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Drilling Out Corruption

October 04, 2002

Mexico's Pemex monopoly is among the top oil producers in the world, one of the three largest foreign suppliers of oil to the United States and the Mexican government's main source of income. It also belongs to the state and is attached to the political party that encompasses the powerful Pemex union.

For Mexican President Vicente Fox to address the corruption in Pemex will take guts. To avoid it will cost him the respect of the people.

Last month, federal investigators charged three leaders of the Oil Workers Union with diverting $170 million from Pemex to the 2000 presidential campaign of a candidate with the PRI party--the party that had dominated Mexico for generations, the party that Fox drove from power.

Federal prosecutors have charged Rogelio Montemayor, a former director general of Pemex, with authorizing the payment. The money went through the union, which is a part of PRI. Also indicted are the Pemex union boss, the union's treasurer and a union section chief.

To add another convolution: One of these guys is a state legislator, another a federal senator and the third in the Chamber of Deputies--Mexico's equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The accused claim they are victims of a witch hunt. The union is backing them, and it is packed with hard-line PRI dinosaurs, including a powerful senator who is the leading opponent of efforts to privatize Pemex.

Even inside Fox's camp are voices advising him to avoid a confrontation with PRI, fearing that a frontal attack could jeopardize a possible alliance in Mexico's Congress on pending congressional reforms.

We encourage the collision. When Fox took office, he promised to solve the peasant uprising in Chiapas, but to this day, masked Zapatistas hide in the hinterlands. Fox's fiscal reform bill fell short of everyone's expectations, and terrorist fears in the United States blew away Fox's hopes for an agreement with his northern neighbor on immigration.

Despite these failures, Fox remains popular. What the people won't tolerate is a failure to uphold the rule of law.

Fox must show that he is attacking the crisis that underlies most of his nation's problems: corruption. He can do that by backing the firm, fair prosecution of the union leaders.

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