Camacho Resignation Stirs Mexican Politics

Chiapas conflict, presidential race at stake

THE sudden resignation of the Mexican government's peace envoy to the Chiapas rebels points to deepening fissures within the ruling party and heightening political tension in the country.

Manuel Camacho Solis announced on June 17 that he would leave his post as peace negotiator of the uprising that took place in Chiapas State six months ago. In his letter of resignation, Mr. Camacho blamed Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, his party's own presidential candidate, for undercutting his efforts.

Camacho warned Sunday in an interview in the Mexican newsmagazine Proceso that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has taken ``a position of intolerance ... contrary to the search for a reduction in the tensions felt in the country.''

Camacho's resignation has spurred speculation about his next political move. He has made no secret of his presidential ambitions, although he earlier took himself out of this race. As a former foreign minister and Mexico City mayor, Camacho played a key role in the current administration before becoming its Chiapas peace envoy.

Camacho is a noted political conciliator, and his withdrawal worries Mexicans. A poll published Sunday by the Mexico City daily Reforma shows that 72 percent of those surveyed believe Camacho's departure will provoke a return to armed conflict in Chiapas. For 10 days in January, Mayan rebels, known as the Zapatistas, battled Mexican Army troops in the first guerrilla uprising Mexico has seen in two decades.

Among the rebel demands are democratic and social reforms that are widely supported by Mexicans. The same Reforma poll shows 59 percent have a ``good'' opinion of the Zapatistas.

Camacho takes credit for achieving a cease-fire in Chiapas, or as he puts it, ``a consolidated truce.'' But Mr. Zedillo calls Camacho's efforts ``a failure'' and is taking a tougher line in campaign speeches toward the rebels, criticizing ``intransigent minorities'' that attempt to ``blackmail'' the nation. Several days before Camacho's resignation, Zedillo launched a blistering attack on him when the Mayan rebel group publicly rejected a preliminary peace pact negotiated by Camacho in March.

The PRI has not lost a presidential vote in 65 years. But polls show a tight race heading into the Aug. 21 elections. The mudslinging going on in the PRI doesn't help.

Traditionally, a politician who has openly broken with the ruling party and the Mexican president is doomed to political purgatory, at least during the six-year presidential term. Or, the wayward party member positions himself to join another party.

Camacho says he wants to spend more time with his family and vows not to participate in political activities while President Carlos Salinas de Gortari remains in office (until Dec. 1). ``His words were chosen carefully,'' says a political analyst and Camacho friend. ``Five months isn't a very long sabbatical.''

But on June 9, Camacho attended a controversial private dinner at the home of political scientist Jorge Castaneda. Also in attendance were politicians of various parties, academics, labor union leaders, and intellectuals. The dinner's theme: concern over the political turmoil and how to head off a possible crisis of ungovernability after the August elections.

Another meeting of this ``plural front'' is expected this week. Will Camacho attend? Is he considering an alliance with an opposition party or an independent bid for the presidency? In the Proceso interview, Camacho says his resignation was meant to put an end to such speculation. He wants some time to ``reflect about the things I've lived through and about the country.''

But his resignation has not ended speculation. Political columnist Javier Ibarrola at El Financiero newspaper says Camacho's withdrawal legitimizes a rebellion within the PRI over the lack of democracy. ``Camacho has become a wounded tiger that remains loose in the modern jungle of [political] uncertainty which, looked at positively, could be the forerunner of a real transition to democracy,'' Mr. Ibarrola writes. Adding that in this ``new country that emerged on the first of January, anything can happen.''

But Ibarrola concedes Camacho may be making a blunder. He recounts an anecdote in his column by Ernest Hemingway: Mountain climbers scaling Kilimanjaro find a leopard's corpse on the trail. Nobody can explain why it would be on top of the mountain. Finally one suggests: The leopard lost his way. Ibarrola says it should not be long before it is known whether Camacho has strayed off the path.

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