Monday, September 22, 2003
Mexico’s “Pemexgate” may be a blessing in disguise
By Carlos Luken
Thanks to more than 70 years
of uninhibited control the governing elite of Mexico did as they pleased, with total disregard of reprimand. They were part of an “Imperial Presidency,” and their power was a massive influence machine
that controlled not just the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but the three branches of government as well.
Shrewdly the PRI majority manipulated
Mexico’s electoral legislation, procedures and financing. In what has been perceived
as a devious attempt to weaken all other registered parties and grass root organizations.
Legislation proposed and approved by PRI leaders also granted federal funds to qualifying parties, and in the process
it made campaign scrutiny and reporting mandatory.
Once the legislation was enacted,
emerging parties eager to receive windfall funding were softly jubilant. Correspondingly, the National Action Party (PAN)
and Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) were faintly vocal, but they accepted their allocated funds along with the rules and
voluntary stipulation that most monies would be used for party infrastructure needs and training. The PRI kept silent.
True to tradition, in one fell
swoop the PRI had managed to set Mexico’s modern electoral agenda, controlling campaign funding while at the same time
maneuvering itself into the inner workings and accounting of all other parties. In a masterful stroke the PRI, while subsidizing
and reassuring opponents, kept its power to prejudice all decisions in its favor.
The first stirrings of the “affair” started ingenuously in the system’s appropriate framework. As weeks
of the presidential campaign of Francisco Labastida passed, polls showed a worrisome lack of support for the PRI candidate.
While it outspent other parties by almost 2 to 1, weekly surveys had the PRI loosing ground to the maverick PAN and Green
Party coalition candidate Vicente Fox. Some analysts observed that Fox’s charisma, and the expectation of change he
embodied, transformed every peso spent into three pesos worth of goodwill. At the same time, every 2 pesos spent by the PRI
would also benefit Fox by at least 50 percent.
As traditionally rigid establishments
react to annoying facts, the PRI disregarded what was evident and choose to siphon additional funds into Labastida’s
campaign. Since campaign funding had ostensibly become regulated, other income sources were needed and an arrangement was
made using Pemex, the government’s oil monopoly.
With overconfidence in the
system’s immunity and non-disclosure requirements, all was documented in boardroom fashion. In an outwardly naive loan
process, backed by supposedly bogus agreements, the Pemex director advanced the oil monopoly’s union US$140 million
between May and September 2000.
But with the victory of Vicente
Fox in July 2000, the PRI’s supremacy was over. And as with most supposedly everlasting organizations, no provisions
had been made for the unexpected.
While the federal regulatory
agency on elections carried out its prescribed role of investigating campaign financing, the new non-PRI administration started
investigating the traditional corrupt practices within Pemex. As expected, investigations disclosed that US$50 million from
the loans had been funneled into the PRI candidate’s campaign, probably thru the machinations of labor union leaders
who were simultaneously prominent PRI legislators. Another US$50 million were deposited in an account of Senator Ricardo Aldana,
who is also a leader in the Pemex union, and there was no accounting for the remaining US$43 million. Considering all of the
implications, the loan issue erupted overnight and it was immediately tagged as “Pemexgate” by the media.
Investigations revealed that
Pemex director Rogelio Montemayor (initially one of Labastida’s principal campaign officials, before being conveniently
placed in Pemex prior to the election) had no legal authority to grant such loans. Subsequently
he was indicted on conspiracy, money laundering and mismanagement charges, and while he was acquitted on the first two counts
the third is pending however Montemayor fled to Texas, where he is now fighting an extradition request. Two Pemex union leaders
who at the time were also PRI legislators (current senator Aldana and former deputy Carlos Romero Deschamps) are facing possible
criminal charges, and Aldana could still be impeached.
But in a blatant effort to
halt the criminal proceedings against those party members, the PRI has threatened to block much needed legislative reforms,
plus it strong-armed its own members and those of the Green Party in order to gain a majority in congress over the PAN and
PRD. And while they may successfully stop the criminal actions, there are developing
indications that the latest tactics well may be stirring-up ill feelings among not only constituents but the newly elected
PRI legislators as well.
Carlos Luken (a www.mexidata.info columnist),
a Mexicali, Baja California, based businessman, is the principal in I.L.C. Corporate Real Estate, a project development firm,
and I.L.C. Corporate Services, a consulting practice that provides business management, consultancy and lobbying services
to global corporations and government agencies. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.