Opinion Columns & Blogs

Maria Elena Salinas: A year for the history books

The end of the year means the end of a cycle, for most people.

It's a time to look back at what we've accomplished and where we turned up short.

That is so not only on a personal basis, but also as a country.

I'm sure most will agree that 2008 was a tough year, but it's probably one of the easiest to sum up.

So much good and bad happened that this year certainly will have a special chapter in the history books.

The most important event was, without a doubt, the U.S. presidential election -- and I'll get to that in a minute, but first I want to summarize some of the other stories that made headlines.

After almost 50 years in power, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro resigned, and the much-anticipated fall of the communist government did not come to fruition.

The Marxist regime will celebrate its fifth decade in power with another Castro at the helm, Fidel's younger brother Raul.

After decades of a bloody civil war in Colombia, three of the highest-level leaders of the leftist guerrilla group known as the FARC died.

Several high-profile political hostages were freed in Colombia, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors.

Betancourt is now fighting for the freedom of more than 700 other hostages, and vows this will be their last Christmas in captivity.

In Mexico, it's been a bad year.

The government's war against drug traffickers resulted in record-breaking drug-related killings.

More than 5,000 people died in the country in the first 11 months of the year -- more than double the amount of the previous year.

The hopes of a new government resolving the safety issue have soured.

Mexicans are still living like hostages in their own homes.

The war in Iraq reached its fifth year.

Pope Benedict XVI made his first visit to the United States and apologized to the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

And terrorism reared its fearsome head with a vengeance in the Indian city of Mumbai.

The global economic crisis led to the downfall of major financial institutions that had appeared to be shatterproof.

As a result, companies and individuals have lost millions, and thousands of people have lost their homes and their jobs and will be starting the new year under a veil of uncertainty.

But the event of 2008 that probably will be remembered most is the U.S. presidential election.

The electoral process was like no other we have experienced before.

It culminated in the election of the first African-American as president of the United States, but there was so much more that made history.

Hillary Clinton was the first woman to come so close to becoming the nominee for her party, showing not only that a woman can break barriers and stay strong under the most adverse circumstances, but that a former first lady's experience in the White House can carry more weight than most ever imagined.

The impact Sarah Palin had on the presidential election is particularly noteworthy.

Here is a woman taken out of relative anonymity and put into the limelight, only to shatter the idea of the traits a vice presidential candidate should have.

She made history not only because she was an ultra-conservative woman, mother of five with a special-needs child and the first woman to be on a Republican vice presidential ticket, but because her candidacy proved that it takes more than a good profile to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

There is no doubt we haven't heard the last of Sarah Palin -- most likely, she will be back to make history again.

This year will be remembered as having witnessed one of the toughest and most divisive presidential campaigns, both in the primaries and the general election.

It also was the most reported, polled and scrutinized in history.

The media showed the power they have to influence public opinion and the turnout of an election not just by being fair and balanced but by "keeping them honest."

John McCain proved that an honest man can put up a tough fight to reach his goal and be humble in the face of defeat.

And of course we have to mention that President-elect Barack Obama raised the bar on how a presidential campaign should be run, with remarkable marketing techniques and by staying focused and on message.

He made history, all right, but what's left to be seen is if he will change the course of history.

Reach Maria Elena Salinas at www.mariaesalinas.com.