MEXICO — PRESIDENT Vicente Fox has caved in to pressure from both political opponents and members of his ruling party and removed a cabinet member with close ties to the Southland and the United States. Fox ally Juan Hernandez had been on the defensive for some time, but his problems expanded to both sides of the border following allegations that he solicited campaign contributions for Fox in the Los Angeles area. Election law prohibits political donations from outside Mexico. The Weekly broke news of these allegations last month, and they were then widely reported in Mexico.

Hernandez headed Mexico's Presidential Office for Mexicans Abroad, which lobbied on behalf of Mexicans living outside their country and encouraged them to financially support charitable and civic projects in their motherland. Well-connected with Mexican organizations in the U.S. and in Mexico, Hernandez has been seen by many as the bridge between both worlds.

Hernandez's duties will be folded into Mexico's Foreign Relations Office, said agency official Enrique Berruga. Hernandez himself will not be making the transition.

Soon after they met in 1995, Fox made Hernandez one of his most trusted advisers on Mexicans living in the U.S. A professor of Latin American literature, Hernandez is at ease in both languages and cultures. Despite his erudition, he became a target for Fox opponents because of notable verbal gaffes, such as his suggestion that illegal border crossers, who face arrest and life-threatening risks, be provided with travel kits that include anti-venom, dried fruit and condoms. Hernandez, a native Mexican who became an American citizen, also has been criticized as being too pro-American in a country where it's still politically valuable to flaunt anti-American sentiments.

Last month, several Latino organizations in Los Angeles and San Francisco alleged that Hernandez asked them for contributions to Fox's presidential campaign in 1999, which would violate Mexican law. Hernandez has denied the accusations, saying they are ludicrous.

Subsequently, the Mexican press began to run stories that Hernandez's days as a cabinet member were numbered. Opposition politicians have complained that his office is superfluous. Regardless, Hernandez's fall is a political blow to President Fox, whose own election overthrew the long-running single-party reign of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Hernandez's ouster signals that the PRI and Fox's opponents have every intention of challenging Fox's hold on power.

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