- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

MEXICO CITY — With Mexico facing its most important elections since President Vicente Fox won office three years ago, an upstart party has forced the big players to take a stand on discomfiting questions about sex and reproduction.

The tiny Mexico Posible party will be lucky to get five of the 500 seats up for grabs in Congress in Sunday’s midterm elections. It won’t nab any of the six open governorships, and it will be lucky to land more than a few scattered city council spots.

But with a platform that promotes condom use, same-sex “marriage” and legalization of abortion, it has sent this 95 percent Roman Catholic country into an uproar and compelled the leading parties — Mr. Fox’s National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) — to declare themselves on issues they would prefer to avoid.

Abortion is illegal here and even divorce is discussed only in hushed tones. So when Mexico Posible burst on the scene this year with its socially liberal platform and a slate of candidates that included 25 homosexuals, a blind man, Mazahua Indians and two transvestites, the campaign’s main issues — immigration and the reform of the electric and gas industries — were pushed to the sidelines by talk about sex.

With little to lose, Mexico Posible began calling other parties to task on reproductive health issues. Rosario Robles, former Mexico City mayor and leader of the PRD, responded in early May by announcing that the leftist party would for the first time call for legalizing abortion.

Polls show the PRD will claim about 20 percent of the seats in Congress on Sunday, with the PAN and PRI each getting about 35 percent.

Soon after Mr. Robles’ declaration, first lady Marta Sahagun, often named as a possible PAN presidential candidate in 2006, surprised many by telling an audience she supported condom use for protection against disease.

The archbishop of Mexico, Norberto Rivera, swiftly dismissed her comments, saying they were “nothing more than a national show to distract the people.”

But Mrs. Sahagun’s words shocked many within the conservative PAN, which has a highly religious constituency. Several party leaders denounced the statement, noting that both Mrs. Sahagun and Mr. Fox had defied church teaching by divorcing their previous partners.

At about the same time, a book was published claiming the existence within the PAN of a secret society called the “Yunque” that was working to promote conservative Catholic goals.

“The PAN is rooted in unconditional loyalty to the bishops,” said historian Carlos Monsivais, one of 60 leading Mexican intellectuals to sign a document supporting Mexico Posible. Mr. Fox carefully tiptoed around the issue, promoting better sex education.

But social policy questions burst into scandalous flames several weeks ago when Mexico Posible filed complaints accusing four Catholic bishops of violating a law barring clergy from any kind of politicking when they asked parishioners not to vote for any party that promoted condoms or abortion.

The Bishop of Queretaro, Mario de Gasperin, called one of Mexico Posible’s cross-dressing candidates an “aberration” and criticized the party’s platform; soon thereafter the three other bishops were accused of similar political meddling.

“We’re a different party than the one the bishops want,” proclaimed Patricia Mercado, the party’s leader. “A party full of feminists who don’t agree with a church that’s rife with misogyny.”

The responses rained down. “It’s an act of violence that the church … has to keep quiet and not offend the delicate ears of power and the parties,” wrote Jose Raul Soto Vazquez, canon of the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Mexico’s National Pro-Life Committee joined in, urging Mexico’s 30 million voters to choose the PAN as the only major party that actively opposes abortion.

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