, “Only the wealthiest of Shahsevan keep Bactrians, both male and female, and solely for breeding purposes. Female Bactrians are rarely if ever bought or sold, though they may change hands as gifts or be demanded as part of a bride-wealth.” (Tapper 1985: 59-60). In Central Asia, Kolpakow (1935: 619) found that 6-7 year old Bactrians were optimal for use as studs.

Although larger and stronger, hybrids look like dromedaries in that they have one hump, though this is normally not very symmetrical and often has a small indentation between 4 and 12 cm deep which divides the rear portion of the hump — often 2-3 times as large as the front — from the front part. Alternatively, the hump may end up looking quite flat, and has been compared to a flattened pyramid. Hybridization produces a large animal, which can stand 2.32 m high at the hump or 2.15 m high at the shoulder (Kolpakow 1935: 618, n. 5). The legs are long, the height of the camel often greater than its length, and the weight sometimes in the 900-950 kg range, though more often approaching an average of c. 650 kg (Kolpakow 1935: 620).

All of the sources confirm the greater strength and load-bearing abilities of the hybrids and indeed references to hybrids able to carry 400-500 kgs, roughly double that of a dromedary and more than double that of an ordinary Bactrian, are not uncommon. It should not be a surprise then that the sources are also consistent in recording the substantially higher price of hybrids vs dromedaries (Tapper 1985: 57, 59).
There is a considerable body of evidence concerning subsequent generations of hybrids crossed with pure-bred or other hybrid individuals, all of which points to their bad temper, inadequate size and generally poor quality. For this reason, hybrid males were usually castrated (Tapper 1985: 61). As Tapper (1985: 63) notes, “The hybrids were not allowed to breed, as their offspring would be vicious and dangerous.” Statements to the effect that the dromedary-Bactrian crosses were infertile (Gray 1972: 161) are incorrect, and ample evidence demonstrates the contrary (Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 654). Already in the early nineteenth century Eduard Friedrich Eversmann reported seeing fertile offspring in Turkestan (Hartmann 1869: 70).17

To sum up, Tapper (1985: 67) notes, “in my experience, the main advantage of the hybrid over the purer species, to both nomadic and commercial users, is less its supposed versatility than its vastly greater size, strength and carrying capacity, its aesthetically pleasing appearance, and its correspondingly greater value, in both financial and ceremonial terms.” In view of the evidence just reviewed, which extends from Anatolia and Syria in the west to Afghanistan in the east, we can safely say that small numbers of Bactrian camels have been kept, over the past 300-400 years, by groups which, in the main, raised dromedaries, for the purpose of producing hybrids of outstanding strength. Further, these hybrids were used specifically as caravan and draught animals. It can at least be suggested, therefore, that the reason why Assyrian kings seized Bactrian camels and demanded them as tribute from Iranian lands to the east of Assyria was to acquire studs and breeding females in order to practice the same sort of hybridization as just outlined, with a view to developing stronger pack animals for a variety of purposes (military, commercial, agricultural). While we have as yet no archaeological evidence of camel hybridization from the Assyrian period, we do have some from later periods in the Near East, which demonstrates that hybridization was practiced in antiquity.

In recent years, archaeo-zoologists have identified faunal evidence of camel hybrids at Mleiha in the United Arab Emirates, Troy in western Turkey, and Pella in Jordan. Chronologically, the earliest evidence dates to the Roman or Parthian period. In 1994, Dr. S.A. Jasim excavated an important cemetery near Mleiha, in the interior of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, which contained the graves of at least 12 camels, most of which, judging from associated finds, date to the first two centuries CE (Jasim 1999). The faunal remains, studied by H.-P. Uerpmann, included three hybrids. Identification of these individuals as hybrids was based on the morphometric analysis of selected bones (axis, astragalus, first phalanx) as compared with dromedary and Bactrian material. In addition to this material, Uerpmann (1999: 111-113) has identified the phalanx of a probable hybrid from a Roman context at Troy. Finally, I. Köhler-Rollefson (1989: 149) has identified possible hybrids amongst the faunal remains from early Islamic Pella, in Jordan. These are presumed to have been killed by an earthquake in 747.

Additional archaeological evidence includes camel figurines from Parthian contexts at Seleucia-on-the-Tigris which, as Bulliet (1975: Fig. 80) noted nearly 30 years ago, exhibit the small indentation in the hump characteristic of the hybrid.


The ethnographic and historic observations reviewed above leave one in no doubt about the benefits and geographically widespread evidence of hybridization, while the archaeological evidence from Mleiha and Troy confirms the existence of hybrids by the Roman or Parthian period. But this evidence alone does not sustain Bulliet’s (1990: 731; cf. 1975: 168; Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 654) assertion that Diodorus “contains the first recorded reference to cross breeding of the dromedary and the Bactrian camel.” I would suggest that the Neo-Assyrian sources cited above — the inclusion of Bactrian camels in the list of livestock demanded as tribute by Tiglath-Pileser III and Esarhaddon, the receipt of Bactrian camels from Musri and Gilzanu as shown on the Balawat gates and the Black Obelisk, the loan of Bactrian camels by Dannaya, Sennacherib’s capture of Bactrian camels in Merodach-Baladan’s camp, and Assur-bel-kala’s damaged reference to udrate — all point to the presence of Bactrian camels in Babylonia and Assyria some 500-1000 years before Diodorus observed them. Furthermore, given what we know of the distribution of C. ferus and C. bactrianus, and of the presence of C. dromedarius on the Iranian Plateau at an early date, I would suggest that the Iranian groups, mainly Median, from whom the Assyrians sought Bactrian camels were already engaged in camel hybridization by the time the Assyrians became conscious of the practice. Whether the Syrian cylinder seal from the eighteenth century BCE allows us to push that date even further back in time is difficult to answer, but in view of the ever-increasing body of evidence for ties between Central Asia and Elam (Amiet 1986: 146-207), and between Elam and Assyria and Mari in the early second millennium BCE (Potts 1999: 166ff), it is entirely possible that this was the period in which the peoples of the Near East first became aware of C. bactrianus. Whatever the case may be, it is now clear that the Bactrian camel has little beyond its name in common with the region of Bactria, and that its origins lie much further east, on the high steppes of Inner Asia. That it came to play an important role further west, already by the Assyrian period if not earlier, seems clear. The raison d’être behind the Assyrian interest in the Bactrian camel, and behind its later occurrence as far west as Anatolia, lies in the breeding of Bactrian-dromedary hybrids, the strength of which was un-surpassed by any other domestic animal, apart from the elephant, in the ancient Near East.
About the Author

Daniel Potts was educated at Harvard (AB ’75, PhD ’80) and has taught at the Freie Universität Berlin (1981-1986), the Univ. of Copenhagen (1980-1981, 1986-1991) and the Univ. of Sydney (1991-present). He is a specialist in the archaeology of Iran, Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf, and has published widely on these areas. He is the founding editor of Arabian Archaeology & Epigraphy, and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He may be contacted at:

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1. This is a modified version of a lecture delivered for the Inner Asia/Silkroad Study Group (IASSG) and co-sponsored by the Silkroad Foundation and the Stanford University Center for East Asian Studies, 21 October 2004. The paper was based on the author’s “Camel hybridization and the role of Camelus bactrianus in the Ancient Near East,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 47 (2004): 143-165. Readers interested in finding out more about the topic are advised to consult the 2004 article which has an extensive bibliography as well.
2. This thinness has given rise to the Mongolian name for C. ferus, havtagai, from havtag, meaning ‘flatness’ (Bannikov 1976: 398).
3. C. ferus are also well-represented in the rock art of the Altai, Tul-Kun, Tamurasche, Uryankhai, Turgai and Minusinsk (Suljek) regions between Inner Asia and Siberia but these are difficult to date (Heptner, Nasimovic and Bannikov 1966: 87-88, Abb. 26; Peters and Von den Driesch 1997: 653).
4. Epstein 1969: 120, puts the average load at 120-150 kgs.
5. Olsen did not give a written reference for this information, but referred to the fact that the camelid remains had been “excavated by archaeologists from the Museum of Inner Mongolia in Huhhot” (Olsen 1988: 21), which he visited in the early 1980’s. Dr. Jianjun Mei (Needham Research Institute, Cambridge) kindly looked for written confirmation of this information but was unable to find any.
6. Camelid remains found at Anau-depe in period II contexts were identified as Bactrian on the basis of comparisons with modern Bactrian camels (Duerst 1908; cf. Compagnoni and Tosi 1978: 96 and Table 3), an identification that has recently been reconfirmed (Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 658).
7. Tepe Hissar has no camelid fauna at all (Mashkour and Yaghmayi 1996) while at Zagheh and Tepe Ghabristan (Qabrestan) on the Qazvin plain (west of Tehran), only C. dromedarius seems to have been present in the fourth millennium BCE (Mashkour, Fontugne and Hatte 1999: 71 and Table 2; Mashkour 2002: Table 2). (Dr. Marjan Mashkour [CNRS, Paris] kindly advised me that the quantity of camelid remains at these sites was very small and therefore somewhat surprising. She agreed that caution is required in interpreting this data.) The depiction of a Bactrian camel on a sherd from period III4 at Tepe Sialk (Ghirshman 1938: Pl. 79, A2) near Kashan has been interpreted as evidence of C. bactrianus on the Iranian Plateau in the late fourth millennium BCE (Compagnoni and Tosi 1978: Table 3).
8. Further south and east, skeletal remains of Camel sp. — possibly but not definitely Bactrian — have been found in strata assigned to Period II (phases 5-7) at Shahr-i Sokhta in Iranian Seistan (Compagnoni and Tosi 1978: 92), datable to c. 2700-2200 BCE (Voigt and Dyson 1992: 152), most probably to the earlier part of this period. That Seistan, noted for its aridity, is certainly well outside the natural habitat of the C. ferus is suggested by the absence of camel remains in earlier, period I levels at the site, and the absence of camels among the nearly 1300 zoomorphic figurines found there (Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 656).
Faunal remains of probable Bactrian camel dating to the second half of the third millennium BCE (Namazga V period) have been found at Ulug-depe, Altyn-depe and Namazga-depe in southern Turkmenistan (Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 659), where E.E. Kuzmina thinks “the use of Bactrian camels for draft purposes was a local development...peculiar to southern Central Asia” (Kohl 1984: 114), and at Shah Tepe in northeastern Iran (Compagnoni and Tosi 1978: Table 3; Amschler 1939: 77-80; but queried by Peters and von den Driesch 1997: 660).
9. Their exact provenance is not known, since they were purchased on the antiquities market (e.g. Amiet 1986: Fig. 189c; Sarianidi 1998a: 71-73, nos. 108-111; Winkelmann 1999: Abb. 4). Bactrian camel images are found on soft-stone stamp seals from controlled excavations at Togolok 1 (burial 10), Togolok 21 (southern court) and Gonur South (room 592) in Margiana (Sarianidi 1998a: 297, nos. 1634-1635). Gonur North has also yielded a theriomorphic ceramic vessel in the shape of a Bactrian camel and a grafitto of a Bactrian camel incised on a ceramic drain pipe (Sarianidi 1998b: Figs. 14-15). Unfortunately, the camelid faunal remains from Gonur cannot be identified to the species level (Meadow 1993: 72, n. 2). A clay bulla with a cylinder seal impression from the temenos at Togolok 1 shows a human and a caprid between two Bactrian camels (Sarianidi 1998b: Fig. 28.1 = Winkelmann 1999: 151 and Abb. 19.3).
10. Specifically, at the Andronovo site of Alekseevskoe in Tatarstan (Hancar 1956: 235; Heptner, Nasimovic and Bannikov 1966: 89 says C. ferus bones have been found at Andronovo sites as well), in Karasuk culture graves at Il’inskaia gora in the southwestern Ural foothills (Hancar 1956: Tab. 48 and 255; Brentjes 1960: 27), and possibly at the Tripol’e culture site of Gorodsk north of Kiev in Ukraine (Walz 1954: 79-80, n. 3; Hancar 1956: 69, Tab. 22).
11. Camelid faunal remains from Harappan sites of late third and early second millennium BCE have been identified in all cases as dromedary, not Bactrian (e.g. Badam 1984: 349). However, a shaft-hole axe excavated by Sir Aurel Stein in a grave at Khurab, in Iranian Baluchistan, is widely thought to show a Bactrian camel in repose (Zeuner 1955; Lamberg-Karlovsky 1969; During Caspers 1972). At Pirak in Pakistani Baluchistan the period IB-III levels, dating to c. 1800-700 BCE, have yielded numerous clay figurines of Bactrian camels (Santoni 1979: 177-179, Figs. 94-95, Pls. 42B and 43) as well as faunal remains (Meadow 1993: 67, 70).
12. In Iran only C. dromedarius is present in the late second millennium BCE levels at Tepe Sagzabad (Mashkour 2002: Table 2). We cannot be sure that the so-called “Luristan bronze” buckle (4.7 cm. high, 8.7 cm. wide) in the former Foroughi Collection in Tehran, dated stylistically to the 8th/7th centuries BCE, on which a Bactrian camel is depicted (Jettmar 1967: Pl. 45) is in fact a true reflection of the presence of Bactrian camels in western Iran at that time. The provenance of the piece, even if it is authentic, is simply too vague to attribute any geographical significance to it.
13. Bactrian camels appear on so-called “Greco-Persian” seals of late fifth/fourth century BCE date (Nikylina 1994: nos. 207, 216, 493) and on Greek gems, probably of east Greek origin (Boardman and Vollenweider 1978: 114, no. 117). About this time, as well, the earliest references to Bactrian camels occur in late fourth century BCE Chou documents in China, becoming much more prevalent in the Han period (Shafer 1950: 174; cf. Walz 1954: 60; Epstein 1969: 117). Brentjes has surveyed the terracottas and wall paintings from the first millennium BCE and first millennium CE (Brentjes 1960: 28). At least three fragments of Bactrian camel figurines were discovered by the American excavators at Seleucia-on-the-Tigris in the 1930’s (van Ingen 1939: 320, no. 1465a-c and Pl. 76.557). Further Bactrian camel figurines of Seleucid and/or Parthian date are known from Nippur (Douglas van Buren 1939: 36 with refs.).
14. Lattimore (1929: 133) observed, “the Mongols prefer a fast camel to a pony for a long journey in haste, if they cannot get relays on the road,” favoring young camels which “are much the best for riding, as they are not only faster but softer-gaited” (cf. Geiger 1979 [1882]: 456, on the use of Bactrians by couriers in the Turkmenian deserts during the 19th century).
15. According to Zadok’s (2002: 18ff, 42-3, 70, 77) recent study of western Iran in the Neo-Assyrian period, Mannaea was located to the south of Lake Urmia, Ellipi and Namri in western Luristan, and Singibutu around Khoy in Iranian Azerbaijan.
16. He describes his campaign against Patusharra (Vallat 1993: 214-215), ‘a land that borders on the Salt Desert, in the midst of the land of the distant Medes, near Bikni, the lapis lazuli-mountain, where none of my forefathers had set foot’. Patusharra’s location is uncertain, and depends on that of Mt. Bikni, a mountain which has been variously sought at Mt. Alvand in Luristan, Mt. Demevend near Tehran, or in the Pamirs (for refs. see Zadok 2002: 55).
17. The original source here is Eversmann’s Reisen von Orenburg nach Buchara...nebst einem naturhistorischen Anhan

China's CNN ad campaign was a mistake

By Zheng Fengtian

The Chinese government has launched a "Made in China" advertising campaign in a number of international media outlets, including CNN, to boost the image of Chinese goods. The ads feature an MP3 player "Made in China with software from Silicon Valley" and clothes "Made in China with French designers."

Sports shoes are "made in China", with sports technology from the US; refrigerators stamped "Made in China" flaunt a European style;MP3 players labeled "Made in China" use software from Silicon Valley; even the the famous brand clothes worn by French supermodels are "made in China".

Nobody disputes that China needs to boost its image. But the 30 minute ads launched by the Ministry of Commerce leave much to be desired. In particular, the theme of the ads "Made in China, made with the world" is entirely inappropriate.

All countries try to improve their image. The US projects an image of innovation, Germany perfection, Italy attractiveness, France fashion, Switzerland accuracy. China's advertisements stresses quality goods produced in cooperation with foreign firms. Its questionable whether this is the right approach. The message of the "Made in China, made with the world" ads embodies nothing that is distinctively Chinese.

The ad talks about cooperation with the world, but real purchases take place on a regional basis. Some parts of the ad would seem out of place in Japan. Americans would be puzzled by an emphasis on French style. The ads would be better if targeted at individual nations. Currently their focus is too general.

The China brand should have been backed up by some of the country's more famous brands such as Haier, Lenovo, and TCL. Introducing these famous brands would improve the State Brand image in foreigners' eyes. But displaying a French model leaves the viewer confused as to whether this is an advertisement for China or for France or. Many of the images seem to be an advertisement for foreigners.

The Ministry of Commerce has purchased advertising time for six weeks in the main international media such as CNN. This in itself is questionable , since CNN is not available in all countries and there are great differences between Asia, US and Europe. Furthermore while politicians and businessmen watch CNN, housewives do not. Product advertising should be directed at the real purchasers. For this, CNN is not a good choice. Advertising is one thing; public relations is another. In the fast-growing world economy, the Chinese government should popularize the Chinese brand worldwide using public relations, and paying attention to communication between government and business. It should attract business and consumers by holding trade exhibitions. Advertising campaigns can also popularize Chinese brands abroad and help to build brands. Nowadays the Internet is the fastest way to transmit information. We can popularize Chinese brands and give detailed information through the Internet.

We urgently need to create Chinese brands that can last for generations. The central government should make a strategic plan to boost Chinese brands. Apparently the 30-second advertisements were made jointly by the Ministry of Commerce and four Chinese industrial associations.

The four industrial groups include: the China Advertising Association, the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products (CCCME), the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Light Industrial Products and Arts-Crafts (CCCLA), the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Textiles. China also should seek advice from famous foreign companies since different countries have different strategies. China even can gather advertising plans from the public to understand local consumers' characteristics.

In the past "Made in China" has been a by-word for fake, poor quality goods . But years of effort have begun to change that image. One can now find high quality Chinese brands. In household appliances "Made in Japan" was once the first choice for Chinese consumers, despite higher prices. Btu foreign brands are losing their attraction as domestically produced goods improve in quality. Imported appliances are now seen as quick to develop faults and hard to repair. There is little to choose between domestic and imported TVs. Nevertheless, many consumers still retain their previous image of Chinese goods as poor quality. To boost the overall image of "Made in China" goods requires a comprehensive analyses and plan since it relates not just to product image but to national image.

Nelson Mandela tells a story in his memoirs that boarding a South African aircraft one day he was surprised to see the pilot was black. Although he had spent his life combating racial discrimination, a black airline pilot still seemed incongruous to him. It is just was if we see a photocopier made in Brazil or computer made in Mongolia. We call the the Country of Origin (COO) effect. Such stereotyping is the result of first impressions and habit. Consumers have preferences for or aversions to certain products from particular countries. For example, because India is poor, we take it for granted that Indians are poor, but in fact many Indians are rich, their high technological industry is booming and most of the billionaires in Silicon Valley are from India.

Studies show that the COO effect has nearly a 20 percent influence on purchases. Stereotyping is universal and can not be changed easily. Japanese businessmen rate German products the highest, then the UK, followed by the US, Japan and France, but Japanese consumers rate their own goods as the best. French, German and Japanese products are among the best according to purchasing managers. Most studies show products from developing countries are ranked lowest. COO can cause a halo effect which means consumers overrate or underrate quality depending on the origin of goods. Both individual brands and country brands need to be built to combat this form of stereotyping.

International competitive strength is an overall measure of a nation's industry and economic power. An individual company can create an image in the consumer's mind. But to create an an image for an entire country, the efforts of individual companies are obviously insufficient. State Brands will not be popularized by individual companies because of their tendency to free-riding behavior. They need the efforts of the whole nation. International marketing experts are paying increasing attention to COO. In the international market, the most important foundation influencing the customers is the origin of the product. The building of a state brand requires subtle marketing skills, and like product marketing is a matter of managing of perceptions.

Those who travel to America or Europe have the impression that TV advertising breaks are crammed with the landscapes of India and the charming smiles of Singapore. Countries spend huge amounts of money to buy advertising time and shape their image. In recent years developing countries have recognized great potential of state brands. By repeatedly showing the same advertisements a comprehensive concept of a country is gradually shaped in consumers' minds. The developed countries don't want to be left behind. Former president George HW Bush has appeared in ads to boost tourism to the US. In the late 1980s, Hong Kong ads featuring portrayed it as a shopping paradise is a place of "shopping kingdom". More recent ads have featured Jackie Chan. New Zealand is another example of a government that has spared no effort to boost the country's image, exploiting the welcoming smiles of the native Maoris to convey a message of "100 percent pure New Zealand".

This blog was published on December 1 and translated by Jessica Zhang.

Infamous brands

China Daily, December 15, 2009

Do not blame us for distrusting domestic "famous brands", for here is one more reason.

In addition to the once-popular practice of buying such a label from a certain institution, they can now even concoct "litigation" to get a certain trademark certified as "famous". Again, it does not matter if anybody ever heard about that specific brand - when a court says it is "famous", it is.

We cannot but have grudging respect for our compatriots' corner-cutting genius, although we do feel ashamed of their highly creative brainpower always being used in wrong places.

Since local governments have to certify "famous" trademarks, they have carved out short-cuts to becoming famous. Of the only two ways of being officially acknowledged as "famous", court rulings cost less time and money than certification by industry and commerce administration authorities, so they swarm to the courts.

And thanks to some judges' greed, some courts have been easy to be bought out. We now have to wait for the outcome of the ongoing investigations of justices in Liaoning province to see exactly how dirty things have gotten.

Previously, we were only astonished by corporate entities fabricating non-existent "violators" to create "lawsuits" so as to get a verdict against the unreal "damage" infringed upon a "famous brand". But we dared not suspect that justices had a role in the antics, which now appears to be the sad truth.

We do not want to add fuel to the public's disbelief in our judiciary's claim of loyalty to justice and are willing to refrain from making negative comments until the truth is ultimately out. But let us be frank - once the suspected collusion does prove to exist, the damage to its credibility would be beyond repair. Especially if such fraudulence is not limited to Liaoning.

And it further erodes popular confidence in the already notorious practice of naming "famous brands". Given that there are too many nameless "famous brands" in this country, few of us actually care who says what is "famous". That various authorities, and fake authorities, continue to be enthusiastic about concocting "famous brands" is but a race for dirty money. Only that it gets even more disgraceful with the courts getting involved.

But this will definitely end up being detrimental to the all-out efforts to promote the made-in-China label. Official seals of recognition on inferior or shoddy products can only denigrate the collective image of Chinese goods.

That "famous brands" are more or less a meaningless, if not deceptive, label of self-pity is at this point a mere family secret among ourselves. If such a pattern is allowed to persist, our best hope will be that others never see through it.

After 22 yrs, Hamas becomes more popular

By Saud Abu Ramadan

Nobody has ever expected that Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, which was founded 22 years ago, would promote from being a radical Islamic movement, listed among the world's organizations of terrorism, to become a worldwide popular movement.

Hamas, which is an extension of the worldwide Brotherhood Moslem movement, was launched at Gaza mosques by several dozens of people in the Gaza Strip, then it established its armed wing, better known as al-Qassam Brigade at the beginning of the Palestinian Uprising, or Intifada in 1987.

On Monday, tens of thousands of Hamas supporters in the Gaza Strip, that has been ruled by the movement since June 2007, would join a popular rally to mark 22 years for establishing the movement, which was founded in Gaza by late spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on Dec. 14, 1987.

"Hamas has become a regional and a worldwide movement within a short period of time," said Abdel Rahman al-Jamal, a Hamas lawmaker, during a preparatory rally held in Central Gaza Strip on Friday, where demonstrators burnt two coffins wrapped with Israeli and U.S. flags.

Opposition and resistance

Several months before the movement was officially founded, its founders and leaders depended on the principles of "al-Da'wa" or religious mission by publishing and spreading the principles of Islam among the population to build up a popular base of support for the movement.

When the movement was founded right after the Palestinian Intifada, or Uprising, erupted against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, it said that its mission is to resist the Israeli military occupation by all means of arms, and also to challenge any peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Although Hamas has become so popular and became an important part of the Palestinian political arena, the movement would keep considering (Jihad) holy war and armed resistance as its strategic choice to liberate the occupied land of Palestine," said Khalil al- Hayah, a senior leading Hamas figure.

Hamas which opposed joining the world's sponsored peace process and violently opposed Oslo peace accords signed with Israel in 1993, refused to join the first ever legislative elections held in the Palestinian territories in 1996. It armed wing had violently attempted to thwart Oslo peace accords.

More pragmatic

However, when the movement's popularity grew up among the Palestinians following a series of suicide bombing attacks its militants had carried out into Israel, where the movement believed that it's time for picking up the fruits of the bombing attacks and gain more popular support to join the political arena.

"Our movement is still upholding the option of Jihad and resistance as a strategic choice to regain back the rights and constants and protect the Islamic holy sites," said al-Hayah, adding "Hamas is upholding the constants which it believed in 22 years ago."

He went on saying that "although Hamas movement has joined the political arena and became part of the Palestinian political society, the movement won't be attracted by the seats and the authority as well as the political posts. It presented its pioneer leaders to be martyrs for the sake of the Palestinian cause."

However, Hamas rivals, mainly Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party accused Hamas movement of trying to create an alternative leadership instead of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which has been the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinians over the past five decades.

Hamas political future

Hamas movement, which decided to join the legislative elections in January 2006, overwhelmingly won and defeated its rival Fatah movement. It had managed to form its first ever Palestinian government, which was stuck by a strong international embargo, after Hamas refused to recognize Israel.

Hamas leaders accused the international community of weakening it by imposing an international embargo, in addition to the tight Israeli blockade which was imposed on the Gaza Strip more than three years ago, and was tightened after the movement seized control of the Gaza Strip by force in 2007.

Palestinian observers believe that a large-scale Israeli air, sea and ground military offensive on Gaza, that was launched on Dec. 27 and lasted for 22 days, has not weakened the political and military strength of the movement, which still rules Gaza and has lots of political activities on all levels.

"Hamas movement doesn't suffer from any crisis in both its decisions and its visions and policies," said Ahmed Bahar, deputy speaker of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council ( PLC), adding that "Hamas is seeking to hold free and fair elections under accepted circumstances."

Al-Hayah, who previewed the precession of Hamas over the past 22 years said that Hamas had faced conspiracies and several attempts to break its power, adding "But Hamas, which offered lots of sacrifices would keep struggling and surviving to serve its people and its legitimate cause."

Sketching tiger, hidden meaning

Yao Shaohua was born in Beijing in 1942 and studied under Wang Jinglu, one of the most renowned artists of his generation. From him, the young Yao learned the skills necessary for his exquisite depictions of landscapes, flowers and birds. Later, he graduated to become a student of another grand master - Hu Shuang'an. It was during his apprenticeship to Hu that Yao began to develop his distinct tiger motif that was to characterize many of his mature works.

Mastering many of the skills of his two noble forebears, Yao began to concentrate on developing his own style. This style came to be pervasive in his later work and his singular representation of the many postures and expressions of the tigers he committed to canvas.

Sometimes he sparingly uses only a few lines to bring the tigers to life, yet the essence of his works goes well beyond his scant outlines. To many, his paintings represent the veritable apogee of Chinese freehand brushwork.

Speaking of his own oeuvre, Yao says: "What is reflected in Chinese brush painting is not confined to what we see with our eyes, such as the shape and the outline. It represents the very essence of things."

According to Yao, to gain a clearer understanding of the artistic milieu, it is necessary to take the opportunity to appreciate Chinese paintings alongside their creators and come to understand their way of realizing their unique vision.

Chinese brush painting is a unique tradition, which has existed for thousands of years, with many of its basic tenets remaining unchanged. The beauty of this classic style lies in 'shi' and 'xu'. Shi is any element that can be seen, such as the structural composition, use of space, method of expression, and the technical use of the brush. Xu refers to something more subliminal within the painting, notably its theme and artistic content. The combination of both is a unique feature of Chinese brush painting.

Sketching tiger, hidden meaning

The invention of paper and the brush pen later encouraged the rise of another art form: painting. Today, it is called Chinese brush painting, so as to distinguish it from its Western oil painting counterpart.

Other than as a historical record, the essential intent of Chinese brush painting is to deliver a distinct message. The subject of these works can be derived from anything natural, but the aim is always to present the emergence of life.

Due to their uniqueness and boundless artistic value, many of Yao's works are now housed in the Zhongnanhai compound, one of the galleries of the Great Hall of the People.

As his fame has grown, Yao has been invited to take part in a series of high-profile exhibitions and forums. He has also published a number of books regarding his own works and artistic philosophy. To date, his books include "Chinese Painting: Techniques for Painting Animals" and "the Yao Shaohua Special".

Yao's works, especially his paintings of tigers, have won him a number of awards, including gold, silver and bronze trophies, as well as several commendations.

Yao pays strict attention to detail within his works. He will often spend many days, even months, perfecting certain techniques necessary to commit his imagination to the canvas.

He is dedicated to self-improvement - not only in his artistic endeavors, but also in the areas of history, literature and Chinese calligraphy. He places great emphasis on the necessity of painting appropriate subjects and using the correct style for the success of any aspiring Chinese painter.

Yao says: "A successful artist is good at choosing a suitable subject and then using his own artistic language to enhance it."

Unlike Western painters who prop their canvases on easels and stand opposite them, classical Chinese scholars preferred to keep the tip of their brush pen vertical to the paper, with their arms held above the desktop. This ensured that they could write smoothly, adjust the width of their characters and maximize the variety of their calligraphy. For adherents to this tradition, there are no limitations in the size of the brush pen. It depends solely on the painter's individual preference and the content of the painting.

In the year 105 AD, paper was invented by Tsai Lun, a eunuch in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220). As it was more convenient and lower in weight than other materials, paper soon became accepted as the leading artistic medium. The Chinese artists of the time, however, were not satisfied with merely writing on the paper. They chose to use their brush pens to create a unique painting style.

Since that time, Chinese brush painting has evolved, alongside the society that nurtured it, into the rich artistic style that we see today. Through it we can see, brought to life, the passing of the dynasties and the many changes in social conditions.

Original pirate material

China Daily, December 11, 2009

Last week I attended a forum in Guangzhou about the creative industry, a fancy word for things as old as book publishing, as new as e-books and everything in between.

Guangdong province, of which Guangzhou is the capital, is often bypassed when visitors look for culture. It is connected to Shenzhen and Hong Kong and is known as "the world's factory floor", not "the world's drawing board". Dismayed officials want to change that perception.

"Do you know we have been No. 1 in the culture business for six consecutive years?" says Lai Bin, a provincial publicity officer. At 227 billion yuan (US$33 billion) for 2008, Guangdong's cultural industries accounted for 6.4 percent of its GDP and experienced a growth rate of 13.8 percent. But Lai admits that size does not equal weight. "Our businesses are mostly small, financing difficult and brands few."

One local brand that has made it big is "Pleasant Goat and Big, Big Wolf" (Xiyangyang Yu Huitailang), also translated as "Happy Sheep and Gray Wolf," arguably China's most popular cartoon series currently being aired. But Liu Manyi, general manager of Creative Power Entertaining Inc, the firm behind the hit show, is not laughing to the bank. Instead she is bitter: "Pirate discs were all over the street before our first movie hit the screen. One character endorses children's medicine, another plugs contraceptives, and their images appear on all kinds of products. All this without proper licensing."

The company, which only broke even when the series turned into a runaway hit, is now spending tons of money chasing pirates. It has been guerilla warfare. Bootleggers do not usually register their business. When they are caught, the court generally gives them a slap on the wrist, to the tune of a 10,000-50,000 yuan (US$1464-7322) fine.

"It is such a weak deterrent that in one case we had to retroactively grant a license to the offender," complains Liu.

If Liu's company is suffering, just imagine what the remaining 6,000 firms in the Guangdong creative industry are going through.

In case you don't know, China produces the largest amount of animated programming in the world. But quantity is not quality. Behind every Pleasant Goat there are tens of thousands of flops.

This year China is expected to amass a total of 130,000 minutes of domestically produced animation programs, but it's doubtful whether this is worth one "Kungfu Panda," the animated movie released by DreamWorks.

Rolf Gesen, a Berlin-based film archivist who teaches at Beijing Communication University, attributes the failure to students who are too obsessed with technology and influenced by Japanese anime.

"(The animations) are just like junk food," he laments, "without roots in their own culture or emotional exchange ... the roles tend to be wooden, which makes it difficult for audiences, domestic or international, to identify with."

Stella Chou, managing director of China business development for Harper Collins, is more lenient. She says China's cartoons and animated works are "more suitable for children, while on the international market the target audience is mostly adults."

I don't know when the explosion in animation started in China, but I look around and there are festivals and conferences galore. Can you call it a "boom"? On the surface it appears to be. But like many things in China, it is artificially inflated. Sometime in the past decade, people, including the government, realized that animation is big business. Central government launched drives, local governments dangled incentives and capital flowed like red wine at a party.

The only caveat is, nobody is buying. Most TV stations do not pay for such programs. If the major companies do pay, the fees are so minimal it's not even worth the producers flying to Beijing to make a deal.

This leaves just one way forward. Use television exposure as a promotional tool, like Hasbro did in the late 1980s when it offloaded without charge some "Transformer" series to Chinese TV channels. It recouped its investment by selling toys at astronomical prices. But those who follow this route are ambushed by bandits, who snatch earnings by illegally associating their names with a hit show, or selling pirate products.

My daughter is a big fan of "Pleasant Goat" and we have bought her boxes of toys. We don't deal with sidewalk vendors because we know the goods are not genuine. But there is a spectrum to counterfeiting, ranging from the shoddiest products to identical goods. One of my counterfeiter friends says sometimes they use better materials than the real thing, thus confusing buyers.

The best way for the government to promote the country's creative industries is to crack down on piracy. Hollywood often raises its voice about being victimized in China.

Truth be told, Hollywood is probably the least affected since there is a quota system for China's importation of Hollywood films.

Many Chinese producers are taking baby steps and the domestic market is all they have. If their rights in the home market are not protected, they will never see the day their products find a foreign audience.

The sudden closure of BT websites where copyrighted materials used to flow freely suggests a determination on the part of the government to take intellectual property rights seriously. Unfortunately it still tends to lump unlicensed material with pornography. The underlying logic goes, this kind of stuff is bad for us, so we should ban it.

The right reasoning should be, it does not matter whether the material is beneficial or detrimental, as long as it is not legally obtained, it should be outlawed.

Much of the news coming out of the 2009 International Cultural Industries Forum was encouraging. China's film industry is expected to reap 6 billion yuan (US$879 million) in box office receipts this year. A decade from now, this number may go up to 30 billion, according to some forecasts.

Movie tickets in China are not cheap and people pay the price of a good restaurant meal to get a movie-theater experience, which cannot be replicated with a pirated disc. If the government kicks serious ass in dealing with online and offline pirates, China's creative industries may well have a future that's worth the feel-good ending of a typical blockbuster.

Ex-officer on trial as mafia-style group boss

China Daily, December 15, 2009

Former local police officer Yue Cun will stand trial Wednesday for allegedly leading a gang that committed "extreme violent crimes" in the southwest municipality.

The 40-strong gang under Yue's lead will face 13 charges in Chongqing No.5 Intermediate People's Court, including leading or participating in a gang, murder, intentional injury on others, abduction, racketeering, trading and possession of ammunitions.

The trials are the latest that brought national attention to Chongqing after many officials from the local police and the justice system, as well as defense attorneys, have been implicated for protecting gangs or obstructing justice.

An investigation by the procuratorate found that the gang allegedly killed three people, seriously injured one and resolved issues through violent means in loan-sharking, racketeering and collecting debts.

Local police have seized 15 guns, 16 cars, 13 properties and froze 52 million yuan of the gang's assets. The "gang-sweeping achievements exhibition" staged in the municipal public security bureau revealed the information and put some of the seized items on display.

Citizens said lessons could be learned from the policeman who allegedly turned into a criminal and gang ringleader.

"Let's face the truth and be reminded of not falling into the same pit again," said local middle school teacher Xie Xiaoming.

Yue reportedly was promoted to head of Nanbinlu police station in the city's Nan'an district in the 1990s.

He began to assemble decommissioned solders and mobsters to work as security guards for the Fuan Cinema that he contracted to operate in the Nan'an district in 1996, according to prosecutors.

Since then, he reportedly expanded his influence and accumulated his wealth with violence and threats.

Prosecutors said that begining in 2001, Yue set up 10 "information consulting companies" that operated loan-sharking and illegal detective businesses. His organization gradually became a structured mafia-style gang with clear reporting lines and gang rules.

The exhibition also showed after he retired for health reasons as a police officer in 2004, the gang conducted spying and eavesdropping activities with hi-tech equipment around Yue's "Bond Company" to blackmail government officials and company owners.

Japanese PM, Chinese VP meet to promote bilateral ties

Visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama Monday with an aim to further develop the strategic mutually beneficial relationship.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (L) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 14, 2009. (Xinhua/Ma Zhancheng)

The visit of Xi, who arrived in Japan earlier in the day, is the first by a Chinese state leader since the new Japanese government took office in this September.

In a written statement upon arrival, Xi said China and Japan are close neighbors, and developing China-Japan ties is in the interests of the two countries and peoples.

At present, the two countries are facing new opportunities to build up a strategic and reciprocal relationship, he said.

"I am visiting Japan to promote mutual trust, cooperation, and friendship," Xi said.

Earlier in the day, Xi and Takahiro Yokomichi, Speaker of Japan's House of Representatives, attended an official launching ceremony of the Tokyo China Culture Center, a showroom which is aimed at providing information on China and hosting various cultural exchange activities.

During his stay in Tokyo, Xi will meet Emperor Akihito, hold a series of meetings with lawmakers from Japan's ruling and opposition parties as well as Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. He will also visit Fukuoka.

Japan is the first stop of Xi's four-nation Asian tour. He will also visit the Republic of Korea (ROK), Myanmar and Cambodia.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (L) meets with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 14, 2009. (Xinhua/Ma Zhancheng)

Is war necessary to achieve peace?

By Guo Yanyuan

On December 10 Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. He used his acceptance speech to defend the US role in Afghanistan, and to argue that the use of force could bring lasting peace to the world. Praised by the Nobel committee for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples," just 9 days earlier he had announced he was sending 30,000 additional troops to the battlefield in Afghanistan because "war is sometimes necessary."

There were a number of absurdities in Obama's speech. He resurrected the concept of a "just war" to defend humanity from evil. He portrayed the U.S. as a moral agent striving to maintain global security, and claimed that the "use of force not only necessary but morally justified." Nevertheless, he admitted, "we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes."

On the face of it Afghanistan was a just war triggered by the September 11 catastrophe. The purpose of the US invasion was to overthrow the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda, the brains behind the September 11 attacks. But eight years on, the multinational forces remain trapped in Afghanistan by the U.S., which is seeking to maintain control of Afghanistan under the pretext of nation-building and eradicating terrorism. As the war drags on, the U.S. has found it impossible to accomplish its multiple missions without more troops.

The U.S. also launched a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003 even though the IAEA had failed to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Saddam was desperately seeking a compromise with the international community. The U.S. was stubbornly determined on regime change and establishing control over Iraq. But the invasion brought not only so-called US-style democracy and liberty, but also social, political and humanitarian disaster. You will seek in vain for peace and prosperity brought about by US wars.

It was especially shocking to hear Obama say he would "no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers." The U.S. holds the second largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and the most advanced defensive and offensive nuclear technology in the world. It is also the only country to have ever carried out a nuclear attack, at the end of the Second World War. Obama is quite wrong if he thinks launching more wars is an effective way to prevent nuclear war and bring peace and stability to the world.

These days all countries are aware that war is disastrous for human beings and that peaceful coexistence and development lead to stability and prosperity. Obama's theory of "just wars" will not convince other countries. The definition of what counts as a "just war" is arbitrary. Peace does not always require sacrifice. Among the international community, only the U.S. which in fact is seeking more than peace, is so committed to "seeking peace through sacrifice."

Most countries seek security in deterrence directed against rivals who are roughly comparable in terms of military capabilities. But deterrence does not work when the relationship is asymmetrical. In such cases, the strategy of the U.S. is not deterrence but domination. The U.S. launched wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq and its adversaries are not the regular forces of a sovereign government but armed civilians fighting against invaders.

If the U.S. persists in seeking hegemony and spreading "peace," the world will see many more such "just wars." Obama is actually a hawk in foreign policy. We cannot hope that the U.S. will be a peaceful country during his administration. When all is said and done, he is a realist president who places his country's national interests at the heart of his domestic and foreign policies.

When China rules the world

By John Sexton

With its provocative title, this well-written and timely book by the well-known British journalist Martin Jacques is something of a publisher's dream. A cut above the annual crop of run-of-the-mill "China threat" books, Jacques' thoughtful analysis is selling well and deservedly so. It combines an excellent introduction to Chinese history and culture with an exposition of the main arguments surrounding the 21st century "rise of China", albeit heavily weighted in favor of the author's own views. It even throws in an excellent chapter on Japan that, taken on its own, would be a good enough reason for buying the book.

But what of the massive assumption contained in the book's title? Does Jacques manage to make his case that China is set to rule the world? Talk of the emergence of a G2 of America and China in the wake of the crash of 2008 appears, if not to confirm, then at least prefigure China's rise to preeminence. None of the great issues facing the world can be solved without reference to and without the agreement of the "big two." All eyes are on the U.S. and China as the world gathers in Copenhagen to address the existential threat of global warming. But counting as one of the world's biggest problems does not translate to occupancy of the top seat, and would in any case be an unhappy way to ascend the throne.

China's apparent rise is a function of American decline. From Gulf War one to Gulf War two, from an unparalleled demonstration of military invincibility, to a bloody morass; from George HW Bush, the measured and cautious statesman, to George W Bush, the buffoon; from the promise of Silicon Valley to the crash of 2008, talk of America's loss of power and prestige has become common currency. Few now quote Francis Fukuyama's neo-Hegelian tract The End of History and the Last Man, on universally-accepted Western values and institutions as the end point of human development. Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations has better stood the test of time.

Jacques' argument is simple. China is huge, its economy is booming, its growth is unstoppable and it will therefore at some point overtake and supplant the U.S. as the world's dominant economic power. It will do so, according to Jacques, even before its per capita GDP exceeds America's. Other dimensions of power will flow from its economic preeminence.

Two of Jacques' three premises are undeniable. It is because of China's huge population and its economic record that we are having this discussion. Whether China's growth is unstoppable is the key question. There is no shortage of doom-mongers who continuously predict economic disaster in China. The "inevitable" failure of the government's massive stimulus package is their latest chorus. Like a stopped clock, no doubt they will eventually be right. But the lesson of all economic crises, including the Great Depression that appeared to have devastated America, is that societies, governments and economies, adapt and recover. Crises may delay but not arrest China's growth.

On balance, therefore, I believe Jacques has made his case for the rise of China. It is part of an axial shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Europe and America to Asia, from West to East. It marks the final fading of the old imperialist and colonialist powers and the rise of the former colonies, and includes the rise of the other Asian giant, India, alongside China. Jacques, a former communist, now believes the anti-colonial struggle was of much greater significance than the Bolshevik revolution. "With hindsight, the defeat of colonialism […] must rate as one of the great landmarks of the last century, perhaps the greatest."

What will the consequences of China's rise be? Jacques gives the world plenty to worry about. Under a veneer of communist ideology, he believes the Chinese state and society have remained essentially unchanged since Imperial times. In particular, both rulers and people have inherited a "Middle Kingdom mentality" forged over the centuries when China dominated East Asia, and outlying "barbarians" traveled to the capital to pay tribute and kowtow to the Emperor. Will China transpose old habits to the world stage and use its economic muscle to reconstruct a modern version of the tributary system? Jacques claims to see hints of such a development in PRC relations with its smaller neighbors and trading partners.

Even more worrying is that Jacques claims to have detected a powerful strain of racism and feelings of racial superiority running through Chinese, indeed East Asian society as a whole. This is partly based on Jacques' own experience, and indeed widespread popular prejudice against people with dark skins, and Africans in particular, can be quickly confirmed by almost any observant traveler. There is also a deep-rooted ideal of beauty which means that in China until recently it was almost impossible to buy sun-block that did not contain skin lightener. Jacques also points to articles in Chinese learned journals and the popular press that aim to refute the now almost universally-held "Out of Africa" theory of human evolution.

Should we be worried? There are many countervailing forces to traditionalism in Chinese society. One is the vast numbers of returnees who have been educated in America and elsewhere over recent decades. A younger generation that believes it has "seen the future and it works" has colonized ministries and influential think tanks. China's "Westernizers" intellectually outgun by far the modern equivalent of its "Slavophiles". Jacques also fails to give sufficient weight to China's huge new working class, the largest in the world, which is streaming to the cities and abandoning rural life and its age-old traditions. While unlikely to fall in with the Westernizers, these new urban residents are no more likely to represent a traditionalist force.

The perception that racism is particularly prevalent in China may be an illusion of Westerners attuned to living in multicultural societies exposed to decades of government education programs that have expelled vulgar prejudice from polite society. Despite Jacques' occasional careless use of the word "race," the various ethnic groups and nationalities of China and East Asia are physically virtually indistinguishable. Western tourists in China may be charmed or annoyed by prolonged stares and giggles, but these are a reaction to unfamiliarity rather than signs of a Boxer mentality. The dissenters from the Out of Africa theory turn out to be a few archaeologists in Nanjing and Wuhan who have devoted their lives to the fossil record of early man in China. Chinese geneticists are wholly in agreement with the DNA evidence that underpins the Out of Africa theory. This is not to say the Chinese government does not have a mountain to climb to educate its citizens about racial prejudice. But starting late has never been a barrier to success in China. The important thing is to find the political will.

Martin Jacques has written an excellent popular book on China, which is exactly what the world needs if it is to understand and engage with the Chinese, as it increasingly must. Professional Sinologists have been rather sniffy about it because Jacques does not speak Chinese, but it is always open to them to write something better. Unfortunately, Western university grants systems keep their noses firmly stuck in obscure research projects that yield books nobody reads. The days are long gone since John King Fairbank and others wrote their magisterial histories, more is the pity. In the meantime, Martin Jacques has helped fill the gap.

Carlos Salinas de Gortari

Datos relevantes
Actualización: 7 de Julio de 2009
Crédito fotográfico: © UN Photo/Milton Grant


Presidente de la República

Duración del mandato: 01 de Diciembre de 1988 - 01 de Diciembre de 1994

Nacimiento: México D.F. , 03 de Abril de 1948

Partido político: PRI

Profesión: Economista

Crédito fotográfico: © UN Photo/Milton Grant


La presidencia de Carlos Salinas (1988-1994) entrañó para México una transformación radical en varios terrenos. En el económico y comercial, las reformas estructurales y constitucionales, la privatización general de las empresas públicas, la supresión de la reforma agraria heredada de la Revolución y la creación del TLCAN abundaron en una modernización de corte liberal, mudanzas que junto con otras reformas de calado en el sistema político coadyuvaron, paradójicamente, al final de la larga supremacía de su partido, el Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). El reguero de conmociones sufridas en el último año, con el alzamiento zapatista en Chiapas, dos magnicidios de dirigentes priístas y la descomunal crisis financiera que le estalló ya a su sucesor, E. Zedillo, y que arruinó los cacareados logros macroeconómicos del sexenio y empobreció a la población, malparó la reputación de Salinas, que optó por expatriarse.
1. Una brillante carrera como tecnócrata del PRI
2. Cuestionado triunfo en la elección presidencial de 1988
3. Las grandes reformas económicas del sexenio salinista
4. Un crecimiento con bases frágiles
5. La reforma política a remolque del liberalismo económico
6. Las convulsiones del último año: rebelión zapatista, magnicidios y tormenta financiera
7. Un ex presidente caído en el oprobio y los avatares de la familia Salinas

1. Una brillante carrera como tecnócrata del PRI
Uno de los cinco hijos tenidos por los señores Raúl Salinas Lozano, destacado economista y servidor gubernamental, que fungiera de secretario (ministro) de Industria y Comercio en el sexenio presidencial de Adolfo López Mateos (1958-1964), y de la maestra Margarita de Gortari Carvajal, recibió las formaciones primaria, secundaria y preuniversitaria en los colegios capitalinos Abraham Lincoln, Héroes de Chapultepec y San Ildefonso, respectivamente. Posteriormente estudió en la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), por la que, siguiendo los pasos de su padre, se licenció en Economía en 1970 con una memoria titulada Agricultura, industrialización y empleo: el caso mexicano, y en la Universidad estadounidense de Harvard, por la que obtuvo sendas maestrías en Administración Pública (1973) y Economía Política (1976), así como el doctorado en Economía Política y Gobierno (1978).

Mientras enriquecía su currículum lectivo trabajó de profesor auxiliar de Estadística en la UNAM y a partir de 1976 enseñó las asignaturas de Finanzas Públicas y Política Fiscal en el Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos (CEMLA) y en el Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). Deportista consumado y practicante de la hípica, el joven obtuvo la medalla de plata en los VI Juegos Panamericanos celebrados en Cali, Colombia, en agosto de 1971, como integrante del equipo de equitación mexicano.

Ya en 1969, con 21 años, continuando la tradición política familiar, obtuvo la membresía en el Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), formación que de manera ininterrumpida y hegemónica ocupaba el poder en todos los niveles de la administración del Estado desde su fundación en 1929 con el nombre de Partido Nacional Revolucionario. Salinas dio sus primeros pasos en política ejerciendo de ayudante del diputado federal potosino Gonzalo Martínez Corbalá, quien le introdujo en el vasto andamiaje de una formación nacida para integrar las distintas facciones salidas de la Revolución de 1910-1917, que funcionaba como un verdadero partido-Estado y cuyas divisas habían sido el nacionalismo, el laicismo y el estatalismo, conformando un particular izquierdismo de tipo no socialista luego evolucionado a un centrismo no menos impreciso y trufado de aspectos conservadores –incluso reaccionarios- como consecuencia de tantos años de férula absoluta y del arraigo de prácticas clientelistas y caciquiles.

Salinas empezó a prestar servicios en el Instituto de Estudios Políticos, Económicos y Sociales (IEPES) del PRI y a impartir clases en el Instituto de Capacitación y Desarrollo Político (ICADEP), órgano responsable de formar ideológicamente a los cuadros priístas destinados a ocupar puestos en la función pública y en las distintas instituciones políticas del Estado. En 1976 se desempeñó como director general del IEPES y en 1979, y de nuevo de 1981 a 1982, como subdirector del ICADEP. En 1972, tras siete años de noviazgo, contrajo matrimonio con Cecilia Occelli González. La pareja vivió dos años en Estados Unidos, mientras él desempeñó su beca en Harvard, antes de instalarse en México y de tener allí a sus tres hijos, Cecilia, Juan Cristóbal y Emiliano, nacidos respectivamente en 1974, 1976 y 1979.

Sirviéndose de la militancia partidista como trampolín y promocionado por los dirigentes Héctor Hernández Cervantes, futuro secretario de Comercio y Fomento Industrial, y Mario Ramón Beteta Monzalve, secretario de Hacienda y Crédito Público entre 1975 y 1976 y futuro director general de Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) y gobernador del estado de México, en la segunda mitad de la década de los setenta Salinas compaginó la actividad académica arriba reseñada con diversos puestos de responsabilidad técnica en la Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público del Gobierno Federal, protagonizando una de las carreras político-institucionales más sobresalientes en el México de finales del siglo XX.

Sin haber cumplido la treintena de edad, fue sucesivamente jefe del Departamento de Estudios Económicos de la Dirección General de Asuntos Hacendarios y Asuntos Internacionales (1974), analista en Crédito Público y jefe del Departamento de Estudios Económicos de la Dirección General de Planeación Hacendaria (1976), y subdirector y director general de esta última división (1978), siempre en el organigrama de la Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público y teniendo como último superior directo al secretario David Ibarra Muñoz. Por estos mismos años, su padre estuvo al frente de la Dirección Nacional de Precios y dirigió el Instituto Mexicano del Comercio Exterior, amén de presidir los consejos de la Comisión Federal de Electricidad y de los bancos estatales de Comercio Exterior y de Fomento Cooperativo.

En 1979, en el cuarto año de la presidencia de José López Portillo, su anterior jefe ministerial cuando éste llevó la Secretaría de Hacienda hasta 1975, Salinas fue nombrado secretario técnico del Gabinete Económico y director general de Política Económica y Social en la Secretaría de Programación y Presupuesto, ministerio que titularizaba un antiguo profesor suyo en la UNAM, Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, a la sazón el tapado de López Portillo para sucederle en la Presidencia en las elecciones de 1982. Llegado ese momento, Salinas supervisó desde el IEPES la campaña presidencial de de la Madrid, quien una vez posesionado de la suprema magistratura, el 1 de diciembre, entregó a su antiguo alumno la secretaría gubernamental que había desocupado el año anterior. Salinas asumió este su primer cometido ministerial poco después de convertirse en miembro de la Comisión Nacional de Ideología del PRI. Tenía sólo 34 años. Dicho sea de paso, en los comicios de 1982 don Raúl Salinas coronó su carrera política convirtiéndose en senador por Nuevo León, su patria chica.

El presidente de la Madrid delegó en su hombre de confianza la paternidad de una nueva política económica que principió las reformas más características de la década siguiente: la austeridad en el gasto público, con recortes en los programas y los subsidios sociales, la liberalización del comercio exterior y la diversificación de las exportaciones, la apertura a las inversiones foráneas, la reconversión industrial y la privatización de empresas del Estado.

2. Cuestionado triunfo en la elección presidencial de 1988
El 4 de octubre de 1987 Salinas cesó como secretario de Programación y Presupuesto al ser destapado, esto es, personalmente e inapelablemente seleccionado por de la Madrid como el candidato del oficialismo para las elecciones presidenciales de julio de 1988, imponiéndose sobre otros dirigentes que, se había creído, contaban con buenas posibilidades de ser agraciados por el célebre procedimiento vertical del dedazo. Eran los casos de Alfredo del Mazo González, ex gobernador del estado de México y actualmente secretario de Energía, Minas e Industria Paraestatal, Manuel Barlett Díaz, secretario de Gobernación (Interior), y Ramón Aguirre Velásquez, jefe del Departamento (Gobierno) del Distrito Federal. De manera meramente ritual, el Comité Ejecutivo Nacional (CEN), máxima instancia directiva del PRI, formalizó la designación de Salinas.

Tan sólo días después del destape de Salinas se produjo el hundimiento de la bolsa mexicana y el arranque de una espiral inflacionista, obligando al equipo económico del Gobierno a adoptar medidas de control y austeridad consistentes en el reajuste a la baja del tipo de cambio del peso, la congelación de salarios, tarifas y precios, y la reducción de la gigantesca plantilla federal de funcionarios. El año terminó registrando una inflación promedio del 160%.

El impacto social de estas medidas de contingencia emborronó las perspectivas electorales del PRI, confrontado ya con el envejecimiento natural de un modelo político que se estaba mostrado ineficaz para responder a los retos de la economía global en ciernes y a las aspiraciones sociales de cambios profundos, y las de Salinas, tanto más cuanto que le salió un contrincante de gran peso, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, el carismático hijo del reverenciado ex presidente Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1934-1940), recientemente defenestrado del PRI por demandar la democratización de las estructuras del partido y subido a la lid presidencial con el respaldo de una coalición de fuerzas progresistas e izquierdistas llamada Frente Democrático Nacional (FDN). Además, la formación derechista que hasta ahora había desempeñado el rol solitario de única fuerza de oposición al PRI digna de llamarse así, el Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), presentaba al popular empresario y político sinaloense Manuel Jesús Clouthier del Rincón. En otras palabras, era la primera vez que el priísmo debía librar una verdadera competición, y muy cerrada, en las urnas federales.

La incertidumbre presidió el día de los comicios, el 6 de julio de 1988. Luego de cerrarse las urnas, y al poco de avanzarse los primeros resultados parciales que sonreían a Cárdenas, se produjo una sospechosa avería temporal en el sistema electrónico de computación del voto. La Comisión Federal Electoral (CFE), órgano dependiente de la Secretaría de Gobernación, interrumpió la emisión de datos. Fue la famosa caída del sistema, expresión que en su sentido literal aludía al inexplicable colapso informático y en su sentido metafórico al final de una era política, la de la incontestable hegemonía del PRI.

El FDN denunció, no sin fundamento, que el partido del Gobierno había cometido un gran fraude y que había arrebatado la victoria a su candidato, certeza que no flaqueó después de que la CFE anunciara, el 13 de julio, los resultados oficiales: Salinas resultó ganador con el 50,4% de los votos seguido de Cárdenas con el 30,8% y Clouthier con el 17,1%. De nada sirvieron las multitudinarias manifestaciones de protesta conducidas por la oposición. En las elecciones al Congreso, el PRI conservó la mayoría absoluta en ambas cámaras, si bien en el hemiciclo bajo el retroceso fue muy notable, hasta los 260 diputados sobre 500. El oficialismo, por primera vez, perdió la mayoría de dos tercios requerida para aprobar reformas constitucionales.

El porcentaje adjudicado a Salinas en las presidenciales superaba la mitad de los votos computados, pero se trataba del más exiguo conseguido por el PRI en una elección de cualquier tipo. En 1982 de la Madrid se había proclamado presidente con el 74,3% de los sufragios, cifra ciertamente apabullante pero que ya en su momento había dado mucho que hablar por ser la más moderada obtenida por un candidato priísta desde hacía tres décadas. Que seis años atrás el país hubiese reaccionado con sorpresa ante el bajo volumen de votos sacado por de la Madrid daba una idea de la trascendencia de los resultados de ahora. Podía hablarse sin reservas de terremoto político en México, aun en el caso de que Salinas hubiera ganado a Cárdenas limpiamente y sin asomo de duda. Las elecciones de 1988 supusieron para México el comienzo de la transición desde un sistema de partido hegemónico –el cual, por otra parte, había hecho de él el país más estable de América Latina dentro de su peculiar democracia formal- a otro de partido predominante o simplemente mayoritario.

El 1 de diciembre de 1988 Salinas tomó posesión con un mandato sexenal y, a sus 40 años, como el más joven presidente de México desde Lázaro Cárdenas. En sus primeras alocuciones, el flamante mandatario se comprometió a hacer más transparente la vida política, fortaleciendo la legitimidad del proceso electoral y modernizando el sistema de partidos, y a lanzar un ambicioso plan de reformas económicas para vigorizar el anémico crecimiento y acelerar la reducción de la inflación, que en 1988 registraron las tasas respectivas del 1,1% del PIB y el 52%. Los comentaristas destacaron que con Salinas triunfaba, por primera vez desde la fundación del partido, la tecnocracia y el economicismo sobre la ideología y la política, tan bien representados por los diez mandatarios anteriores, todos ellos abogados de formación.

En principio, Salinas no contemplaba menoscabar la supremacía política del PRI en aras de la depuración democrática del sistema mexicano, pero su perfil técnico, su distanciamiento del lenguaje populista y nacionalista, y su determinación reformista en lo económico le granjearon desde el principio la hostilidad apenas contenida de sectores tradicionalistas de su partido así como de la vieja burocracia sindical priísta presente en la Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM), guardiana de las conquistas sociales y laborales de la Revolución. Los temores de estos poderes fácticos no eran caprichosos. En efecto, la ofensiva desreguladora y liberalizadora lanzada por Salinas iba a conseguir desmantelar, salvo en el sector petrolero, la estructura estatal-corporativista del PRI, el cual, debilitado, ya nunca sería el mismo, cayendo, tras una última muestra de arraigo electoral, en una crisis irreversible. Retrospectivamente, cabe situar en el sexenio de Salinas la semilla del histórico desalojo del PRI del poder federal en las elecciones del año 2000.

3. Las grandes reformas económicas del sexenio salinista
Bajo la Administración de Salinas se ejecutaron las grandes transformaciones estructurales que el presidente consideraba ineludibles para conformar el México moderno del próximo siglo. De entrada, se aceleró la campaña de privatizaciones comenzada en 1982, viéndose afectadas ahora todas las grandes empresas del Estado. Así, fueron entregados al capital privado la telefonía (Telmex, una compañía plagada de denuncias por negligencia en el servicio que en diciembre de 1990 fue adjudicada en pública subasta a un consorcio encabezado por el magnate Carlos Slim Helú), las comunicaciones viales y las aerolíneas, el sector químico, el siderúrgico (Altos Hornos de México), los seguros, las cadenas hoteleras, los medios de radiodifusión (Imevisión, que dio lugar a la TV Azteca) y, finalmente, la banca.

La histórica reforma del sistema bancario, emprendida en mayo de 1990 y rematada en diciembre de 1993, supuso la reversión total de la nacionalización realizada en 1982 por López Portillo, que había reducido las 764 entidades entonces existentes a menos de una veintena, encabezando las sobrevivientes el Banco Nacional de México (Banamex) y el Banco del Comercio (Bancomer). Asimismo, el Banco central de México, Banxico, fue dotado, reforma constitucional mediante, de un régimen jurídico que, con arreglo al modelo liberal, garantizaba su autonomía funcional y administrativa.

Eminentemente pragmático, Salinas explicó que las privatizaciones convenían al país a efectos de ingresos en la caja del Estado, ganancias que luego el Gobierno destinaría a abonar la deuda interna y a costear las necesidades sociales, pero la gigantesca operación produjo unos réditos incluso mayores de los esperados: sólo en 1991 el Estado recaudó 10.700 millones de dólares por ese concepto. Al final del mandato de Salinas, más del 90% del parque empresarial del país tenía dueños privados, quedando como únicas excepciones relevantes la Comisión Federal de electricidad (CFE) y el emblemático monopolio Pemex, el cual, no obstante, tampoco salió indemne de la avalancha de liberalizaciones, ya que, a través de la Ley Orgánica de Petróleos Mexicanos y Organismos Subsidiarios (julio de 1992), empezó a estructurarse como holding corporativo, asumiendo criterios de eficiencia y racionalidad, dotándose de una estructura divisional (las subsidiarias de Exploración y Producción, de Refinación, de Gas y Petroquímica Básica, y de Petroquímica) y abriéndose a la inversión privada extranjera según el esquema de franquicias.

El segundo florón del "liberalismo social" pregonado por Salinas fue la modificación, en diciembre de 1991, del régimen minifundista del ejido, perpetuado como la principal conquista social de la Revolución pero que, según el Gobierno, dificultaba la mecanización y la capitalización del agro mexicano por la reducida extensión de las parcelas comunitarias. La enmienda del artículo 27 de la Constitución suprimió el marco jurídico de la reforma agraria realizada en el período cardenista, poniendo fin al reparto de terrenos, convirtiendo a los tres millones de ejidatarios en propietarios formales y autorizando a las sociedades con capital privado la adquisición, reventa o arriendo de los ejidales con determinados límites de superficie. En círculos izquierdistas no hubo ambages en hablar de verdadera "contrarreforma agraria".

En tercer lugar, Salinas inauguró un nuevo concepto del crecimiento económico nacional que orientaba la producción hacia fuera, a la exportación, en detrimento de la industrialización. En la liberalización comercial, en el desarme arancelario a gran escala, iba a fundar, pues, México, sus perspectivas de progreso, y en primer lugar, el presidente apostó duro por la inclusión de México en el área de libre comercio ultimada por Canadá y Estados Unidos, país que por sí solo concentraba el 73% de todos los intercambios de México con el exterior.

Este histórico despegue del área latinoamericana para unirse a la Norteamérica rica y anglosajona desembocó en la firma por Salinas el 17 de diciembre de 1992, a la vez que lo hacían, cada uno en su país, el presidente George Bush y el primer ministro Brian Mulroney, del Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte (TLCAN, o NAFTA en su sigla en inglés), por el que los tres países asumían un cronograma para la eliminación de todos los aranceles al comercio trilateral en un plazo de diez años a partir del primer día de 1994. Si todo iba bien, en 2004 el TLCAN debía estar plenamente operativo.

El sueño librecambista de Salinas no estuvo lejos de ser arruinado debido a las fuertes resistencias que el proyecto concitó en sectores políticos y económicos de Estados Unidos, donde cundió el temor a la entrada de productos mexicanos de bajo precio y a una deslocalización de inversiones productivas buscando mano de obra barata, pero el 17 de noviembre de 1993, con gran alivio del mandatario, el Congreso de Washington aprobó el tratado gracias a la campaña promocional lanzada por el nuevo presidente demócrata, Bill Clinton. En opinión de Salinas, el libre acceso a un vasto mercado de 290 millones de habitantes iba a relanzar las exportaciones mexicanas, mientras que la apertura normativa doméstica iba a facilitar el desembarco de fuertes inversiones de los empresarios del norte, fundamentalmente en el sector de las maquiladoras o plantas de ensamblaje industrial (produciendo bienes de consumo directamente destinados a la exportación), con la consiguiente creación de miles de puestos de trabajo. Pero los críticos de la integración comercial presentaron una batería de argumentos adversos y empezaron por destacar los riesgos que supondría para la economía nacional una recesión en Estados Unidos.

Del importante nivel que alcanzó el diálogo mexicano-estadounidense dejaron constancia las numerosas cumbres presidenciales sostenidas por Salinas, doce en total, con Bush y Clinton. La primera reunión de Salinas como presidente en ejercicio con Bush tuvo lugar en París el 14 de julio de 1989, su primera visita oficial a Estados Unidos discurrió del 1 al 6 de octubre del mismo año y la primera recepción a Bush en casa, en Monterrey y Agualeguas, aconteció el 26 y el 27 de noviembre de 1990. Con Clinton, Salinas intercambió las primeras citas en Nueva York el 26 de septiembre de 1994, y en el DF y Tlaxcala del 5 al 7 de mayo de 1997.

Salinas vigiló atentamente toda posibilidad que permitiera a México adherirse a las iniciativas emergentes de la nueva economía globalizada. Con el propósito de diversificar en lo posible la clientela comercial, México fue el primer país latinoamericano que ingresó en la Cooperación Económica Asia-Pacífico (APEC), en el escenario de la I Reunión de jefes de Estado y de Gobierno de la organización celebrada en Seattle el 19 y el 20 de noviembre de 1993, mientras que la admisión, el 18 de mayo de 1994, en la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE), exclusivo club del capitalismo internacional que hasta entonces no había extendido la membresía a ninguno de los categorizados como nuevos países industrializados, le permitió identificarse con el primer mundo económico, no obstante continuar México anclado entre los países de desarrollo medio.

La prioridad del TLCAN no fue a costa, empero, de los tradicionales vínculos con los estados de América Central y el Sur; antes al contrario, éstos se renovaron, aunque desde una perspectiva más desideologizada y comercial. El 10 de enero de 1991 Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital del estado de Chiapas, acogió una cumbre entre Salinas y los cinco presidentes centroamericanos que significó el relanzamiento del protagonismo de México en la región y que preparó el acuerdo, firmado por los cancilleres en Managua el 20 de octubre de 1992, sobre la creación de una zona de libre comercio a seis.

En añadidura, con Nicaragua, en agosto de 1992, y con Costa Rica, en abril de 1994, se adoptaron sendos tratados de libre comercio. Ya en el terreno de la facilitación de conflictos, Salinas fue uno de los denominados "presidentes amigos" del secretario general de la ONU, el peruano Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, en la mediación del proceso de paz de El Salvador. Así, el Castillo de Chapultepec, en México DF, fue el escenario elegido para la firma el 16 de enero de 1992 del acuerdo de paz definitivo entre el Gobierno y la guerrilla salvadoreños.

Con Colombia y Venezuela, socios copartícipes del Grupo de los Tres (G-3), el país azteca resolvió establecer el 13 de junio de 1994 otra área de libre comercio a partir del 1 de enero de 1995. Y en el marco de la Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración (ALADI), se firmaron otro Tratado de Libre Comercio, con Bolivia, el 10 de septiembre de 1994, y un Acuerdo de Complementación Económica, con Chile, el 22 de septiembre de 1991. Por otra parte, Salinas, inaugurando un bienio de gran prestigio internacional, fue el anfitrión en Guadalajara el 18 y el 19 de julio de 1991 de la I Cumbre Iberoamericana, ámbito en el que se encontraban todos los países de América Latina más España y Portugal.

4. Un crecimiento con bases frágiles
El PIB mexicano creció en el primer cuatrienio de la administración de Salinas un promedio anual del 3,2%. En 1993 la tasa marcó sólo el 0,4%, en parte debido a una actuación del Gobierno para impedir el recalentamiento de la economía, pero en 1994 recuperó la pauta anterior. La inflación marcó en 1989 el 19,7%, en 1990 remontó hasta el 30% y en lo sucesivo descendió progresivamente hasta el 7,1% registrado en 1994, índice sin parangón en 22 años.

En este comportamiento positivo fue instrumental la entrada en vigor, el 1 de enero de 1993, del nuevo peso, que restó tres ceros a la divisa homónima precedente y que cotizó al tipo fijo de 3,3 unidades por dólar más una banda de fluctuación. A la bonanza económica y la estabilidad monetaria se les sumó una negociación con el FMI, la banca comercial y una serie de gobiernos acreedores para la reestructuración de la deuda externa que produjo resultados moderadamente positivos. Primer país del continente en abrazar (julio de 1989) el Plan Brady ofrecido por el Tesoro de Estados Unidos, México recortó el servicio de la deuda por la mitad y hasta 1992 el monto de la misma osciló ligeramente por encima de los 100.000 millones de dólares, comenzando a crecer luego.

Pero los logros en las luchas contra la inflación y el déficit de las finanzas públicas (en 1992 el salinismo puso fin a este endémico descubierto por la vía de emitir deuda pública y obtuvo un espectacular superávit del 3,4%) se cobraron grandes sacrificios de la población, sobre todo la disminución sistemática del poder adquisitivo de las clases medias y bajas. Para compensar los bajos salarios, la reforma del ejido y la supresión de multitud de intervenciones proteccionistas y asistenciales, el Estado puso en marcha el Programa Nacional de Solidaridad (Pronasol), que, financiado con el producto de las privatizaciones, invirtió 18.000 millones de dólares en infraestructuras de comunicaciones, servicios sociales, vivienda subvencionada, becas de estudios y otras ayudas, si bien la oposición no dejó de observar en tal programa la última campaña de proselitismo y clientelismo del PRI, que afrontaba preocupado las próximas citas electorales. Otro capítulo en el que el Gobierno Federal tuvo actuaciones señaladas fue el medioambiental, con medidas contra la contaminación atmosférica y la degradación urbana en la megalópolis del DF.

En los momentos de mayor optimismo del sexenio salinista por la constatación de un nuevo milagro económico mexicano (otra etapa calificada de milagrosa había sido el boom desarrollista fundado en el petróleo en la segunda mitad de los años setenta, durante el lopezportillismo), varios analistas coincidieron en advertir que el crecimiento se estaba apoyando sobre bases hueras, ya que la mayoría de los capitales privados estaban siendo invertidos, no en actividades productivas y generadoras de riqueza estructural, sino en fórmulas de riesgo financiero pero con alta rentabilidad así como en instrumentos de deuda pública como los tesobonos (que garantizaban los pagos en dólares en vez de pesos), creando una peligrosa burbuja especulativa. Así, en 1992, más de la mitad de los 60.000 millones de dólares en capital foráneo estaba invertida en la bolsa de valores.

5. La reforma política a remolque del liberalismo económico
Cuando tomó posesión del cargo, Salinas, de una manera implícita, y más tarde, explícitamente, poniendo como ejemplo la malograda experiencia de Mijaíl Gorbachov en la URSS, precisó que la reforma política, aunque insoslayable, no iba a efectuarse de manera simultánea y con el mismo énfasis que la reforma económica, una prelación de la perestroika sobre la glasnost que en medios periodísticos vino a denominarse la "salinistroika".

Con todo, bajo su mandato se efectuaron cambios de suma importancia en el sistema político, tras los que quizá existía tanto una sincera voluntad democratizadora como el deseo de marcarles el terreno a los poderosos caciques y dinosaurios priístas, actuando contra los aspectos más groseros de sus redes clientelistas y sus abusos de poder. Para Salinas, estos "viejos revolucionarios" que se oponían a las recetas liberales y que alertaban contra la liquidación de hecho de la Revolución mexicana eran más bien unos "nuevos reaccionarios". Los enfrentamientos que sostuvo con la vieja guardia del partido, así como las intervenciones contra los desafueros de las mafias político-delictivas, como la apadrinada por el líder del gremio de trabajadores del petróleo, Joaquín Hernández Galicia, alias La Quina, quien fue detenido en una espectacular acción policial en enero de 1989 para luego ser condenado a 35 años de prisión por posesión ilegal de armas, reportaron a Salinas en el primer tramo de su mandato una innegable popularidad.

El presidente acometió una reforma en profundidad del sistema electoral, y durante 1989 y 1990 el Congreso aprobó diversas enmiendas a la Constitución así como el nuevo Código Federal de Instituciones y Procedimientos Electorales (COFIPE). Entre las innovaciones más significativas de esta ley estaban: la creación del Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE), que relevó a la Secretaría de Gobernación en la organización y la supervisión de las elecciones; la actualización del padrón y la emisión de nuevas credenciales de los electores; y, el establecimiento del Tribunal Federal Electoral (TFE o TRIFE), encargado de resolver sobre impugnaciones y de sancionar las violaciones de la ley electoral.

En 1993 se dio otro paso fundamental con la aprobación por el Congreso, el 24 de agosto, de una serie de modificaciones del régimen electoral. Entre otras, se abolió la denominada cláusula de gobernabilidad y se limitó el máximo de escaños que un partido podía obtener al 65% del total, independientemente del porcentaje de votos. Con ello, se impedía que un partido en solitario pudiera sacar adelante reformas constitucionales. Asimismo, se amplió el número de senadores de 64 a 128, cuatro por cada estado. La asignación del cuarto de ellos al primer partido minoritario de cada estado tenía como objetivo aumentar la representación no priísta en el Senado.

La disposición de Salinas al diálogo con los actores de la sociedad civil se expresó en novedades tales como el Pacto para la Estabilidad, la Competitividad y el Empleo (PECE), suscrito el 20 de octubre de 1992 a modo de actualización del Pacto para la Estabilidad y el Crecimiento Económico del 12 de diciembre de 1988, y en la normalización, mediante la reforma de cinco artículos de la Constitución y la promulgación de la Ley de Asociaciones Religiosas y Culto Público, de las relaciones con la Iglesia (o las iglesias, no sólo la católica), que fue reconocida como sujeto jurídico y vio restituidos los bienes raíces que le habían sido expropiados. Una vez transformado el marco legal, México estableció relaciones diplomáticas con la Santa Sede el 21 de septiembre de 1992. Con este cambio histórico, que zanjó una situación arrastrada desde la sangrienta guerra cristera de 1926-1929, el Estado mexicano mutó su anticlericalismo y su agnosticismo militante por una definición de aconfesionalidad que salvaguardaba la libertad de cultos y, con algunas condiciones, la enseñanza a cargo de las congregaciones religiosas.

El PRI perdió su primer gobierno estatal, en Baja California Norte y a manos del PAN, el 2 de julio de 1989, pero las elecciones legislativas del 18 de agosto de 1991 otorgaron un gran triunfo al partido del presidente, que sacó el 61,5% de los votos y 320 diputados de la Cámara baja; el PAN ganó sólo el 17,7% y el Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) fundado por Cárdenas, contra todo pronóstico, se hundió al 8,2%. Estas fueron las primeras elecciones celebradas bajo el COFIPE y, aunque registraron consistentes denuncias de fraude, fueron sin duda las más transparentes nunca celebradas en el país. En el potente resurgimiento electoral del PRI tuvo mucho que ver la, en líneas generales, buena prensa de que entonces gozaba Salinas. Sin embargo, el otrora omnipotente vástago de la Revolución se adentraba en su última década en la cima.

El presidente, que ya había cogido la costumbre de destituir a mandos policiales y sindicales por estar comprados por las mafias de la droga, incluso obligó a renunciar a tres gobernadores priístas prestando oído a las protestas que la comisión de flagrantes irregularidades electorales había desatado en sus respectivos estados. El puñado de escaños que el PRI necesitaba para aprobar las reformas constitucionales arriba señaladas se lo prestó el PAN, que había obtenido 89 puestos en la Cámara baja. Ahora bien, la prueba de fuego del reformismo político de Salinas iba a ser la elección presidencial de 1994. Por de pronto, Salinas no renunció al procedimiento antidemocrático del dedazo, que era uno de los atributos más característicos de un sistema tan fuertemente presidencialista como el mexicano.

El tapado de Salinas fue, para desolación de los jefes priístas hostiles a ceder espacios de poder a la oposición (y, por consiguiente, a perder prebendas y privilegios), un asesor y protegido desde antiguo, Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, el joven y muy popular ex presidente del partido y ahora mismo secretario de Desarrollo Social y responsable del Pronasol, identificado como el principal rostro de la izquierda del PRI. La designación de Colosio se produjo el 28 de noviembre de 1993, y algo antes, a finales de marzo, Salinas obtuvo de la XVI Asamblea Nacional del partido, reunida en Aguascalientes en una atmósfera de intenso debate, la inclusión del concepto de liberalismo social en el sustrato ideológico de la sexagenaria formación.

6. Las convulsiones del último año: rebelión zapatista, magnicidios y tormenta financiera
En 1992 se tenía la sensación de que Salinas iba a quedar en los anales como un gran estadista autor de reformas clave, con unos altos niveles de aceptación popular y que despidió su mandato con unos datos económicos faustos. Esta percepción comenzó a evaporarse en 1993 y más aceleradamente en el año electoral de 1994. El 24 de mayo de 1993, el asesinato en un aparatoso tiroteo entre narcotraficantes del arzobispo de Guadalajara, cardenal Juan Jesús Posada Ocampo, muy querido por el pueblo por sus valientes y enérgicas denuncias de la corrupción política y la impunidad con que actuaban las bandas del crimen organizado en el estado de Jalisco, prologó una cadena de magnicidios que turbó a la sociedad y que centro la atención sobre la pervivencia del México bronco.

Para el Ejecutivo de Salinas, la primera borrasca seria empezó a descargar el 1 de enero de 1994, coincidiendo con el comienzo de la aplicación del TLCAN. Ese día se alzó en armas en el selvático estado de Chiapas el Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), el cual, dirigido por el carismático y enigmático Subcomandante Marcos, reveló al mundo y al propio México que la euforia liberal del salinismo había dejado intactos, si no los había acentuado, muy graves problemas característicos del Tercer Mundo, con la pervivencia de grandes bolsas de pobreza extrema y flagrantes situaciones de injusticia social en estados olvidados donde los poderes públicos, los terratenientes y las organizaciones criminales campaban sin arreglo a la ley ni control de ningún tipo. El presidente apostó primero por acallar a los zapatistas manu militari, pero pronto cambió de estrategia al comprender que un aplastamiento sin contemplaciones de Marcos y sus hombres tendría un coste político enorme, a nivel doméstico e internacional.

El 12 de enero, al cabo de dos semanas escasas de combates que dejaron varios cientos de muertos y otros tantos millares de heridos entre guerrilleros, soldados y civiles, así como alrededor de 60.000 campesinos desplazados de sus hogares, el Ejército inició un precario alto el fuego. El 2 de marzo, el comisario federal para la Paz y la Reconciliación en Chiapas nombrado por Salinas, Manuel Camacho Solís, hasta entonces secretario de Relaciones Exteriores del Gobierno, y Marcos sellaron en San Cristóbal de las Casas con la mediación del obispo local, Samuel Ruiz García, un acuerdo de principio sobre 34 medidas políticas y económicas en torno al reconocimiento de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas –que componían la cuarta parte de la población del estado-, la reforma estatal y la mejora de las condiciones de vida de los sectores marginados. Hasta el final del mandato de Salinas imperó una relativa calma en Chiapas, pero los problemas de fondo siguieron intactos por la escasa voluntad gubernamental de tratarlos. El conflicto chiapaneco, aunque con las armas acalladas, continuó intacto.

El 23 de marzo, mientras los rescoldos de la sangrienta deflagración bélica humeaban en la selva Lacandona, México experimentó una segunda y enorme conmoción con el asesinato a balazos de Luis Donaldo Colosio, nada más pronunciar un discurso de precampaña, en Lomas Taurinas, Tijuana. El magnicida confeso, un mecánico de 23 años llamado Mario Aburto Martínez que fue detenido en el lugar del crimen y que a punto estuvo de morir linchado por la muchedumbre enfurecida, siempre insistió en que actuó solo, pero la opinión pública se resistió a creer que no hubiera una conspiración detrás, bien desde el frente de los narcotraficantes, bien desde el propio PRI. Las primeras miradas acusadoras se dirigieron nada menos que a Camacho Solís, que había sostenido una dura pugna con el malogrado conmilitón por la candidatura presidencial y que tras el destape de noviembre de 1993 se había atrevido, cosa insólita en la historia del partido, a criticar la decisión de Salinas.

Por otro lado, los medios de comunicación recordaron que el 6 de marzo anterior Colosio, distanciándose de la propaganda del Gobierno, había presentado a México como un país aún tercermundista en varios aspectos y se había comprometido a lanzar una vasta reforma política hasta conseguir la equiparación del sistema a las democracias normales. Colosio fue rápidamente suplido en la candidatura presidencial por Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, un competente tecnócrata surgido del reformismo salinista que asumió como suyas las promesas del que había sido su jefe de campaña. Salinas, que encabezó la guardia de honor que flanqueó el féretro de Colosio en la sede nacional del partido, prometió que el crimen no quedaría impune. Sin embargo, no consiguió disipar la sospecha general de que el 23 de marzo algún tipo de complot había sido ejecutado en Tijuana.

Tras este luctuoso suceso el país se sumió en la crispación y el desasosiego, mientras cobraban auge los secuestros de empresarios para cobrarles rescate y los escándalos de corrupción que salpicaban al oficialismo. Por si fuera poco, se reportó el asesinato de varias personas que, supuestamente, podían poseer información comprometedora para el poder priísta en relación con el magnicidio, mientras que las investigaciones policiales entraron en una fase de sospechosa parálisis. Mario Aburto, no sin correr el extraño rumor, jamás verificado, de una posible suplantación personal (debido a las aparentes diferencias físicas entre el hombre aprehendido en Lomas Taurinas y el recluido en prisión a la espera de juicio), quedó como el único encausado por homicidio doloso; en 1995 el tribunal que le juzgó iba a condenarle a 40 años de prisión.

Salinas deseaba finalizar su mandato con la satisfacción de haber organizado unas elecciones generales impecables, así que suscribió un pacto sin precedentes con los partidos de la oposición para garantizar, de manera definitiva, la limpieza y libertad de los comicios. Contrariamente a lo que cupiera esperar dadas las circunstancias, el PRI superó aceptablemente el examen en las urnas del 21 de agosto de 1994, más teniendo presente que la participación, excepcional, alcanzó del 77,7%, casi 20 puntos más que en 1988. Zedillo, disociado del salinismo por parte del electorado, ganó con el 50,2% de los votos al panista Diego Fernández de Cevallos y al perredista Cárdenas, mientras que en las legislativas el PRI perdió 20 diputados. Aunque se detectaron los habituales procedimientos poco éticos de la maquinaria priísta (uso proselitista de recursos públicos, empleo abusivo de los medios de comunicación, inducción al voto a cambio de emolumentos), los observadores internacionales, presentes por primera vez en un proceso electoral mexicano, así como los nacionales coincidieron en señalar a Zedillo como el primer presidente elegido sin un fraude de relieve.

Pero a Salinas le iba a estar vedado un traspaso presidencial sin novedad. Nuevas tempestades aguardaban a la vuelta de la esquina. El 28 de septiembre cayó asesinado en el DF el secretario general del PRI, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, dirigente del ala reformista del partido, anteriormente gobernador del estado de Guerrero y a la sazón ex marido de la hermana mayor del presidente, Adriana Margarita, hasta que el matrimonio terminó en un tumultuoso divorcio en 1978. La segunda eliminación física en la cúpula priísta en algo más de seis meses no dejó lugar a dudas sobre que se libraban implacables vindictas en el partido del poder, donde los sectores más reaccionarios estarían intentando advertir contra la prosecución de la reforma política por la administración entrante. Tampoco se descartaba el largo brazo de los capos de la droga, ya que el hermano del asesinado, Mario Ruiz Massieu, era subprocurador general de la República encargado de la lucha contra el narcotráfico. Precisamente, Salinas nombró a Mario Ruiz Massieu fiscal especial jefe para esclarecer la muerte de su hermano. Sin embargo, el 23 de noviembre, el magistrado dimitió alegando obstáculos insalvables a su trabajo puestos por personas del PRI.

El 1 de diciembre Salinas terminó su mandato y Zedillo tomó posesión de la Presidencia. Nadie imaginaba entonces que México estaba a punto de sufrir una de las crisis más angustiosas de su historia. El 19 de diciembre, informado por Banxico de que las reservas internacionales en dólares estaban agotándose vertiginosamente al ritmo de una masiva fuga de capitales especulativos y de cancelaciones de tesobonos que habían comenzado tras el asesinato de Colosio y tomado un curso acelerado en noviembre, hasta alcanzar los 24.000 millones de dólares, Zedillo decidió devaluar el sobrevalorado peso en un 15%, pero el nuevo margen de cotización fue inmediatamente rebasado, obligando a declarar la libre flotación de la moneda el día 22. Aunque los problemas de iliquidez del tesoro público habían alcanzado un nivel crítico meses antes del traspaso presidencial, la administración saliente no tomó ninguna medida contundente antes de recurrir a la devaluación, como podría haber sido una subida de los tipos de interés –receta ortodoxa que sin embargo habría resultado altamente impopular- para revertir la crisis.

Hasta las fiestas navideñas, el peso perdió un 60% de su valor, convulsionando los mercados internacionales -el popularmente conocido como efecto tequila- y colocando las finanzas mexicanas al borde de un hundimiento de dimensiones catastróficas. Sólo un gigantesco plan de salvamento internacional coordinado por el FMI y capitaneado por la Reserva Federal Estados Unidos, con una inyección de 51.000 millones de dólares, permitió estabilizar el mercado cambiario, pero, eso sí, al precio de aplicar un draconiano plan de ajuste. La descomunal crisis financiera reveló crudamente la naturaleza desestructurada y ficticia de buena parte del crecimiento registrado de los últimos años. El mercado financiero volvió a estabilizarse, pero 1995 iba a cerrarlo México con una recesión económica del 6,9% y una tasa de inflación del 52%, por no hablar de la destrucción o precarización de millones de puestos de trabajo, de la pérdida de poder adquisitivo por la población y del agravamiento de las desigualdades sociales.

7. Un ex presidente caído en el oprobio y los avatares de la familia Salinas
Tras abandonar la residencia oficial de Los Pinos Salinas y su esposa firmaron el divorcio, poniendo fin a un matrimonio que habría empezado a naufragar luego de conocer él a Ana Paula Gerard Rivero, una analista del Citybank 12 años más joven y ex alumna de Harvard también. Gerard y Salinas entablaron una relación profesional y seguramente también sentimental luego de ser contratada ella como secretaria técnica del Gabinete Económico de la Presidencia.

El 28 de febrero de 1995 la Policía arrestó en el DF al hermano mayor de Salinas, Raúl, un licenciado en Ingeniería civil con una dilatada trayectoria en el servicio público, siendo sus cometidos durante el sexenio presidencial la dirección de Planeación de la Compañía Nacional de Subsistencias Populares (Conasupo) y la coordinación del sistema de evaluación del Pronasol, luego de que la Procuraduría General de la República le acusara de ser uno de los autores intelectuales del asesinato de Ruiz Massieu y de la comisión de tráfico de influencias, evasión fiscal y corrupción económica. Los medios de comunicación especularon con que Raúl Salinas de Gortari habría podido ordenar el crimen de su antiguo cuñado para impedir que la víctima desvelara, tal como habría amenazado, sus corruptelas y sus relaciones con el narcotráfico. Por si esta noticia no fuera suficientemente explosiva, al día siguiente el subprocurador especial Pablo Chapa Bezanilla implicó directamente al ex presidente en la conspiración política, imputación que aquel tachó de absurda al tiempo que defendió la inocencia de su hermano.

Sin embargo, el escándalo estaba servido, y Carlos Salinas, que desde el 18 de enero era miembro del Consejo de Directores de la compañía Dow Jones, comunicó la retirada de su candidatura a director general de la Organización Mundial de Comercio (OMC), la entidad nacida el 1 de enero anterior a partir del Acuerdo General sobre Aranceles y Comercio (GATT), para suceder al irlandés Peter Sutherland, en lo que contaba con el apoyo de Estados Unidos, lo que era como tener el puesto asegurado. El 3 de marzo el ex presidente inició una "huelga de hambre" en Monterrey para exigir a las autoridades el público descargo de cualquier responsabilidad suya en la crisis financiera de diciembre y en la obstrucción de las investigaciones judiciales del caso Colosio. La Procuraduría reconoció el segundo punto el 4 de marzo y el Gobierno el primero al día siguiente, momento en que Salinas puso fin a su particular forma de protesta. Para sorpresa y escarnio generales, el 11 de marzo Salinas marchó en compañía de Ana Paula Gerard a Nueva York a bordo de un jet privado, como si de un fugitivo se tratara, pero ello no detuvo las pesquisas judiciales.

Estos hechos produjeron conmoción en la opinión pública mexicana y en el PRI, pues nunca antes se habían emprendido acciones judiciales contra el entorno presidencial, una parcela tradicionalmente intocable. A Salinas le llovió una tromba de durísimas recriminaciones. La comunidad internacional que hasta la víspera tanto le había ensalzado, puso ahora en tela de juicio sus políticas económicas, y en México, los medios de comunicación y diversas voces de la sociedad civil arremetieron contra el resultado funesto de la apertura liberal, que había sumido a millones de mexicanos en la carestía y ensanchado la brecha entre ricos y pobres. Como remate, el país debía salir adelante con el más severo programa de ajuste y estabilización del que había recuerdo, arruinando en el camino a muchas familias.

Incluso Zedillo y el PRI se apresuraron a distanciarse del período salinista y en adjudicarle todas las culpas por el desaguisado financiero. En el imaginario popular, el clan Salinas ya estaba indisolublemente ligado a la autoría del cobarde asesinato de Colosio (aunque por el momento no existía ninguna apreciación policial o judicial de semejante conexión), al amiguismo y el favoritismo que habían caracterizado la campaña de privatizaciones y a las prácticas de enriquecimiento ilícito, cuando a la ciudadanía el presidente le había prescrito austeridad y sacrificio. Alcanzó tal magnitud el desprecio y la cólera públicos contra Carlos Salinas, convertido en el chivo expiatorio favorito de la frustración general, que hizo fortuna su caricaturización como el Chupacabras, la supuesta criatura alienígena importada de Puerto Rico que en aquellos años saltó a la prensa mundial por sus ataques a cabezas de ganado en algunos estados mexicanos para, aseguraba esta moderna leyenda urbana, succionarles la sangre.

A lo largo de 1995, el paradero de Salinas se ubicó alternativamente en Nueva York, Boston, Montreal y algunos puntos del Caribe, como Cuba –donde su pareja alumbró a Ana Emilia, su cuarto vástago, a la que siguió un quinto, Carlos- y Bahamas. En enero de 1996 se supo que el ex presidente acababa de establecerse con su nueva familia en una propiedad en las afueras de Dublín, un lugar de autoexilio no caprichoso si se tenía presente que Irlanda carecía de tratado de extradición con México, y donde al parecer celebró esponsales con Gerard. Esta protección de su integridad la adoptó Salinas una vez que la Procuraduría, el 18 de diciembre de 1995, le imputara los delitos de falsificación de documentos y enriquecimiento ilícito. Ahora bien, el 27 de mayo anterior el presidente había sido exonerado de cualquier concurrencia en la instigación del asesinato de Ruiz Massieu, removiendo el nubarrón de una eventual acusación por este caso.

Sus obligaciones como ejecutivo de Dow Jones le llevaron a realizar numerosos desplazamientos a Francia, Reino Unido y, sobre todo, a Estados Unidos. En febrero de 1997, sin embargo, la compañía financiera no le renovó en su junta directiva coincidiendo con la mención de su nombre y los de sus familiares más directos en los testimonios escuchados en un proceso por tráfico de drogas conducido por un tribunal federal de Houston, Texas, y en el que estaba imputado nada menos que Mario Ruiz Massieu, quien se encontraba en situación de arresto domiciliario en Newark (y que iba a quitarse la vida en septiembre de 1999 en circunstancias no del todo claras). En aquella ocasión, Salinas tuvo que salir a refutar que él, sus hermanos Adriana y Raúl, y su mismo padre tuvieran la menor relación con una turbia trama de lavado de dinero y de protección política de actividades narcocriminales.

Desde la capital irlandesa, Salinas, que continuaba siendo miembro del PRI, presenció el desarrollo del juicio y la condena el 21 de enero de 1999 a 50 años de prisión –pena luego rebajada a los 27 años y medio- del hermano incómodo, como le llamaba la prensa, e insistió una y otra vez en que el desastre financiero de que se le hacía responsable no había sido sino el resultado del "error de diciembre", esto es, la "temerosa y vacilante" devaluación monetaria decretada por Zedillo para corregir el tipo sobrevalorado del peso tras "permitir el saqueo de las reservas de divisas". Éste y otros argumentos de justificación y exoneración, como la negación de responsabilidad por la histórica derrota del PRI a manos del PAN en las presidenciales de julio de 2000, así como la acusación a Zedillo de encabezar una campaña de destrucción personal orquestada por "narcotraficantes" y "políticos corruptos" del partido, los cuales no le habrían perdonado las reformas que impulsó, centraron el contenido de una serie de entrevistas concedidas a periodistas y del voluminoso libro de memorias México, un paso difícil hacia la modernidad, editado por Plaza & Janés.

Este libro, atiborrado de extractos periodísticos, fue presentado ante los medios en octubre de 2000 en la capital mexicana, en la quinta de una serie de visitas esporádicas al amparo del secreto de sumario sobre su mandato presidencial (la anterior se había producido en junio de 1999, para asistir a la graduación de su hijo Emiliano y visitar a su padre enfermo, el cual iba a fallecer en febrero de 2004 a los 86 años), y reavivó los rescoldos de la peripecia familiar. En sus páginas, Salinas achacaba a Zedillo, entonces presidente saliente, múltiples "traiciones" a principios y valores de la República, inclusive "a los ideales de Luis Donaldo Colosio", y presentaba el encarcelamiento y el juicio de su hermano Raúl, convicto de homicidio y con un proceso abierto por amasar una fortuna de entre 100 y 300 millones de dólares proveniente presuntamente del narcotráfico y atesorada en bancos de Suiza y otros países o bien invertida en bienes inmuebles, como una "venganza política" en su contra. Ciertamente, observadores imparciales coincidieron en señalar que el proceso contra Raúl Salinas en el caso Ruiz Massieu estuvo plagado de irregularidades y que las pruebas incriminatorias carecieron de base.

Pocos días después, sin embargo, en una supuesta conversación telefónica mantenida con su hermana desde la cárcel y divulgada por la cadena Televisa (con seguridad, la comprometedora grabación fue malévolamente filtrada por el entorno de Zedillo), Raúl Salinas confesó sentirse a su vez traicionado por su hermano menor por haberle torpedeado la defensa desde el momento en que le "reprobó moralmente" y presentó como "ilícitos" unos fondos "depositados en el exterior", fondos pertenecientes al erario público y puestos a su nombre, de cuyos movimientos él, pese al mentís realizado por el ex mandatario en una reciente entrevista televisada, "supo" perfectamente. "Es una cobardía de Carlos atacarme públicamente, es una traición de hermano", afirmaba la voz que según Televisa era la de Raúl Salinas.

La bizarra saga de los Salinas añadió un capítulo trágico el 6 de diciembre de 2004 con el descubrimiento en el barrio residencial mexiquense de Huixquilucan del cadáver de otro de los hermanos, Enrique, de 52 años, en el asiento del copiloto de su coche y con una bolsa de plástico en la cabeza. La Policía estableció un homicidio por asfixia y barajó como móviles tanto un asalto con fines de extorsión, que se les habría podido ir de las manos a los atacantes, como una venganza con trasfondo pasional. El caso era que desde hacía pocos días sobre Enrique Salinas, un ingeniero metido en negocios de la construcción, pesaba una orden de localización girada por la Interpol francesa en el curso de una investigación de una red de lavado de dinero. Se sabía también que el menor de los hermanos Salinas arrastraba problemas financieros, existiendo la posibilidad de que estuviera siendo presionado por sus acreedores.

Por otro lado, el 14 de junio de 2005, tras pasarse más de una década en prisión sin cansarse de proclamar su inocencia, Raúl Salinas fue puesto en libertad previo depósito de una fianza de 32 millones de pesos, en acatamiento de una resolución de anulación de su sentencia de 27 años dictada días atrás con carácter inapelable por el Segundo Tribunal Colegiado de Toluca. La caución fue facilitada por su hermano Carlos, que se encontraba en Estados Unidos y cuya ayuda Raúl solicitó en conversación telefónica. La exoneración de toda responsabilidad penal en el asesinato de José Francisco Ruiz Massieu no afectó a los otros condenados por el caso, incluido el autor material, Daniel Aguilar Treviño, que cumplía una pena de 50 años, y siguió a la absolución en otros dos procesos por los delitos de peculado y lavado de dinero. Con todo, a Raúl Salinas aún le quedaban pendientes otros procesos por delitos considerados menores, como falsificación de documentos y tráfico de influencias. Además, en marzo de 2006 la justicia francesa comenzó a juzgarlo en ausencia bajo la acusación de blanquear dinero procedente del narcotráfico.

Además del libro personal arriba citado, el ex presidente mexicano es autor de los trabajos técnicos Producción y participación política en el campo mexicano (su tesis doctoral de 1978, publicada en 1980), La inducción en el sistema nacional de planeación en México (1981), Consideración económicas acerca de la regulación de la empresa pública (1981) y Rectoría del Estado en la Constitución mexicana (1985).

(Cobertura informativa hasta 1/1/2007)