President Vicente Fox's wife, Marta Sahagun, announced Monday that she will not run to succeed her husband as president in 2006, bowing to months of criticism that her political aspirations were damaging Fox's presidency and creating divisions within their party.
"I have said and I reiterate: Mexico is prepared to be governed by a woman; nevertheless, I wish to affirm that I will not be a candidate for the presidency of the republic," Sahagun said in a four-minute statement to the news media at Los Pinos, the forested complex where she and Fox live and work.
Sahagun, 51, who is known popularly as Martita, had publicly hinted at a possible candidacy for months. Critics said her high profile and influence over Fox had contributed to the resignations of several top officials, distracted Fox from his flagging legislative agenda and created deep animosity within Fox's National Action Party, or PAN.
The issue erupted publicly last week when Fox's chief of staff, Alfonso Durazo, resigned and wrote a letter harshly critical of Sahagun. Durazo accused Fox of behaving like his authoritarian predecessors from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, who handpicked their successors during the party's 71 years of unbroken rule, which ended when Fox took office 2000.
Sahagun, reading a statement to reporters and taking no questions, seemed to acknowledge that criticism on Monday. "I am conscious of my responsibilities, also of the limits imposed by our historic moment," she said. "The moment is propitious for great decisions. This is mine."
Sahagun also answered her critics by saying that she had never been involved, and never would be involved, in the "institutional decisions that belong only to the president." She professed her love for Fox and her "commitment to the ideals of my party." She said that while her "rights as a woman and as a citizen" remain intact, she and Fox intended to "go home together to enjoy our family" when Fox's term ends.
While Sahagun's statement seemed unequivocal, it left questions in some minds. Independent political analyst Alfonso Zarate called it "late and ambiguous" and said it left open the possibility that Sahagun would still run. "Mexico has a long history of people saying they're not going to run, but then when the elections come, and there are social groups pressuring them to run, they end up accepting," Zarate said. "Given the history, it makes us suspicious."
In her statement, Sahagun did not mention Vamos Mexico, or Let's Go Mexico, the charitable foundation she heads, which is being investigated by Congress and the attorney general to determine if it received funds improperly from the national lottery. While the foundation has delivered bicycles and other goods to many needy people, critics have said it is little more than a vehicle to help Sahagun's image and political career. Without mentioning the foundation, Sahagun said she would "continue my fight" for women and the "the common well-being."
"If she had resigned from Vamos Mexico, that would have been clear enough," Zarate said. "But as it is, she left a small window open."