Severe water shortages. Dwindling forests. Rich but threatened biodiversity. Toxic wastes along the border with the United States. Dangerously dirty air.
With these challenges only the beginning of Mexico's lengthy environmental red-alert list, it should sound promising that the country's Green Party is set to increase its voice in Congress. It might even seem reasonable that the party's president, Jorge Gonzlez Torres, could be Mexico's next environmental secretary.
But what would seem to be a cause for jubilation among environmentalists is instead becoming a dividing point. With each side accusing the other of playing for political power, Mexico's environmentalists find themselves squaring off.
"We should go into this new government united, proclaiming with one voice what our terrible environmental problems are and what we must do about them," says Homero Aridjis, a noted Mexican environmentalist and writer." Instead, political interests risk dividing the environmental community."
Thanks to their election alliance with president-elect Vicente Fox's National Action Party, Mexico's Greens will enter the Senate for the first time with 5 (of 128) seats. They will also increase their presence in the lower house from four to 15.
The Green division is likely to be only one of many controversies Mr. Fox will face while choosing his cabinet over the next few months. The former Coca-Cola executive and state governor says he will use head hunters and a transition team of close advisors to make sure he ends up with the best-qualified, most enthusiastic and honest cabinet possible. Aside from professional qualifications, Fox says geographical distribution and a solid presence of women are the criteria he will insist on for his governing team.
Naming the environmental secretariat will test Fox's ability to balance politics with professionalism. On one side of the green divide are many of Mexico's best-known environmental organizations. They accuse the Greens' Gonzlez Torres of turning his party into a personal fiefdom, while doing little to raise the profile of environmental concerns.
Some derisively refer to Gonzlez's son, Jorge Emilio Gonzlez Martnez, as el nio verde (the little green child), and accuse the party of having dedicated its energies in the last Congress to pressing for a change that lowered the minimum age for senators from 30 to 25. That allowed the younger Gonzlez, already a congressman, to make his successful run for the Senate.
Martha Delgado, president of the Union of Environmental Groups, says, "There is no division ... it's all the environmental organizations against the Green Party." The one-time Green activist says the party has done nothing for the environment, has been charged with misuse of public funds, and is run like a "private business."
Others are not so harsh with the party, but still oppose making Gonzlez Torres head of the environment ministry. "I think it's positive for Mexico that [the Greens] are going to be a stronger presence in Congress, but the question will be how hard they push to put the environment on the national agenda," says Gustavo Alans, director of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law.
The Greens' first term in Congress was characterized by "supporting other groups' environmental causes, but taking little initiative themselves," Mr. Alans adds, "so it's difficult to imagine they're really going to do it now."
But Alans says naming Green leader Gonzlez Torres environment minister would be the wrong move for environmentalism in Mexico.
"I don't have anything against the man personally," he says, "but we need someone capable of giving [the ministry] the weight and respect it needs. Most environmentalists don't see Gonzlez Torres as the person to do that."
In their defense, the Greens say their focus as alliance members during the recent campaign was above all to get Fox elected - more votes for Fox and the Alliance for Change translating into more environmentalists in Congress. And they insist Gonzlez Torres has the administrative experience and dedication to run the country's environmental affairs.
While protesting tree cutting in a Mexico City boulevard last week, Gonzlez Torres told reporters he is qualified for the cabinet post because of his 20 years working for environmental causes and his past experience in business administration. "But most important is that I have my heart in the environment," he said.
Noting he doesn't wear leather and doesn't even kill flies, Gonzlez Torres did swat at his detractors - accusing some of them of really promoting the interests of the defeated Institutional Revolutionary Party. The PRI's seven-decade reign was ended by Fox's July 2 victory.
Environmentalist Aridjis says he, too, suspects the PRI, through the government's current environmental administration, is behind the attacks on the Greens and their leader. "This is a manipulated campaign," he says. What worries him most is that political interests end up neglecting the environment.
Take the case of Mexico's last remaining jungle down in Chiapas, Aridjis says. "While all this bickering is going on, the destruction continues every day. And no one is saying anything about it."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society