MEXICO CITY, April 27 -- Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha, one of the highest-ranking members of President Vicente Fox's cabinet, resigned Wednesday night over a polarizing controversy surrounding his office's prosecution of Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
"I am convinced that as a Mexican, as a soldier of the republic, as a man of laws, I should open a space for the president so he can make decisions that he thinks are best to lead the country, in the political moments that the country is living, to promote unity and consolidate democracy," Macedo said in an address carried live on television.
Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha
While not admitting any mistakes involving the Lopez Obrador case, Macedo, a former army general and former top military prosecutor, said he was stepping down because "I never have been nor will be an obstacle to the president making decisions."
The resignation of Macedo, an original member of Fox administration who has been credited with notable successes in fighting drug trafficking and organized crime, is the highest-level fallout yet from a political drama that has paralyzed Mexican politics.
Lopez Obrador asserts that the case against him, which has been aggressively pushed by Macedo and involves a minor land dispute, is a politically motivated attempt to keep him off the ballot in next year's presidential election. Opinion polls show that most Mexicans believe him, and several hundred thousand -- perhaps more than a million -- people turned out Sunday for a march to support him.
The prosecution of Lopez Obrador, accused of ignoring a 2001 court order to cease construction of an access road to a hospital, has emerged as the central challenge to Fox's legacy. Fox's popularity ratings have suffered as Lopez Obrador has repeatedly accused the president of orchestrating a conspiracy to scuttle his candidacy in a race in which opinion polls put him far ahead of other contenders.
Despite the battering he has taken in public opinion, in Mexico and abroad, Fox has insisted that the case is not a political witch hunt but rather evidence that Mexican justice is blind and capable of punishing even the most high-profile politicians who break the law.
But even Fox's closest advisers acknowledge that his arguments have not gained traction with most Mexicans, and his legacy as Mexico's most pro-democracy president in nearly a century is suffering badly. Battered by his inability to pass the economic reforms he promised when taking office in 2000, Fox's claim to have put Mexico on a path to democracy after seven decades of authoritarian rule has stood as his marquee accomplishment.
With even that now in jeopardy, Fox, who is ineligible to run again for president, has appeared increasingly conciliatory in a case that has dominated politics here for weeks. Fox and Lopez Obrador seemed close to an agreement to meet to discuss the case.
Fox accepted Macedo's resignation Wednesday evening in a separate televised address. He praised Macedo's "brave effort" in fighting crime and offered no specific reason for his departure -- but he left no doubt that it was an effort to control political damage.
He said the attorney general's office would "exhaustively review" the Lopez Obrador case, "seeking to preserve, within the law, the political harmony of the country."
"My government will not impede anyone from participating in the next federal contest," Fox said. "As president of a democratic country, I assume my responsibility to guarantee that the 2006 electoral process is legitimate and that each political party participates in an environment of openness, of respect, subject to the law and in defense of our institutions."
He also said he had decided to send a reform proposal to Congress "to protect the rights" of people accused but not convicted of crimes. He offered no details. The key obstacle to Lopez Obrador's presidential aspirations is a law that prohibits those facing criminal charges from running for elective office -- even if they have not been convicted.