September 13, 1999
Mexico's Fox creates stir by flying Virgin banner

                  MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -- The combustible mix of politics and religion
                  continued to dog one of Mexico's leading presidential candidates Monday
                  after he used a venerated religious symbol at a political rally.

                  Vicente Fox, nominated Sunday as the National Action Party (PAN)
                  candidate for the July 2000 election, was criticized by church and
                  government officials after he appeared at a rally Friday next to a banner
                  emblazoned with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

                  The Virgin -- believed by the faithful to have appeared before an Indian
                  peasant in 1531 in what is now Mexico City -- is the most sacred religious
                  symbol in this country of 98 million people, where some 90 percent are
                  Roman Catholics.

                  Faced with mounting criticism, Fox, a former Coca-Cola Co. executive now
                  on leave as governor of the central state of Guanajuato, backed down from
                  earlier statements in which he said he would carry the banner in rallies
                  around the country.

                  "The banner will be left at home but I'll carry the Virgin in my heart," Fox
                  told Televisa network news Monday.

                  Fox said the banner was a gift from his children and he never intended it to
                  be politicized, although his party has long openly identified with the Roman
                  Catholic Church.

                  Mexico's Deputy Interior Minister for Religious Affairs, Humberto Lira
                  Mora, told the same program that Fox's use of the Virgin of Guadalupe
                  violated laws prohibiting the use of religious symbols in political and electoral

                  Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Mexico City's archbishop, called on
                  politicians to spare the Virgin political campaigns.

                  "The Virgin of Guadalupe belongs to all Mexicans," he told reporters after
                  Sunday Mass in Mexico City's cathedral. "It can't be used for political
                  purposes by anybody."

                  Rival politician Francisco Labastida, one of four candidates for the
                  presidential nomination of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party
                  (PRI), accused Fox of introducing "an explosive element" into the elections
                  that could incite fanatic behavior.

                  While on a campaign stop in the western state of Jalisco, Labastida recalled
                  "La Guerra Cristera," a war over strict anti-clerical laws in the 1920s. "We
                  had a war and it cost us thousands and thousands of lives," he said of the

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.