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Mexico’s past and future meet at Corruption Palace

July 4, 2005

By Lorraine Orlandi

ZIHUATANEJO, Mexico (Reuters) – A replica of the GreekParthenon stands decaying on a cliff above a Mexican Pacificresort, a gaudy monument to graft and brutality that neighborslong ago dubbed the Palace of Corruption.

It was built as a vacation retreat by the late ArturoDurazo, “El Negro,” a notorious Mexico City police chief whogot rich on official misdeeds during a heyday of corruption inthe 1970s. Legend says he murdered a couple of house guests inthe Parthenon’s lagoon-sized pool, now half filled with slimy,green water.

The caretaker fears the ghost of El Negro himself hauntsthe deserted grounds. He prefers to hang his hammock outsidethe towering front gate, keeping watch from a distance.

“Definitely, that Parthenon is a monument to corruption,”said Zihuatanejo Mayor Amador Campos. “However, it is abeautiful place worth a lot of money that can be rescued as acultural center or theater for the people.”

Guerrero state has claimed the property, and nowtownspeople hope to turn it into a community treasure.

If the Parthenon is a product of an authoritarian past,then its eventual fate may reflect hopes for Mexico’s future asit struggles toward full democracy.

Since President Vicente Fox won historic elections in 2000to end the 71-year rule of the Institutional RevolutionaryParty, or PRI, change has come — but slowly — to this andother corners of Mexico long run like private fiefdoms.

In Guerrero, a longtime PRI bastion, the party was oustedfrom the governorship this year and has lost dozens of localoffices, a sign people are taking power into their own hands.

“People learned that you could beat the PRI. Here therewere people who would assure you that the PRI could not bedefeated,” said Campos, a member of the leftist Party of theDemocratic Revolution, or PRD, who was elected mayor two yearsago.

Still, autocratic vestiges remain, breeding corruption,rights abuse and political cronyism, much as in Durazo’s day.

“An old regime cannot be dismantled in two months,”Guerrero Governor Zeferino Torreblanca of the PRD warned aftertaking office in April.

CHIEFTAINS RULE

In Guerrero, long a hotbed of activism and insurgency,people are used to facing iron-fisted crackdowns. Here, as inother poor, violent states like Oaxaca and Chiapas, politicalbosses have used the army, police and courts to protect privateinterests against those fighting for change.

Torreblanca’s election victory made history, but already heis accused of caving into pressure from Guerrero’s old guard.

“The new governor, although he won with a people’s mandateand it was an anti-PRI vote, has decided to govern like thePRI,” said Juan Angulo, editor of Guerrero newspaper El Sur.

“Key posts remain in the hands of the PRI, above all in thearea of security where the people had most hoped for change.”

Torreblanca kept on a deputy state prosecutor widely blamedfor human rights abuses in the past and cited by rightswatchdogs in two states, among other PRI names in his cabinet.

Torreblanca’s defenders say he wants to maintain stabilityby offering the PRI an olive branch. Angulo and rights leaderssay it is a sign the entrenched chieftains still hold sway.

“The traditional power groups feel that with Zeferino’scabinet there will be no change, they feel protected,” Angulosaid. Recent events may bear out that claim.

In May nine student protesters were arrested, beaten andheld for bus theft before the charges were withdrawn.

Days earlier, two sons of an environmental activist died inan ambush that international rights groups called a targetedattack by powerful interests linked to the PRI. Other farmersfighting logging say they are persecuted by authorities.

POLITICAL ROT

Durazo, whose opulent taste once was described as “earlyNero,” ran the Mexico City police force as his personal Mafia,acquired a string of race horses and reputedly had his enemieskilled at will. He was convicted of racketeering and othercharges and died in 2000.

The Parthenon’s decadence still stuns, although it issoftened by dusk and time. Murals fade on the walls and the seashimmers below. Broken statues of Greek gods stand forlorn.

Many see Durazo as just one symptom of political rot. Hisboyhood friend, Jose Lopez Portillo, became president and rodean oil boom that fed some of the most blatant graft, nepotismand excess ever seen in Mexico. Economic crisis ensued, and adisgraced Lopez Portillo died last year.

Even militant leftists give the conservative Fox credit forchipping away at abuse and impunity and letting in some light.But change at the grass roots is subtle, at best.

Amid frustration with Fox’s failure to win radical reform,the PRD faithful like Mayor Campos see their best chance yet totake the presidency next year, with leftist Mexico City MayorAndres Manuel Lopez Obrador leading opinion polls in the race.

El Sur’s Angulo warns change cannot come soon enough toGuerrero, a state racked by cycles of uprising and repression.

“Without fundamental change there could be socialupheaval,” he said. “If people see that so much struggle hasachieved nothing and things are the same or worse than before,it may make way for other kinds of struggle.”




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