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Mexico first lady under fire over ambitions
Updated: 2004-07-12 10:04

Mexico's first lady came under heavy fire last Tuesday for political ambitions that have stirred up the presidential palace, with critics comparing her to some of the most controversial wives of the 20th century.

Marta Sahagun, a former press secretary whose 2001 wedding to President Vicente Fox was the stuff of fairy tales, has hinted she would like to seek her husband's job in the 2006 elections.

Fox's private secretary and spokesman, Alfonso Durazo, quit on Monday, claiming Sahagun's "political flirtation" was getting in the way of running this complex country of 100 million people.

Martha Sahagun, a former press secretary whose 2001 wedding to President Vicente Fox was the stuff of fairy tales, has hinted she would like to seek her husband's job in the 2006 elections. Fox and Sahagun are seen at Madrid's Royal Palace, May 17, 2002.  [Reuters]
Commentators targeted Sahagun, accusing her of manipulating Fox, who is struggling to force economic reforms through Congress or otherwise make his mark on the presidency.

"What should we do with her?" asked commentator Guadalupe Loaeza in an editorial, comparing Sahagun in a radio discussion to the loathed wife of Romanian ex-dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu.

"There is not a day, not an hour, not a minute in which (Sahagun) is not meddling in the country's affairs, messing them up even more. Who can stop her, hold her, tie her up, shut her in, shut her up, immobilize her, muzzle her, suspend her?"

Mexican first ladies, unlike their U.S. counterparts, have traditionally stayed out of the spotlight.

Sahagun's thinly veiled aspirations to become Mexico's first woman president -- which may be far-fetched given Fox's fading political fortunes -- are infuriating die-hards in Fox's National Action Party, or PAN.

"Marta Sahagun is like the Yoko Ono of the cabinet," grumbled Julio Castillo, son of a former leader of Fox's party, quoted in daily El Financiero and referring to the late Beatle John Lennon's controversial wife.

Sahagun is Fox's former press secretary. The couple, both divorced, fell in love during his campaign to win elections in 2000 and married a year later.

The first lady has won plaudits for her charity work, although the attorney general is probing allegations that a charity she runs is involved in illegal financing.


Sahagun, sporting a rigid hairdo, was likened at first to Hillary Clinton for her active role in Fox's administration.

But, beyond the bounds of wifely support, Sahagun's political designs have become a headache for Fox, although she has not declared herself a candidate.

"She's like a burden for her husband," said florist Monica Salgado, 29, on the streets of the capital.

"It would be desirable that the president react to this and take charge of things ... perhaps a clear announcement with respect to Marta Sahagun and her presidential aspirations," said Pedro Gonzalez, director of Mexican think tank IMEP.

Fox appeared to downplay his wife's political aspirations on Tuesday.

"We have our own personal project that has nothing to do with politics after 2006," Fox told reporters while flying to Brazil.

After his term as president, the couple will retire to his San Cristobal ranch to "write, ride horses and enjoy family," Fox said, although he and his wife in the past have made statements at odds about her political goals.

Spokesman Durazo took a parting shot at Sahagun on Monday.

"This political flirtation has led to much of the gridlock that the country faces today," he wrote in a letter to Fox.

Former energy minister Felipe Calderon resigned in May after Fox criticized his presidential ambitions.

The mustachioed former Coca-Cola executive is already in danger of being seen as a lame duck president for his failure to pass tax, labor and energy reforms, analysts say.

Analysts say his performance is leaving the door open for a return in 2006 of the once-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party or a victory by the popular left-wing Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

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