Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, Mexico's veteran political chameleon, has died

Mexico’s veteran political chameleon, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, has died at the age of 89

Maria Verza
Sunday 09 July 2023 21:09 BST
Mexico Munoz Ledo Obit
Mexico Munoz Ledo Obit (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, Mexico’s veteran political chameleon who played a key role in the country's democratic reforms, has died at age 89, his family announced.

His relatives did not give a cause of death, but he had been in ill health for some time.

Since entering politics in the 1970s, Muñoz Ledo was never far from the center of power, even if that meant changing parties.

Tributes poured in from most of Mexico’s political parties; he had belonged to most of them at some point. And many of the tributes began with phrases like “despite our differences,” because Muñoz Ledo eventually broke with all of them.

A brilliant strategist, Muñoz Ledo was able to conceive of many possible paths in Mexico’s long transition to democracy. But he was never able to imagine one without himself in a central role.

In a 2020 interview with The Associated Press, Muñoz Ledo joked about his own mortality. Asked if he represented the “living history” of Mexican politics, the husky-voiced political pro answered, “I'm about to become dead history.”

“I am dedicating all my experience and history to democratizing this country,” he said. “That is the last legacy I have.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wrote in his Twitter account, “I regret the passing of Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, who I agreed with for a long time. The recent disagreements don't erase the long, good moments of friendship and comradery.”

On the other end of the political spectrum, former president Felipe Calderón — López Obrador's arch-nemesis — wrote: “I heard about the death of P. Muñoz Ledo. Despite our differences, we worked together in the opposition” to pass electoral reforms.

Those reforms eventually made elections fair enough so that the opposition could unseat the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2000. The PRI, as the party is known, had held Mexico's presidency for 70 uninterrupted years at that point.

Muñoz Ledo started his career in the PRI in the 1970s, but broke with the party in 1988 to support the presidential candidacy of leftist Cuauhtémoc Cardenas. Cardenas lost in a fraud-filled election.

Muñoz Ledo then became a leading member of Cardenas' Democratic Revolution Party.

But in 2000, he ran for the presidency of the now-defunct Authentic Revolution Party.

In another switch, he abandoned his campaign midway in 2000 to endorse — and campaign for — ex-president Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party. Despite the ideological differences, Muñoz Ledo sensed that Fox's plainspoken charisma could finally oust the PRI from power.

Despite working on government reform during the Fox administration, Muñoz Ledo — who had held diplomatic and Cabinet posts before, and would later go on to serve in Congress — quickly broke with Fox, too.

By 2008, he was in the Labor Party, but was already eyeing López Obrador as the next charismatic leader for Mexico.

It was with López Obrador's Morena party that Muñoz Ledo played his last big political role, as leader of Morena in the lower house of Congress.

True to form, Muñoz Ledo broke with López Obrador in 2022.

“The current government is cheap populism, and violates the rule of law,” Muñoz Ledo said at the time.

No funeral plans have yet been announced.

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