The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Few mourn ex-Mexican leader

Many remember his presidency, its effects with bitterness

By LAURENCE ILIFF / The Dallas Morning News
MEXICO CITY Members of Mexico's political elite paid their last respects to former President José López Portillo on Wednesday, but many Mexicans remembered the man and his presidency with bitterness and anger.

Mr. López Portillo, who ruled from 1976 to 1982, died Tuesday night at 83 of complications from pneumonia and other illnesses. His presidency was marked by what analysts said was corruption and economic incompetence.

His promise to defend the peso "like a dog" preceded a massive devaluation of the currency as Mexico's "oil boom" fizzled amid falling prices and rising foreign debt.

Outside of his family, there was little outpouring of affection for Mr. López Portillo on Wednesday. A man questioned on the street admitted that his feelings toward the former president were simply unspeakable. A headline in the financial newspaper El Economista said Mr. López Portillo died "and went to hell."

Historian Lorenzo Meyer said he was not surprised at the reaction.

Mr. López Portillo, who ran unopposed for the presidency under the all-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party, was more like a Soviet leader imposed on the Mexican people than an elected president, said Mr. Meyer.

"I think 100 years from now, someone will probably find something good to say about José López Portillo," said Mr. Meyer, a professor at El Colegio de Mexico. "But right now Mexico is not mourning [him] because we still live day to day with some of the results of his failed promises. He promised much and delivered nothing."

José Luis Becerril, a 58-year-old economist, said he mourned the deceased president mostly out of respect for the office.

"He was the president and a public person who headed the nation's government," said Mr. Becerril. "But also in his administration there was a lot of nepotism, intrigue, populism and family scandals."

The former president's remains were taken early Wednesday to the funeral home of the National Defense Ministry in northern Mexico City. His family said Mr. López Portillo would be buried today in a military cemetery.

Among those visiting the funeral home were three former presidents: Luis Echeverría Alvarez and Carlos Salinas de Gortari, both of whom are also reviled by the Mexican public, and Miguel de la Madrid.

In a 2002 interview with the newspaper El Universal, Mr. López Portillo said he was at peace with his legacy. The former president was an author, a university professor and an intellectual in addition to his years in public service.

"I am a man without power, without fortune, without health," Mr. López Portillo said in the interview. "But I have my memories and my experiences. Regrets remain with me, but not remorse. I am old, and I wait peacefully for the moment when death arrives and takes me away."