Mexicans begin to question motives of President's anti-graft drive

Since coming to power in December 1982, Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado has waged a ''moral renovation campaign'' against the widespread corruption that flourished under his predecessor, Jose Lopez Portillo.

However, a year after President de la Madrid set out to clean up the government, critics of the regime wonder whether his campaign is sincere or just a political ploy.

They say that after the unprecedented graft and inefficiency of the previous administration, the President politically had no choice but to call for a cleanup.

''The President is trying to satisfy people's craving for justice,'' says Lorenzo Meyer, a political scientist with the Colegio de Mexico.

''But it's not justice for justice's sake - rather a political justice. . . . The economic crisis and the great corruption of the past were disruptive because they took legitimacy away from the system. The system now needs to recover.''

Many Mexicans thought some early de la Madrid steps on this front looked promising. Soon after coming to power, the President eliminated Mexico City's secret police, a force that is widely believed to have been corrupt. He jailed a number of former officials, including the former head of the state oil company, Pemex. That official, Jorge Diaz Serrano, is a personal friend of former President Lopez Portillo.

The new government also passed regulations forbidding public servants to employ and promote close relatives or to accept valuable gifts.

Lately, the President has been pressuring for the prosecution of the leaders of the Mexican oil workers union, one of the country's strongest and wealthiest labor groups. The leaders are accused of siphoning off millions of Mexico's petroleum dollars and of running the union gangland-style.

And in the most publicized scandal so far, authorities have charged former Mexico City police chief Arturo Durazo Moreno with tax evasion, illegal arms possession, and unlawful purchase of property belonging to a federal trust fund. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, but he is alleged to be in Africa.

Durazo Moreno, who headed the capital's police force from 1976 to 1982 during the administration of Lopez Portillo, was one of the most flamboyant figures of that government. He reportedly owns a mansion worth $3 million. His 600-acre estate in Mexico City includes a large house, discoteque, swimming pool, movie theater, and two racetracks - for horses and dogs.

One of Durazo's former aides, Jose Gonzalez Gonzalez, published a book last fall called ''The Black Side of 'Blackie' Durazo.'' In it, he charges Durazo with attempted murder, drug trafficking, and extortion. Gonzalez Gonzalez says Lopez Portillo knew the police chief made millions of dollars illegally.

Despite the government's prosecutions, opposition leaders and other analysts say there is evidence that de la Madrid's anticorruption campaign is not genuine , but tailored to his political needs.

Politicians complain that the government made sure the police chief had time to escape to a foreign country from which he could not be extradited.

''If the authorities had really wanted to catch the former chief of police and traffic, they would have never publicized their investigation,'' says Luis Garcias Magana, a member of parliament.

The President will not satisfy the public demand that Lopez Portillo be brought to justice, Professor Meyer says, but instead has chosen to attack the former President's friends.

''They're scapegoats,'' he says. ''It's easy to attack (them) because they did not have political constituencies. Their power was based on Lopez Portillo's friendship.''

Opposition leaders also point out that de la Madrid was quick to renege on his promise of clean state and local elections last summer after the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party suffered unprecedented setbacks in early voting.

After initial losses in two northern states, the PRI rigged and won virtually every other vote, the opposition claims.

The President saw that his party was going to lose in urban areas and reversed his decision to hold clean, democratic elections, says Gonzalo Altamirano Dimas, a spokesman for the National Action Party, the main opposition party.

Critics of the administration also complain that the President's decision to move against the leaders of the oil workers is due not so much to a desire to ''morally renovate'' the union as to try to break an organization that has become ''a state within a state.''

When rumors surfaced about the impending arrest of the two union leaders last fall, Mexican newspapers quoted the leaders as saying they would fight back by arming union members and sabotaging oil installations.

Skepticism about de la Madrid's ''moral renovation campaign'' will probably persist for a while. ''The public trust has been dramatically lost,'' says Meyer, ''because of the economic crisis, because of the elections which were not clean as promised.''

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