Salinas Shifts Strategy on Rebellion Mexican President Reshuffles Cabinet in Conciliation Bid as Bombs Hit in and near Capital

Article excerpt

CONCILIATION, not confrontation, is the latest tactic tried by the Mexican government to bring an end to the armed Mayan Indian insurrection in southern Mexico.

In "recognition of what is not working," President Carlos Salinas de Gortari announced on Jan. 10 that he had accepted the resignation of hard-line Interior Minister Jose Patrocinio Gonzalez Blanco Garrido and reshuffled his Cabinet.

President Salinas named Attorney General Jorge Carpizo MacGregor the new Interior Minister. Mr. Carpizo is the former head of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), a quasi-independent government ombudsman. And Foreign Minister Manuel Camacho Solis was appointed to the new post of peacemaker: officially, the "Commissioner for Peace and Reconciliation in Chiapas."

The moves are intended to "strengthen the law and respect for human rights and open channels of conciliation without abandoning for a moment the task of guaranteeing the security in Chiapas," Salinas said.

Mr. Gonzalez, a former governor of Chiapas, Mexico's southern-most state, last year denied there was any guerrilla activity there. He was also criticized for allegedly allowing rights violations to occur while governor.

The Cabinet shuffle comes as the rebellion, begun on Jan. 1, shows little sign of ending. Bombings in and around the nation's capital have spread fear and prompted criticism of the government's handling of the leftist uprising. Worried investors dumped stocks, knocking 6 percent off the value of the Mexican stock index on Jan. 10.

Taken together, the new appointments indicate a change in government strategy.

"The combination of Carpizo and Mr. Camacho is a very good sign," says Arturo Sanchez, political scientist at the Mexican Institute of Political Studies, a private research group. "Carpizo is sensitive to human rights issues, has dealt with the violent drug traffickers, and recognizes the plight of the indigenous."

Camacho is recognized for his abilities as a negotiator, particularly for his handling of conflicts - sometimes violent - between political groups in Mexico City, where he served as mayor during most of the last five years.

A close friend of Salinas, Camacho has been given the task of creating an agenda and the next steps for resolving the Chiapas crisis. He will have direct access to the president, Salinas says.

Analysts say the appointment of Camacho and Carpizo goes against the political grain and is a sign of the magnitude of Salinas's concern. "Salinas must think things are so bad that he has to go with his own men rather than someone on the new team," Mr. Sanchez says.

Neither appointee is considered part of the political team of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the ruling party's candidate for the August presidential elections. Indeed, Camacho was openly upset when Salinas chose Mr. …


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