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Fox Weighs Possibility of Pardon for Rival

Mayor of Mexico City Could Seek Presidency

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page A16

MEXICO CITY, April 13 -- President Vicente Fox is considering pardoning Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador if the mayor is convicted of a relatively minor criminal charge he is expected to face, a move that could allow him to run in next year's presidential race, a Fox spokesman said Wednesday evening.

"If he is eventually found guilty, President Fox could pardon him -- it is one of the scenarios the president is considering," the spokesman, Agustin Gutierrez Canet, said in an interview.

Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (File Photo)

Gutierrez said Fox was "very unhappy" about a widely held perception, in Mexico and abroad, that Fox is orchestrating the criminal prosecution of Lopez Obrador to keep him out of the 2006 presidential race. Fox has insisted that the case is not politically motivated but rather demonstrates that no one in Mexico is above the law. But a large and growing number of critics say they believe Fox has manipulated the system to eliminate his party's main obstacle to retaining the presidency.

"The intention of President Fox to uphold the rule of law has not convinced public opinion here and abroad. That is a fact, and we accept it," Gutierrez said, acknowledging that there has been "a problem of communication" in making Fox's case to the public.

Mexico's Congress voted last week to strip Lopez Obrador of the immunity from criminal prosecution enjoyed by elected officials. The attorney general said he would soon bring charges against the mayor for allegedly ignoring a 2001 court order to cease construction of an access road to a hospital. That could keep Lopez Obrador, the early presidential favorite in opinion polls, off next year's ballot. Mexican law prohibits those facing formal criminal charges from running for office.

Gutierrez said granting Lopez Obrador a pardon, if he is convicted, could prove Fox's assertion that he was not using the power of his office to keep the mayor off the ballot. It also could prove that the Mexican judicial system is able to prosecute and convict even the most popular and powerful politician when the law has been broken, Gutierrez said.

"It would show that democracy and the rule of law are being upheld by President Fox," he said.

Lopez Obrador's supporters say the case against the mayor is obviously selective and politically motivated because so many other Mexican officials who have committed acts of vast corruption and fraud have never been charged. Gutierrez strongly denied that Fox was trying to scuttle Lopez Obrador's candidacy, but he said the critics had a point in noting that seemingly far greater corruption had gone unpunished.

"It is difficult to answer that -- it doesn't show coherence, and we accept that," Gutierrez said.

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