Salinas reshuffles to quell critics

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The Independent Online
RECOGNISING the gravity of the armed peasant uprising in the southern state of Chiapas, the Mexican President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, unexpectedly reshuffled his cabinet yesterday, moving his Foreign Minister, Manuel Camacho Solis, to head a peace commission in the troubled state.

He said he had also accepted the resignation of the Interior Minister, Patrocinio Gonzalez, a former Chiapas state governor. There appeared little doubt that Mr Gonzalez, widely disliked by the majority Indians in his home state for favouring big landowners, had been axed for allowing the guerrilla movement to build up during his term as governor from 1988 until January 1993.

The forced reshuffle was partly seen as a victory for the so-called Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) which launched an uprising across eastern Chipas on 1 January. It was also seen as an effort by Mr Salinas to attack the Chiapas problem through top-level diplomacy, rather than the all-out military offensive which had been feared.

It remained to be seen whether the move would appease the guerrillas, who have retreated into the hills, in some cases perhaps blending back among sympathetic civilians.

While the Mexican army moved farther into the countryside around here with light tanks and hundreds of extra troops, in an attempt to isolate the guerrillas and cut off their food supplies, Mr Salinas made the surprise announcement from his Los Pinos presidential palace in Mexico City.

Mr Gonzalez, then Chiapas governor, had been appointed Interior Minister a year ago to help Mr Salinas's long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) win Mexico's six-yearly presidential elections next August. The PRI, its tight control of all sectors of society gradually eroding, faces possible defeat for the first time since it took power in 1929.

Mr Salinas said Mr Camacho Solis, appointed foreign minister only five weeks ago, would head a Commission for Peace and Reconciliation in Chiapas. Mr Camacho is a close friend and contemporary of Mr Salinas. A career diplomat, Manuel Tello, was appointed Foreign Minister. The Attorney-General, Jorge Carpizo, considered an honest politician by the PRI's historic standards, was appointed the new Interior Minister.