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Ernesto Zedillo’s lecture at UNF: A polarizing speaker with unifying ideas

Last Tuesday night, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo spoke at the Adam W. Herbert University Center to give his perspective on Latin America-U.S. economic relations as part of the Distinguished Voices Lecture Series hosted by the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville. 

During his lecture, Zedillo highlighted Latin America’s economic history and voiced his disapproval of the war on drugs in Latin American countries. He discussed how crackdowns on gang violence and drug black markets, as seen most recently in El Salvador, are only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.

Zedillo pointed out Latin America’s setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic and how countries can combat undocumented migration and drug trafficking. He said he hopes for a collaborative future, but working through the current politically polarized landscape will be difficult.

Ernesto Zedillo speaking at the Distinguished Voices Lecture on Tuesday night (Photo courtesy of the World Affairs Council)

“I truly believe that the negative forces of disruption we are currently enduring—of populism, fanaticism and anti-democracy—will prove self-defeated,” said Zedillo.

Zedillo served as the president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000 and is still a controversial figure in Mexican politics due to accusations of involvement in the 1997 Acteal massacre.

After working for the Bank of Mexico, Zedillo was appointed Secretary of Public Education by President Carlos Salinas in 1992. A year later, he left his position to manage his friend Luis Colosio’s presidential campaign.

Colosio was assassinated during a campaign rally in 1994. Shortly after, the party nominated Zedillo to take Colosio’s place in the campaign, and he served as president for six years. 

The former president talked to local high school students before his main lecture on Tuesday and gave a brief overview of his life before and after his presidency. Zedillo explained the unorthodox conditions under which he became president. 

“It will be up to others … to judge whether I did an acceptable job under the circumstances. That, I don’t know. But what I do know is that those principles that were instilled in me by my parents and by my teachers throughout my education … got me through,” he said.

Keith Cartwright, the chair of the UNF English department, explained why some members of the UNF community aren’t happy Zedillo was invited to speak on campus. 

Cartwright said many people still feel Zedillo is responsible for the death of many innocent people, regardless of the charges being dropped. Cartwright said Zedillo is a widely respected individual in the academic world who has been invited to speak at colleges and universities worldwide.

“I’m not condemning the University for inviting him; he’s clearly been awarded—very well-respected universities across the world have honored him. I’m just saying that there are problems with his administration and with his presidency that we need to be aware of,” he said.

This was the last Distinguished Voices Lecture of the semester, and the World Affairs Council has yet to announce its 2024-25 schedule.


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