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Mexico's First Lady Denies Abuse of Power Allegations - 2003-05-22

Mexico's first lady, Marta Sahagun de Fox, wife of President Vicente Fox, is lashing out at the authors of two books about her that include some accusations against her and her sons. She took her case Wednesday to a popular public affairs television program hosted by a clown.

Sitting in a television studio in Mexico City across from her host, a man who calls himself Brozo and wears a red bulb nose and a green hair wig, Marta Sahagun calmly answered the charges leveled against her in the books. She denied any abuse of power and she denied any abuse of public resources by her son, who is accused in one book of having used the presidential plane to fly to Houston with friends.

Above all, however, the Mexican first lady defended herself and her family from what she called unacceptable intrusions into their private lives.

She said the private life of a public person should be left out of such publications. By private life, she said, she means anything about the intimate details of one's life that have nothing to do with affairs of state.

Besides respecting the personal life of a public person, she said, it is also important to tell the truth and this, she said, is her principal complaint with the books about her.

The two books about the first lady are La Jefa, or the boss, by Argentinian writer Olga Wornat, and Marta, el destino de una mujer enamorada, in English "Marta, the destiny of a woman in love," by Mexican journalist Rafael Loret de Mola. Of the two, the one that seems to have vexed Marta Sahagun the most is the one by Ms. Wornat, which paints a portrait of her as a scheming and ruthless woman who uses witchcraft potions to control her husband. The book also alleges that her three sons by a previous marriage have abused the power and privilege they have been afforded and have drug and alcohol problems.

Marta Sahagun is a former English teacher from the central state of Michoacan who served as press secretary to Mr. Fox during his presidential campaign. The two married in a civil ceremony in July 2001, ending months of speculation about their relationship. Both are conservative Catholics, but both had been married previously and the church is opposed to remarriage for those who are divorced. They attempted to have the Vatican annul their previous marriages, but were turned down.

One reason some political commentators here believe the books have come out is that there has been frequent mention of Ms. Sahagun as a possible presidential candidate to succeed her husband in the 2006 election. The author of La Jefa, Olga Wornat says that the first lady's political ambitions and her status as a public person make her fair game for scrutiny and that this includes both her private as well as her public life.

So far, the controversy has had little effect on the first lady's public image. Public opinion polls show that she remains popular and her charity work and efforts to help women have earned her strong support among many grassroots social movements that could prove helpful if she does indeed have political aspirations.