Resignation of Energy Secretary Felipe Calderon Complicates President Vicente Fox's Efforts to Push for Energy Reforms

Article excerpt

President Vicente Fox suffered a major setback in his efforts to push through major energy reforms this year following the contentious resignation of Energy Secretary Felipe Calderon Hinojosa.

Calderon replaced Ernesto Martens in September 2003, after a brief term as director of the government lender Banco Nacional de Obras y Servicios (BANOBRAS). Calderon left his post as floor leader for the center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) in the Chamber of Deputies just a few months earlier to take the BANOBRAS post.

Fox tapped Calderon to head the Secretaria de Energia (SENER) with the specific goal of helping push his energy reforms through Congress (see SourceMex, 2003-09-03). The president considered Calderon's position valuable because of his cordial relations with Congress, especially members of the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

Calderon clashes with President Fox over 2006 candidacy

Calderon, however, also had his eyes on a potential bid to be his party's presidential candidate in 2006. He had hinted of his presidential ambitions but never formally announced his intentions to seek the nomination. This changed at a rally in Guadalajara in late May, when he accepted the endorsement of 4,000 PAN supporters in Jalisco state.

The PAN leadership, including Fox, was angered by Calderon's acceptance of the endorsement, which it said amounted to a formal declaration of candidacy and a violation of the party's pledge not to jump into the presidential race until at least 2005.

"It seems to me that it was more than just ill considered to have held this campaign-type event," Fox said. "I think it was both out of place and the wrong time."

The problem was that Fox did not communicate his criticism directly to Calderon, but made the comments during an interview with reporters. The energy secretary learned about the comments through media reports and immediately tendered his resignation.

Presidential sources said, however, that Fox was already planning to give Calderon the choice of resigning from his post or putting his presidential ambitions on hold.

In his letter of resignation, Calderon called the president's criticism "unjust" and "disproportionate." He explained that he could no longer be energy secretary because Fox had undermined his ability to serve effectively in the post. "The position requires support, authority, and a capacity for dialogue," said Calderon.

Calderon may have started his campaign early to try to make up ground against other potential rivals for the presidential nomination, especially Interior Secretary Santiago Creel. Recent public-opinion polls showed Calderon running fourth behind Creel, first lady Martha Sahagun, and Deputy Francisco Barrio Terrazas.

Another candidate, Sen. Carlos Medina Plascencia, received little criticism from the president and party hierarchy when he created a political-action committee to support his bid for the nomination. Medina, however, is not a Cabinet member and is not seen as a threat to the favored candidates.

Fox said his hard-line stance with Calderon was intended as a message to the rest of his Cabinet not to engage in politicking. "We must make our responsibilities a priority...and it should be clear that at this level I will not accept anyone launching an open campaign process now," the president said.

Some PAN members call Fox's stance hypocritical

But several PAN members said Fox's stance was hypocritical because he was quick to reprimand Calderon while allowing more leeway to Creel and Sahagun.

"There are other campaigns that were not treated in the same manner," said Deputy German Martinez, one of the PAN floor leaders in the lower house.

"Perhaps they were doing this to protect the interests of another candidate," said Jalisco Gov. Francisco Ramirez Acuna, who was instrumental in setting up the rally for Calderon in Guadalajara. …