The L.A. Connection

JUAN HERNÁNDEZ IS THE FIRST U.S. CITIZEN APPOINTED TO A PRESIDENTIAL cabinet post in Mexico. To his admirers, he is a visionary who can bring both worlds together.

Now, however, Hernández's name is coming up in Mexico's campaign-finance scandal. The issue is whether U.S. citizens were asked to contribute money to the 2000 campaign of President Vicente Fox. Mexico law forbids the solicitation of foreign contributions.

Three Latino organizations in California allege that Hernández, who heads the President's Office for Mexicans Abroad, asked for campaign donations: Comite Pro-Uno, Club Leon and Centro Azteca.

Hernández called the allegations ludicrous and said no evidence has been presented. "I was in charge of the president's agenda. I had nothing to do with fund-raising," said Hernández, as he waited for a flight to Mexico City last week in Los Angeles.

In 1999, La Opinión wrote a story about Hernández's meeting with the Latino groups, quoting Armando Moreno, the head of Club Leon and the local leader of Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), Fox's ruling party. It also mentioned Felipe Aguirre, a Latino activist who runs Comite Pro-Uno and is also a member of the Partido de la Revolución Democratica (PRD), the progressive opposition party.

According to the story, Hernández asked the groups for money, but the story failed to mention that, if true, Hernández violated Mexican electoral law: "In that occasion they [Hernández and the groups] spoke about the possibility of opening up a bank account where economic donations for the campaign could be deposited . . . but they [the groups] did not accept."

Hernández said he was unaware of the story, and said he was probably in Mexico when it appeared.

Miguel Araujo, a San Francisco activist who heads Centro Azteca and belongs to an opposition party, the PRD, said that last year Hernández told him and about 11 other people that Fox wanted their help raising funds. "He [Hernández] said, 'How do you think that we won the elections?'" Araujo recalled. "When we told him that that was not legal, he told us that, 'All of the past presidents have done it.'"

Hernández's spokesman Mauricio Zermeño blamed opposition parties with cooking up the story. The campaign-
financing scandal has been front-page news in Mexico for weeks. According to the laws of the Mexican Federal Institute (IFE), it is illegal for people who live outside of the country -- even Mexican citizens -- to donate money to campaigns. Many political analysts believe that foreign money has long flowed into presidential elections, but is only arising as an issue now in an attempt to discredit Fox, who has especially come under fire from the once all-powerful Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) that ruled Mexico for 71 years. In a reversal of fortune, Fox may be the victim of his own call for a more accountable government -- including the enforcement of electoral laws. The president may have to testify, and if the accusations against him are proven, he could become the first president of Mexico to be fined.

Hernández was born in Ft. Worth and raised in both Guanajuato and Texas. He became a Latin American literature teacher and taught for a short time in the 1980s at Cal State Long Beach. He founded the University of Dallas' U.S.-Mexico Studies Center, where he met Fox in 1995. By 1999, he had become one of Fox's closest advisers.

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