March 16, 2001

Mexico's congress deal with first presidential veto since 1923

                  MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexico's congress struggled Friday to come to grips
                  with the first presidential veto of legislation since 1923, with more expressions of
                  anger and betrayal than any real attempt to override President Vicente Fox.

                  Thursday's veto of a rural development bill marked the latest stage of the
                  struggle to create a real division of powers in Mexico, where the three branches
                  of government were largely subordinated to the presidency during the former
                  ruling party's seven decades in power.

                  "We are finally experiencing a real division of powers, and for the first time we
                  will get to see how the Constitution works in these cases," said congressman
                  Felipe Calderon, a member of Fox's conservative National Action Party.

                  Fidel Herrera, a senator for the former ruling party, one of the bill's sponsors,
                  said one option would be to try for a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

                  "We think this severe method of using the veto is both senseless and shows little
                  respect for the division of powers," Herrera said. However, most observers say
                  National Action's strength in congress would make it almost impossible to get the
                  majority needed to override the veto.

                  The bill -- proposed by the former ruling party, or PRI, and the country's main
                  leftist party, and passed in a December congressional vote -- would have sought
                  funds to support the nation's farms, and designated rural regions for special help.

                  Fox's spokeswoman, Martha Sahagun, said he vetoed the law because he
                  thought it was costly and bureaucratic, left out some poor and Indian groups,
                  and focused exclusively on farms without providing aid to fishing and forestry.

                  President Alvaro Obregon issued the last known veto in 1923, against a proposed
                  federal budget. Since that time, congress mainly served as a rubber stamp for a
                  71-year succession of presidents from the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary

                  No vetoes were needed, since congress initiated little legislation, and opposition
                  parties were weakly represented.

                  That changed in 1997 -- when opposition parties broke the ruling party's
                  congressional majority for the first time -- and when Fox became the first
                  opposition candidate to take office as president in December.

                  Fox said he would submit an alternate proposal on rural development soon.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.