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Bribery Scandal Threatens Daily Governing of Mexico - 2002-02-01

A $100 million election bribe scandal is threatening to severely disrupt the day-to-day governing of Mexico, as a political feud escalates between the government and the main opposition party. The principal labor union of the state-owned petrochemical company PEMEX, is accused of illegally diverting the funds to the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party PRI.

The scandal is being investigated by the office of Mexico's ant-corruption czar, Francisco Barrio. He is considering accusations that individuals within PEMEX and its main labor union illegally diverted the equivalent of $100 million dollars to PRI, for its Presidential Election campaign in the year 2000.

The party lost that campaign after a 71 year grip on Mexico's presidency. Since then it has suffered other setbacks in state elections, as well. The PRI nevertheless has hopes of winning back voters who supported the National Action Party or PAN presidential candidate Vicente Fox in 2000. It it trying to capitalize on the disillusionment of voters who say President Fox has failed to deliver on major campaign promises.

PRI's International Affairs Director Ildefonso Guarjardo notes the scandal investigation has yet to be concluded. He stresses that possible individual wrongdoing should not taint the whole party and he charges the probe is very clearly a political witch hunt by the party's enemies. "We see this as a political war, rather than really using the law in the way it has to be used. There has to be a serious investigation and when it concludes, then we can go against whoever is responsible," he says.

But Amalia Garcia, who is the president of the left-wing Party of Democratic Revolution, the PRD, agrees. She says that individuals must be brought to account for what she terms a giant fraud, which allegedly involved the siphoning off of taxpayers' money for political purposes. "Money from Pemex went to the labor union and it was unlawful and then it went to the PRI that is corruption and the General Attorney must see which persons did these acts of corruption and they must act." she says. "These people must be sanctioned as the law says."

David Shields who is an expert on PEMEX and the Mexican petrochemical industry says that a number of people are under investigation. He calls it "absolutely absurd" to try paint what happened as "individual wrongdoing." "Well certainly this is the way the PRI seems to be trying to operate in this particular case," he says. "They are making it look as if the former Director General of PEMEX is to blame, on his own, and I think nobody can really believe that. It's not a situation that people are prepared to believe in because people know how the political system has worked through favors and through collaboration among a small group of very high level politicians."

Although President Fox decisively defeated PRI nominee Francisco Labastida in the 2000 Presidential Election, PRI still retains an extremely powerful presence in both houses of Congress. The opposition party has so far blocked or watered down virtually all of President Fox's ambitious program of legislation and tax reform.

Analysts are warning that the administration's vigorous pursuit of bribe scandal investigation will further harden attitudes, so that progress on a number of political issues will be bogged down indefinitely.