Mexico's Salinas Shuffles Party and Cabinet Posts Changes Signal Boost in Investments, Postponing of Succession Choice

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THE abrupt firing of the president of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and a sudden Cabinet shuffle are pegged to the upcoming presidential elections in 1994, analysts say. The changes show that President Carlos Salinas de Gortari still pulls the strings in Mexican politics, even though he cannot run for reelection.

On March 29, PRI president Genaro Borrego Estrada was "let go" in the midst of the 16th PRI party congress. His dismissal is largely attributed to the scandal that erupted over a banquet in February attended by Mr. Salinas and 30 wealthy Mexican businessmen, who each pledged an average $25 million to finance the PRI campaign. Amid criticism at home and abroad, the PRI quickly backtracked, announcing limits on campaign financing.

The Salinas administration has pegged the PRI's economic and political future largely on the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Mexican stock market falls or rises on every whisper of criticism or praise coming out of the US Congress, which will soon consider legislation to beef up labor and environmental aspects of NAFTA.

In addition to firing Mr. Borrego, Salinas ousted Andres Caso Lombardo, the Secretary of communications and transport. The move was prompted mostly to insert another PRI tapado, or candidate, into the running for the Mexican presidency. But the business community approves the move because Mr. Caso has made quite a few enemies in the privatization of Mexico's infrastructure projects. The high-priced toll roads, for example, have forced many smaller trucking companies to use the freeways, further damaging the roads.

It will be up to Emilio Gamboa Patron, the director of Mexico's social security institute, to straighten out these infrastructure problems. Mr. Gamboa was chief of staff under Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, Salinas' predecessor. "Gamboa is close to the president and has a good political touch," notes a Mexican government official.

IN a break with the past, PRI officials are indicating they want to put off the naming of their presidential candidate until January or February of 1994. Normally, the candidate is announced in October or November.

The purpose of Gamboa's sudden appointment, analysts say, is to keep people guessing about PRI presidential candidates. …