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Column 032105 Thompson

Monday, March 21, 2005


Might Mexico’s PAN Self-destruct?


By Barnard R. Thompson


The March 5 election of Manuel Espino Barrientos, as president of Mexico’s National Action Party, the PAN, got off to a far from auspicious start — largely due to his immediate authoritarian air and show of arrogance.  Espino began his tenure more like a mouthy dogmatist than representative, a presumptuous attitude, approach and discourse that brought on an immediate outcry from many of the party faithful.


Moreover, there were claims of a less than transparent process that resulted in his victory.  Exacerbating this internal debate, over what are (publicly at least) unsubstantiated allegations, is the longtime PAN position and demand for democratic processes and crystal clear voting.


By two weeks later however the clamor had died down considerably, making the whole episode seem like a tempest in a teapot.

But was it?

Or might this be a sign of deeper difficulties within the PAN, of divisions in its ranks and fissures in the party?  And what might all this mean to the party for the 2006 election year?

Even during the National Council meeting, following Espino’s election as PAN president and after the party’s National Executive Committee (CEN) for 2005-2008 was ratified, dissident insiders protested the actions that had just taken place. 

Among others, certain PAN senators and deputies quickly expressed dissatisfaction with the Espino victory, plus many were troubled and annoyed with the Espino imposed make-up of the new CEN.  Dissenting PAN members of congress also questioned “the manipulation of Council members in order to name a leader who will respond to the interests of electing the presidential candidate and not to those of the party.”

Federal Deputy Tatiana Clouthier, a daughter of legendary Manuel Clouthier — the neoteric PAN leader popularly known as “Maquío” (who died in a 1989 car crash), subsequently resigned from the PAN.  And for a Clouthier to bolt from the party is meaningful.

In her letter of resignation, from the party but not her congressional seat, among other things Tatiana noted that the PAN had always sought “to democratize Mexico, enfranchise citizens and reach power in order to serve.”  She added that in her view today’s party leaders are more interested in power, with the end justifying the means.  “We are changing, without much effort, into a poor copy of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party),” she wrote.

Later minimizing the resignation of Tatiana, Espino said “at any rate, one goes but each week between 1,000 and 1,200 Panistas arrive.”  He also called it part of a “generational renewal process.”  The next day however he expressed hope that Tatiana would rejoin the PAN.

As to a rebellion in congress, Espino quickly named a new coordinator of the 150 member party bloc in the Chamber of Deputies.  That new congressional leader is José González Morfín, appointed more to get rid of provisional coordinator Germán Martínez (who favors presidential hopeful Felipe Calderón) than to necessarily upgrade an ally.  Still, one of the first acts by González was to prohibit PAN deputies from discussing the election of Espino with the media.

Yet as Espino and his team were trying to calm vocal members of congress, calling for “cohesion, order and discipline,” the party president received another slap in the face.

Luis H. Alvarez, a former PAN president and one of the most respected elder statesmen in Mexico, told the media that he had seen a “tainted process,” one with “stacked cards,” in the closed door election of Espino.  The latter in apparent reference to supposed Fox family influence favoring both Espino and the future presidential candidacy of Interior Minister Santiago Creel.

As time progresses Espino has become somewhat less pretentious and loud, obviously recognizing that he has a problem.  As to his critics, Espino has generally responded by saying things like “I am not one of those who believes that the end justifies the means.”  He also insists that his election was clean, saying if anyone can verify wrongdoing he will submit his resignation.

And the PAN has since rallied around Espino, following any number of off-the-books talks and meetings.  Governors, congresspersons, presidential hopefuls, state committees, grassroots members — nearly all have now come around for the good of the party.

Yet questions remain.

Has the PAN been harmed and if so how deeply?  Have sub rosa or ultra right factions subverted the party?  Can it overcome internal fractures?  And what about 2006?

Too, as party president might Espino be but a flash in the pan?


Barnard Thompson is Editor of MexiData.info. He can be reached via e-mail at mexidata@ix.netcom.com.

Tatiana Clouthier