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De la Madrid Retires After Six Difficult Years of Change With AM-Mexico Bjt

December 1, 1988

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Miguel de la Madrid left the presidency Thursday after leading Mexico through six difficult years in which the measure of his success was avoiding bankruptcy and social upheaval.

As he put it in a newspaper interview this week: ″I took a country with great problems and leave it with problems.″

Tradition dictates that de la Madrid, at age 53, retire to a quiet life away from politics, or go to the Mexican Embassy of his choice if he has a taste for diplomacy.

He leaves office with a much better image than his predecessor, Jose Lopez Portillo, whose populist ideology and financial mismanagement - combined with the collapse of world oil prices - almost led to bankruptcy.

So deep was the crisis in 1982 that even de la Madrid’s critics say avoiding disaster was a major accomplishment.

De la Madrid takes more personal pride in reforms that opened Mexico’s political system to the opposition at the expense of his Institutional Revolutionary Party, known by its Spanish initials PRI.

Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who succeeded him Thursday, won a much narrower victory than customary for candidates of the PRI, which has controlled Mexico’s government since it was founded in 1929.

Party faithful were shocked this week when de la Madrid said in an interview he foresees a time, ″as Mexican society matures, when the opposition will share in the government.″

During his six-year term, de la Madrid also attacked some sacred political and economic cows by reducing protectionism and state control of the economy. Among other things, he pushed his country into the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs.

A close associate said: ″He had the courage to take unpopular measures.″ There was a price, for the president and his party. The opposition took 237 of 500 congressional seats in the July 6 elections and still claims Salinas won the presidency by fraud.

When de la Madrid took office, the treasury was almost empty and economic disaster was at hand.

His term was one of crisis management, negotiations under pressure with political, labor and business groups at home and with international banks pressing for payments on a foreign debt reached $104 billion at one point.

He resisted urgings to suspend debt payments, choosing instead to bargain with banks and other creditors for better terms. By the middle of this year, foreign exchange reserves had reached $16 billion and Mexico was making debt payments of up to $14 billion a year.

Among the disasters he could not control were the collapse of oil prices from $32 a barrel to under $15, an earthquake in 1985 that killed an estimated 9,000 in Mexico City and Hurricane Gilbert in September.

Asked whether he considered himself a bad-luck president, de la Madrid smiled and said: ″No, just a difficult-times president.″

Mexico had no economic growth and workers lost nearly half their real wages because pay was kept low while prices climbed.

Political opponents claimed his economic policies favored private business. De la Madrid replied that sacrifices were needed to maintain a productive source of employment.

Last year, he enlisted labor and business in the ″Economic Solidarity Pact″ to fight inflation. The annual rate was 140 percent in 1987, but is expected to be down to 40 percent this year.

Private business leaders, critics of the government in the past, praised de la Madrid’s sale of state-owned companies, his austerity measures and his programs to boost exports.

″If this continues, the country’s economy will grow quickly,″ said Agustin Legorreta, president of the Business Coordinating Council.

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