28 June 2010

PRI gubernatorial candidate assassinated

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas, Rodolfo Torre Cantú, was assassinated June 28 while heading for the airport in the state capital, Ciudad Victoria.

Torre was leading all the polls by a wide margin in what had become one of Mexico's most violent states over the past six months. Over that time, narcotics-trafficking cartels - supposedly an alliance of the Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoacana - had flooded the state with armed toughs to exterminate Los Zetas, the gang of rogue former soldiers that previously was the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel.

The death of a gubernatorial candidate just seven days prior to statewide elections marks the most notable political assassination in Mexico since the 1994 murder of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana. The details and motives for Colosio's death still remain firmly in the domain of conspiracies more than 16 years later.

Torre's death also marks perhaps the most significant political murder since President Felipe Calderón launched his crackdown on the drug cartels in December 2006 - or, according to Patrick Corcorcan of the Gancho Blog, at least the most significant murder since Edgar Millán, acting director of the Federal Preventive Police, was gunned down in May 2008 by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño and anti-drug prosecutor José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos died in a November 2008 plane crash mere miles from Los Pinos (the president's residence) but the incident was ruled an accident and foul play ruled out.

Violence attributed to narcotics trafficking has been rife in Tamaulipas, which borders southern Texas and covers the most northeastern parts of Mexico. Some 20 bodies were discovered in the oil town of Ciudad Madero on June 11, while neighbouring Tampico had been gripped earlier in the spring by rumors of pending massacres and violent acts. The border region has been equally bad with shootouts and cartel-sponsored blockades of major thoroughfares. Journalists in many area now avoid any coverage organized crime activities and violent acts - deaths of journalist have occurred and two reporters from the news organization Milenio were kidnapped.

The cartel influence in the region is so rampant the Economist reported that bars in Reynosa serve Zeta-brand whisky.

The violence had negatively impacted campaigns for the July 4 elections. Opposition parties reported problems finding enough candidates willing run for public office. Those holding public office encountered problems, too: Many mayors in the border region reportedly live in the Río Grande Valley of Texas with their families and only cross into Tamaulipas for work purposes.

13 June 2010

Q.R. gubernatorial race goes from farcical to tragic

The federal electoral tribunal (Trife) has rejected a petition from jailed Quintana Roo gubernatorial candidate Gregorio "Greg" Sánchez to overturn a state electoral tribunal decision disqualifying him from the July 4 election. Sánchez, the mayor Benito Juárez - the municipality containing Cancún - faces drug, organized crime and money laundering charges. (Sánchez took a leave of absence from his mayoral post to pursue the gubernatorial election.)

Meanwhile, on June 13, a plane carrying staff members from the poll-leading, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Roberto Borge's campaign crashed in the jungle near Carrillo Puerto. Borges confirmed the crash in an interview with the newspaper Reforma, although the number of casualties - if any - was unknown.

The race in the fast-growing southeastern state has been beset by allegations of dirty politicking as the coalition of left-wing parties previously headed by Sánchez alleges he has been the victim of political persecution on the part of the state's PRI government and federal officials making politically motivated arrests under the pretenses of links to organized crime.

Sánchez was arrested in late May for having supposed links to the Beltrán Leyva cartel and Los Zetas, along with having unexplained riches in his accounts. Polls published since his arrest show the PRI holding more than a 30-point advantage and the PRD running even with the National Action Party (PAN).

The PRD-Labor Party-Convergence party coalition he heads has yet to name a successor, but it confirmed late on June 13 it would do so the following day and that the candidate would carry out no campaign activities. The coalition says it will vie for the entire gubernatorial race to be annulled.

Various officials in the coalition have said Sánchez would campaign from prison if necessary. His wife, Niurka Alba Sáliva Benítez, has been mentioned as a possible replacement, although her name has been linked by various media reports to rings smuggling Cuban migrants through Mexico.

The Attorney General's Office (PGR) has denied any suggestions his arrest was politically motivated and revealed that Greg and the PRD were warned in January that he was under investigation. Actions by the Sánchez campaign - such as recording videos prior to his arrest in which the gospel singer-turned-big city mayor proclaims his innocence - suggest they knew an investigation was ongoing. The Convergence party president in Quintana Roo revealed June 13 that it was recommended Sánchez go into hiding and run a virtual campaign.

The PRD has compared the arrest of Sánchez, currently jailed in the western state of Nayarit, to the arrests of some 28 public officials, including 10 mayors, in Michoacán a little more than a year ago - in a case commonly referred to as the "Michoacanzo." None of the officials has been convicted.

10 June 2010

Faith and football on the eve of the World Cup


"Now I see hunger," Mexican coach Javier Aguirre said of his squad, in comments published by the AP. "They want to write a chapter in history, right from the first day.

Let's hope so.

Mexico opens the World Cup June 11 in the tournament's inaugural match against host country South Africa. El Tri - as the team is known for its three-colour kit, the black version of which is sold out in Mexico - enters the tournament with high hopes, but a history of flaming out in the round of 16 and exiting the tournament in rather calamitous style. (The 2002 elimination by the United States would surely rank as the most notorious of those calamities.)

Some Mexicans are turning to faith - as they often do - on the eve of the tournament. Many of the faithful are flocking to the San Gabriel Arcangel parish near the Tacuba metro station in Mexico City, where they pray in front of a statue known as the Santo Niño de los Milagros for intervention. The statue is dressed in a Mexican team jersey, sewed by women who credit the santo niño with past miracles.

Past petitions for intervention appear to have gone unheeded; perhaps this year will be different. I wrote on faith and football for Canwest News Service; click on the post title to read the story.

09 June 2010

PRD still backs "Greg" even if voters don't

The PRD leadership and a coalition of left-wing parties known as the DIA continued backing their recently-arrested gubernatorial candidate in Quintana Roo, Gregorio "Greg" Sánchez, the mayor of Cancún, and has continued insisting his arrest late last month on drug, organized crime and money laundering charges is politically motivated.

Meanwhile, a new poll from GCE, published in the newspaper Milenio, shows the incumbent PRI with a commanding 30-point lead over the second place PAN candidate and the PRD-PT-Convergence coalition headed by Sánchez. The poll showed PRI candidate Roberto Borge having 51.5 per cent support, PAN candidate Alicia Ricalde, the mayor of Ilsa Mujeres, with 18.1 per cent and Sánchez's coalition drawing just 17.2 per cent

The Quintana Roo electoral institute (Ieqroo) disqualified Sánchez from the July 4 election and gave the coalition until June 8 to find a new candidate. The Dialogue for the Reconstruction of Mexico - the latest incarnation of a legislative coalition between the PRD-PT-Convergence party previously known as the Broad Progressive Front - said June 9 it would disregard the Iqeroo deadline and risk the possibility of having no candidate in the upcoming election.

"We'd rather lose votes than our principles," DIA coordinator Manuel Camacho Solis told reporters.

The arrest and disqualification of Sánchez has revived suspicions of the federal government using allegations of organized crime links to unduly influence the outcome of key elections. The Interior Ministry denies the allegations and the Attorney General's Office says the PRD and Sánchez were warned in January of its investigation.

07 June 2010

Federal Police bust heads in Cananea

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia rally

Members of Mexico's mining and metalworkers' union show support for their fugitive leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, during a rally at union headquarters in Mexico City. Gómez is living in Vancouver to avoid apprehension on charges pertaining to the alleged mismanagement of a $55 million trust fund.

The Federal Police evicted the remaining striking workers at the giant copper pit in Cananea, Sonora, where miners loyal to fugitive mining union boss Napoleón Gómez Urrutia had shut down the lucrative Grupo México property for nearly three years. The miners originally went on strike over health and wage issues, but the labour stoppage became a show of support for Gómez, who is accused of misappropriating a $55 million workers' trust fund and has lived in Vancouver to avoid apprehension on fraud and embezzlement charges.

Mine owner Grupo México - a bitter enemy of Gómez Urrutia - charged that the strike at Cananea was nothing more than an attempt to pressure the Mexican government to drop charges against the union boss as the health and wage issues were resolved long ago. Other rivals of Gómez agreed.

"We regret that things were resolved in this way, (but) the only person to blame is Napoleón Gómez Urrutia," Carlos Pavón, the union's former director of political matters, told W Radio. "He never wanted to resolve the problem through dialogue. Napoleón always wanted to insert (the issue) of the apprehension orders against him."

Pavón was arrested in late 2008 for fraud and extortion and left the union a short time later.

The most recent raid on Cananea once again put the spotlight on Gómez Urrutia, perhaps the most colourful, controversial and maverick union leader of the past ten years.

Gómez is reviled by a group of dissidents for allegedly making off with their trust fund and was reputedly responsible for derailing the labour reforms proposed during the administration of former president Vicente Fox.

Chihuahua-based Veta de Plata, a cooperative of former mining union members and trust fund holders say Gomez has failed to provide an adequate explanation for what happened to their money and improperly dissolved the trust fund by acting as a signatory for both the union and the trust fund holders.

Court documents provided by the cooperative in 2008 show trust fund money being moved out of the country and being used to pay for shopping excursions in Dallas and personal credit card debts of Gómez's relatives.

Gómez's backers say the union's accounts have been audited and no mismanagement occurred.

The trust fund was established after the Cananea mine was privatized in 1989, when then-president Carlos Salina launched the widespread sale of many government-run enterprises. Workers' in a number of privatized mines received five percent of the shares, which were held in a trust fund.

Although controversial, Gómez draws fierce support from some quarters for his tough negotiating tactics, which produce contracts better than other unions - a rarity in a country notorious for wealthy union bosses and poorly paid workers, and a history of unions being little more than turn-out-the vote machines for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Supporters say Mexican mining and smelting executives still travel to Vancouver to negotiate collective agreements with him - even though he's not recognized by the Mexican government as a union leader.

"He's a different kind of union man," said Aldo Muñoz Armenta, a labour expert at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico in Toluca. Muñoz says many Mexican union contracts are based on the national minimum wage and the inflation rate, but Gómez - who previously ran the national mint and a government mining company in Autlán, Jalisco - would tie wages to the price of minerals.

The Interior Ministry said in a June 7 statement the operation began the previous day and was carried out by some 2,000 federal police officers; seven arrests were made for an arson at the mine. The Labour Secretariat had declared the strike illegal back in January 2008.

The mining union blasted the expulsion as illegal. A coalition of so-called "independent unions" - the telephone workers, electrical workers, UNAM workers and other unions generally not affiliated with either the PRI or governing National Action Party (PAN) - broke dialogue with the federal government in response to the raid. Foreign unions such as the USW, blasted the expulsion, too. The left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) promised demonstrations at the Supreme Court and outside the Grupo México offices in the upscale Polanco district to protest both the action at Cananea and the ongoing struggle of the SME, the union whose members were tossed out of work when the federal government closed down the money-losing and notoriously inefficient Mexico City utility, Luz y Fuerza, last fall.

The SME and its allies branded the decision to dissolve Luz y Fuerza, "Political," as the union's leadership - which would threaten disruptive strikes every spring that would have left Mexico City and the surrounding states in the dark - is considered close with scorned 2006 presidential runner up Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the nation's self-proclaimed "legitimate president." (It's suspected SME money helped finance López Obrador's "legitimate government.")

Independents unions such as the SME have backed the mine and metalworkers for various for reasons, including a mutual dislike of the conservative and pro-business PAN and an unwillingness to join PRI-affiliated labour groups such as the CROC, CROM and CTM, which have long been pillars in the PRI's corporatist system and headed by leaders accused of not acting in the best interest of the rank-and-file.

Muñoz says the recognition of union leaders is a "judicial process" in most countries, while in Mexico, "It's a political process."

The Labour Secretariat refused to recognize Gómez's 2008 re-election as leader of the mining union, saying he was not a member in good standing and he never worked as a miner - a prerequisite for assuming the position.

Gómez took over the union after the death of his father, Napoleón Gómez Sada nearly 10 years ago. The elder Gómez was extremely popular among the membership, including those now expressing a dislike for his son.

He assumed control after submitting a document to the Labour Secretariat saying that Gómez - who went to Oxford, was a pre-candidate for the 1992 PRI gubernatorial race in Nuevo León and would appear in the society pages of Monterrey-area society publications - worked in the accounting department of a gold mine in the state of Durango for the salary of 28 pesos per day.

Some union dissidents found that a little hard to believe, including one Veta de Plata member who called the story, "A lie as big as all of Texas."

Others fighting for labour rights in Mexico take an equally unfavourable view of Gómez, who has frequently accused Grupo México of "industrial homicide" for the February 2006 mine disaster at Pasta de Conchos in the northern state of Coahuila. The blast killed 65 miners; the bodies of 63 workers remain trapped in the coal mine.

"If Napoleón Gómez Urrutia were such a good union leader, Pasta de Conchos wouldn't have happened," said one widow, who lost her husband in the mine, told me in 2009. Another widows, Elvira Martínez, one of the most persistent advocates of having the bodies pulled from the mine, told me that many of the dead miners were not union members, but paid union dues and received little in return.

Christina Auerbach Benavides, a lawyer with the labour ministry of the Diocese of Saltillo, has worked with the widows since the mine disaster occurred. She says the mining union signed a joint health and safety report with the company and government just 12 days before the mine disaster.

She alleged in early 2010, "The union utilizes the subject of Pasta de Conchos when it wants to raise the issue of Napoleon Gomez."

The union and its Canadian backers - who include NDP leader Jack Layton - have lauded Gómez for trying to improve mine safety in Mexico and allege it has led to him being persecuted by the federal government.

05 June 2010

Justice demanded for daycare fire victims

Photo upload by Luis Alberto Medina in Hermosillo

The victims of the daycare fire that claimed 49 young lives one year ago in Hermosillo were remembered over the weekend during a series of memorials and marches that carried an undercurrent of anger and outrage - for both the high death toll and perceptions the officials responsible for operating, regulating and inspecting the burned-out facility might never be brought to justice.

President Felipe Calderón declared June 5 a national day of mourning, but some parents of children killed and left scarred by the fire - who met with the president - want something more: justice.

One parent, Abraham Fraijo, who was among those holding a vigils for their children at the Angel monument in Mexico City, summed up the families' struggles, telling the newspaper La Razón, "If there were justice and the government did what it should do, I would be keeping vigil over my daughter at home, but there is no justice so we have to come and speak out."

The tragedy at the ABC Daycare has been polemic and political from the moment the facility in a working-class neighborhood of Hermosillo caught fire.

It revealed extreme shortcomings in the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) system of daycare centres, which a Supreme Court investigation found were rife with "generalized disorder." It revived outrage over the perceptions of rampant impunity in Mexico as justice has yet to be handed down in the case. It derailed the political career and presidential aspirations of the then-outgoing governor of Sonora, Eduardo Bours, as the the opposition National Action Party won the gubernatorial election one month after the fire - a lone victory for the PAN in what was otherwise a forgettable year at the polls. It could prompt more political repercussions as the current and former presidents of the IMSS - Daniel Karam and Juan Molinar, respectively - could be forced to resign their political posts, pending the final findings of a Supreme Court investigation.

The initial findings of the investigation headed by Justice Arturo Zaldívar and delivered June 3 offered a damning assessment of the ABC Daycare and the daycare centres run under contract for the IMSS, an institution notorious for problems in its outsourcing in and procurement processes.

"This high tribunal finds the existence of a link between the generalized disorder [in the IMSS daycare system] and the ABC daycare because the irregularities found in the granting of the contract, as in its operation and supervision are analogous to those that are evidenced in the great majority of the daycare centres that operate under this scheme," the initial court investigation said.

The investigation found fire extinguishers were missing from 57 percent of the more than 1,400 IMSS daycare centres operated under contract. Another 47 percent lacked emergency exits.

The ABC Daycare lacked an adequate number of emergency exits and smoke detectors, the investigation said.

The investigation also declared Bours, Karam and Molinar responsible for not protecting the individual guarantees of the children in the ABC Daycare.

Bours, the court investigation said, oversaw a state civil protection agency, which failed to "detect the accumulation of risks that surrounded the ABC Daycare and the time bomb that the adjacent storage room represented." The June 5, 2009 fire broke out in a nearby storage room located in the same building as the daycare and quickly spread.

The court said Molinar - IMSS president from December 2006 until March 2009 - oversaw the "generalized disorder" in the way the daycare centres were operated and licenses granted, "which led to the conditions for the tragedy."

Karam was mentioned for similar IMSS shortcomings and complaints over the medical treatment provided to the victims. He was not mentioned in a preliminary report on the court's investigation released March 1.

Bours has denied responsibility for any wrongdoing - as has Molinar, the current secretary of transportation and communications (SCT) and a close collaborator of Calderón. (Molinar moved from the IMSS to the SCT after former SCT secretary Luis Tellez was caught in a scandal, featuring a recording of him implicating former president Carlos Salinas in improper activities, but not offering any proof to sustain his allegations.)

Molinar defended himself in a June 3 statement, which read, "It's necessary to emphasize that the factors that contributed to the creation of that risk and the tragic consequence were all, without exception, out of human reach and the normative of any IMSS functionary," a reference to the flammable materials being kept in the adjacent store room.

Molinar expressed dismay in his statement that he was never interviewed by the court nor approached for information. He also differed with the court over its assessment of the state of the IMSS daycare centres.

"For the IMSS, an attended-to observation is not mentioned in the subsequent report. The commission, in turn, assumes that an observation not mentioned in the subsequent report was not attended-to," he said.

Karam said he would abide by the outcomes of any court investigations, although some analysts suggested he was receiving a raw deal since he only assumed his position three months prior to the daycare fire and spent the early months of his job focusing on the IMSS response to the outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

"Karam is paying for the tendency of the Justice Arturo Salívar to satisfy public opinion," Raymundo Riva Palacio wrote in his June 5 column in La Razón.

The court's involvement has been controversial as the 11 justices have the authority to investigate gross human rights violations, not criminal matters - something the court made clear earlier this spring, when it declined to investigate the 1993 slaying of Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo of Guadalajara. Previous court investigations have been controversial, too - most notably a late 2007 finding the rights of Cancún journalist Lydia Cacho were not violated, despite her being detained and transported to Puebla, where she was jailed for supposedly defaming a businessman with close ties to Puebla Gov. Mario Marín.

The current investigation is courting the same sort of controversy as some analysts have argued the court has no business investigating criminal matters. Regardless of the outcome, the case will not result in criminal charges.

It could prompt the resignations of Molinar, Karam and others affiliated with the IMSS, but that seems to be insufficient for many of the parents.

"No one has gone to jail for the death of the little ones," Lorenzo Ramos Félix, a lawyer for the victims, members of the "Movimiento por la justicia 5 de junio," told El Universal. "That's what inflames the families."

03 June 2010

Gregorio "Greg" Sánchez disqualified from Quintana Roo gubernatorial race

Gregorio "Greg" Sánchez - the gospel-singer-turned-Cancún mayor-turned-PRD-gubernatorial-candidate-turned-accused-drug-cartel-associate - was disqualified Thursday from the July 4 election in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. The state electoral institute (Ieqroo) decision to disqualify Sánchez followed a previous Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) decision to remove Sánchez's name from the voters' list, a result of him being charged with drug, money laundering and organized crime offences and subsequently being jailed in Nayarit state.

Candidates charged with crimes lose their political rights, which include the right to vote and to run for public office. The Sánchez campaign said it will appeal the decision, while the Ieqroo gave the members of the coalition he headed - the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), Labour Party (PT) and Convergence party - five days to choose a new candidate.

The PRD had insisted Sánchez would continue campaigning - even from prison - although party president Jesús Ortega conceded prior to the Ieqroo decision being handed down that other unnamed candidates were being considered.

The decision threatens to further politicize an already tense situation in Quintana Roo, where Sánchez's supporters and the PRD have alleged bias and branded the case another "Michoacanazo," a reference to the detentions of state and municipal officials with alleged cartel ties in PRD-dominated Michoacán one year ago, during the early stages of the midterm elections. Many of those officials were subsequently released from prison without being convicted of any crimes.

Sánchez's lawyers revealed June 2 the PGR file on their client alleges he attendented a "historic summit" in Acapulco last year with none other than Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, and the leaders of other cartels.

The incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Quintana Roo, President Felipe Calderón and Interior Secretary Fernando Gómez-Mont all have rejected allegations of bias. The Attorney General's Office (PGR), meanwhile, has stated that Sánchez and the PRD leadership knew of an ongoing investigation into the mayor of Benito Juárez - the municipality containing Cancún - since January.

The Sánchez campaign acknowledged its prior understanding of the situation as it released videos - filmed before the candidate's arrest - in which Sánchez proclaims his innocence.

No potential candidate had faced the prospect of being declared ineligible since the 2005 attempt to impeach then-Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD, who fomented mass protests in the capital that ultimately forced the federal government to back down from what had largely been viewed - rightly or wrongly - as an underhanded effort to thwart the aspirations of a populist presidential frontrunner.

The judicial actions against Sánchez have been interpreted in a similar way by many in the PRD, although López Obrador himself and some of his followers have showed little support - a reflection of the former presidential candidate's cool relations with the current PRD leadership, which is headed an archenemy, Jesús Ortega, and the New Left faction. The case differs in that López Obrador was accused of failing to respect a judicial injunction pertaining to a piece of property in the Santa Fe district of Mexico City, while Sánchez is accused to being linked to the Beltrán Leyva Cartel and Los Zetas - along with various financial irregularities.

02 June 2010

Legionaries of Christ denounced

I recently wrote a story on the impact of the Legionaries of Christ in Mexico for Catholic News Service and reactions to its most recent scandals. (Click here to read the story.) Below is an update on an attempt by the PRD to bring criminal charges against the order and reactions to the Legion's founder, Father Macial Maciel, from his hometown of Cotija, Michoacán.

Anselmo Alcázar
Anselmo Alcazar, 82, of Cotija, Michoacán, was sent by his parents to study at a seminary/school run by Legionaries of Christ founder Marcial Maciel in the 1940s. He says he fled after Maciel attempted to sexually abuse him.

A lawmaker from Mexico’s largest left-wing political party filed a criminal complaint with the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) against the Legionaries of Christ for pedophilia, the corruption of minors, money laundering and organized crime - among other allegations.

The Legionaries, in a May 31 statement, rejected the allegations as “irresponsible” and a smear campaign against members that “have chosen the path of service.”

“In the judicial system, we can’t tolerate gratuitous accusations whose intent is to generate … a media lynching lacking legal substance.”

Such is the state of affairs for the Legion as it has come under attack - often in a gratuitous fashion - for the crimes of its founder, the late Father Marcial Maciel, and its polemic role in Mexican society over the past seven decades.

Maciel, it has been revealed, sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children during his time as leader of the Legion, which he founded in 1941 in the Tlalpan borough of Mexico City.

Maciel and the Legion have generated controversy ever since the order's founding.

Much of the controversy stems from Maciel's strategy of courting the business elite. The Legion founded expensive educational institutions, which, according to detractors, have functioned as a sort of vetting service for membership in the upper classes - along with providing quality educations.

The order, it has been said, "Celebrated wealth," at a time when left-wing strains of thought were gaining traction in the church in other parts of Latin America. Those currently involved with the Legion say its strategy has been to develop leaders, who go on to use their money to do good deeds. They point to charity projects such as the Mano Amiga schools, which provide quality educations to children in impoverished municipalities such as Valle de Chalco, and low-cost universities - which have reputedly been provided with funding by Carlos Slim, the world's wealthiest man.

Schadenfreuder has been common of late, too, as Legion critics - whose voices were kept silent by media outlets, whose owners were either Legion members or fearful of losing advertising from companies owned by Legion members - and media outlets release stories ranging from the supposedly slave-like treatment of consecrated Regnum Christi members to accounts of Maciel fathering children and subsequently abusing them to news the Legion has hired a public relations firm to highlight the charitable work of its members and students in its schools.

Some reports have been scathing and the Legion's motives have been questioned: The sincerity of a statement, which denounced its founder and was released on the eve of Holy Week, was questioned as it came as much of the country was decamping for a week of vacations at the beach.

As ITAM political science professor Federico Estévez says of the fascination with the Legion's largely self-inflicted problems: "This is a Tiger Woods story, but with an institution."

The criminal complaint, filed with the PGR May 31, asks for a criminal investigation into the order, along with Legionaries director Father Alvaro Corcuera; Legionaries secretary general Father Evaristo Sada; the rector of the Legionaries-run Anahuac University Father Jesus Quirce; Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carera of Mexico City and Bishop Ricardo Watty of Tepic.

“We want that the investigation gets to the bottom of this,” Democratic Revolutionary Party lawmaker Leticia Quezada Contreras told reporters May 31 of both the order and of allegations of a possible cover up.

But her complaint
contains no new proof and, she acknowledges, is based on various media stories that have emerged about Maciel and the Legion over the past 13 years. Two other women already have filed similar complaints, she said PGR officials told her. Furthermore, Quezada said she had had no contact with any of Maciel's victims.

How far her complaint goes remains to be seen. A new law approved in the Senate in late April would give victims the opportunity to go after the institutions that failed to protect them.

The latest complaint also alleges a cover-up on the part of Bishop Watty and Cardinal Rivera.

Watty was part of a five-member apostolic visitation team that investigated the Legion and recommended the order be put under the control of outside leadership and have its charism rewritten. The Vatican acted on those recommendations last month.

How Watty allegedly participated in a cover-up is unclear as he said during a May press conference the Legion had been dominated by Maciel for too many years and a "refoundation" was necessary.

One of Maciel's original accusers, José Antonio Olvera, took issue with going after Watty. He told Milenio, "We found a sincere man that was concerned by the testimony he heard."

Rivera, meanwhile, has a long history of fending off allegations he knowingly sent a pedophile priest more than two decades ago to Los Angeles, where sexual abuse crimes against children were subsequently committed against children. Rivera is known to be close with the Legion and has vigorously defended Maciel. In May 2006, after the Vatican, acting on allegations of abuse against Maciel, ordered Maciel to stop practicing his ministry in public and lead a life of prayer and penance, Rivera denied it was punishment and called such claims that it was, "Pure fiction."

The Archdiocese of Mexico City blasted the latest allegations as "irresponsible" and politically motivated.

Legion defenders have been in short supply of late, although residents of Maciel's hometown of Cotija, Michoacán, have jumped to his defence. A recent trip to Cotija - a town 500 kilometres west of Mexico City on the Jalisco-state line known for farmers making a salty, crumbly cheese (queso cotija) - found few residents willing to make negative comments about Maciel, who is considered a local benefactor.

Maciel plowed Legion money back into Cotija, where he was responsible for the construction of a community centre, health clinic, low-cost university, library and refurbished parish in a nearby rancho that was the site of the final Mass said before soldiers in the Cristero Rebellion - a Catholic uprising against anti-clerical measures - laid down their arms in 1929. Legion largesse helped Cotija keep up with other nearby towns such as Tacumbo, home to the ice cream makers responsible for the ubiquitous La Michoacana outlets, and Jiquilpán, where successive generations of the Cardenas clan put money into local projects. (One local historian, Javier Valencia, said Gen. Lázaro Cárdenas, president from 1934-1940, disliked conservative Cotija and wanted to flood it out by building a dam. Ironically, his grandson, former Michoacán Gov. Lázaro Cárdenas Bátel, supported Legion projects in Cotija with state government money.)

Maciel's public works, haven't been forgotten - at least in Cotija.

"When a man does works like this, it's proof theat God exists inside him," said María Dolores García, a nurse and Benedictine nun, who doesn't believe the allegations of improprieties against Maciel.

"The devil is working through the media to destroy all of this," she alleged.

One old-timer, Ansemlo Alcazar, who says he was sent to study with Maciel in Tlalpan in the 1940s with his siblings and ran away after there was attempted abuse, begs to differ.

"They like him here because they don't know the real Maciel."