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Column 081505 Emmond

Monday, August 15, 2005


Claims of corruption taint Mexican president anew


By Kenneth Emmond


Public perceptions of Mexican President Vicente Fox have been on a downward trajectory ever since July 2, 2000.


That’s the day he ended 71 years of hegemony by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and delivered the presidency to the National Action Party (PAN), along with promises to end corruption and reform the law.


Since then the public’s enthusiasm for him has eroded from euphoria to realism to disappointment — and now to disgust.


It was a downer when the reform and anti-corruption campaigns hit roadblocks in the legislature and the judiciary, but that was attributed to a dose of reality. After all, those opposition politicians are a pretty tough bunch.


As time went on, opportunities were missed and the failures piled up. By mid-2004 many had given up hope of seeing substantive change. Two years before Election Day they were thinking about Fox’s successor.


The disgust began with the campaign to disqualify the leading presidential prospect of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, from running for office by engineering frivolous legal charges against him. The great promoter of transparency and reform was running a Dirty Tricks campaign.


The feelings of disgust picked up momentum this month with the launch of the book “The Presidential Family.”


It excoriates the President and his wife, Marta Sahagun, for abusing the perks of office to raise their private living standards and those of their many children and siblings. 


The authors conclude that much of this must have taken place courtesy of the taxpayer or the largesse of wealthy friends who had government contracts.


The authors, Anabel Hernandez and Areli Quintero, are Mexican journalists who have obviously done homework that goes far beyond day-to-day reportage on the presidency.


The book recounts detailed expenditures on Fox’s properties and generous spillovers to relatives and supporters. 25 annexes of documents buttress its allegations.


The detailed accounts of the tribulations of prying information through the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI) might make readers wonder why it’s journalists and not auditors who make these discoveries, given Fox’s rhetoric about his “transparent” administration.


The authors contend that the current circumstances of the Fox-Sahagun families contrast dramatically with their pre-2000 economic struggles.


They describe how on Election Day in 2000, the Fox family went to his mother’s home to shower because the plumbing wasn’t working at Fox’s rundown San Cristobal ranch. A few months later it was transformed into a showpiece for U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit.


Like the two books published by Argentine journalist Olga Wornat, The Presidential Family portrays the First Lady as a politically ambitious spendthrift. It also shows, that like former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s wife Nancy she believes in mystics.


Wornat’s books focused almost entirely on Sahagun and her family, but this book puts the president in an equally unflattering light. It describes extensive renovations on family properties, the mysterious purchase of a “secret ranch” and prime beachfront property, falsified public statements of assets, and sweetheart contracts for friends.


These and other presidential conflicts of interest would be more than enough to destroy a politician in many countries, though — so far — they’re hardly in the same league as the completely unaudited financial activities of past Mexican presidents who left office as multi-millionaires. The difference is that now the information is available.


It could be argued that Fox isn’t such a bad president because he hasn’t stolen much. If, as the authors say, he was virtually broke in 2000, it suggests that the hand was not in the till from 1995 to 1999, when he was Governor of Guanajuato. It’s known that many state governors do rather well for themselves.


Still, many Mexicans will feel queasy to learn that a president sworn to rooting out corruption provides swanky homes and expensive cars for his seven children and stepchildren, and juicy government contracts for family and friends.


A man who portrays himself as the enemy of corruption cannot be seen to be dabbling in it. Even if Fox never engages in high-finance theft as most of his predecessors are thought to have done, he’ll be remembered as a hypocrite.


Many who reserved judgment on whether “all politicians are dishonest” will be completely disillusioned. It’s a shame that Fox missed an opportunity to restore faith in the political system.


The authors clearly feel that way, as reflected in the book’s subtitle: “the government of change under suspicion of corruption.”



Kenneth Emmond, an economist, market consultant and journalist who has lived in Mexico since 1995, is also a columnist with MexiData.info.  He can be reached via e-mail at Kemmond00@yahoo.com.