Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Mexican Champion of Democracy Passes Away
Luis H. Alvarez, R.I.P. I interviewed him years ago when preparing my dissertation (which became the book "An Eternal Struggle." A son of Texas, too; he grew up in El Paso, he told me.
By PAULINA VILLEGAS
NYT, MAY 24, 2016
MEXICO CITY — Luis H. Álvarez, a leading figure in the conservative National Action Party in Mexico who dedicated his life to the fight for democracy there, died on May 18 at his home in León, Mexico. He was 96.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, his nephew Fernando Álvarez said.
Mr. Álvarez, who was originally a textile executive, was steadfast in his efforts to end the long rule of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI.
In 1958, he ran unsuccessfully for president against that party’s candidate, Adolfo López Mateos, in what seemed like a quixotic campaign.
Almost three decades later, with the ruling party still immovable, he rallied opposition in Chihuahua, his home state, to protest voting fraud, undertaking a long hunger strike that helped focus international attention on the Mexican opposition’s struggle for democracy.
But it was not until 2000, when the National Action Party, or PAN, won the presidency, that the PRI’s 71-year rule ended.
In a statement after Mr. Álvarez’s death, the National Action Party’s leader, Ricardo Anaya, called him “one of the greatest figures in our recent history.”
At the pinnacle of the PRI’s grip on power, Mr. Álvarez ran for governor of Chihuahua in 1956 and lost. He had not been an active party member before that, but was widely known for his community involvement and civil rights work.
Two years later, while running for president, Mr. Álvarez was arrested and briefly jailed — because, he said, he was told that being an opposition presidential candidate was illegal.
Mr. Álvarez denounced the ruling party’s tactics — which included personal threats during political rallies and raids on polling stations — and a political structure that he said made it impossible to hold fair elections.
In 1956, he led a “caravan for democracy” from Chihuahua, in the north of Mexico, to Mexico City to deliver to the attorney general’s office evidence of electoral fraud in state elections.
Mr. Álvarez was mayor of Chihuahua, the state capital, when he went on a hunger strike in 1986 to call attention to accusations of vote-rigging in local elections.
Lasting 41 days, the hunger strike brought him prominence in the party’s ranks and on the national political scene. He lost 15 pounds and was hospitalized afterward.
The next year, at 67, he was named party leader, a position he held through 1993. During his tenure, the National Action Party won its first state elections, first in Baja California and then in Chihuahua.
Mr. Álvarez was criticized for negotiating with President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, whose election in 1988 was tainted by allegations of fraud but who adopted many of the market-oriented reforms that the National Action Party had long promoted.
His willingness to compromise helped to pave the way for the party’s acceptance as a legitimate political force, and for its eventual success in claiming the presidency.
“He showed us all what to do and how to be, in order to make this country a better place,” Cecilia Romero, a congresswoman who worked closely with Mr. Álvarez when he was head of the party, said in an interview.
Friends and family recalled Mr. Álvarez as a jovial yet feisty character, prone to long political discussions over dinner.
Luis Héctor Álvarez was born on Oct. 25, 1919, in Chihuahua and earned a degree in business administration from the University of Texas, Austin.
He worked in agriculture for a few years before entering the textile business. He was also a member of a civil rights association in Ciudad Juárez.
Mr. Álvarez’s wife, Blanca Magrassi, also a prominent party member, died last year. He is survived by a son, Luis Jorge; a daughter, Blanca Estela; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
In 2000, the National Action Party candidate, Vicente Fox, was elected president, removing the PRI from power and signaling the end of a regime that had influenced nearly all aspects of Mexican life in the 20th century.
Soon after taking office, Mr. Fox named Mr. Álvarez peace negotiator for talks with the leftist rebels of the Zapatista revolutionary movement in the southern state of Chiapas.
Mr. Álvarez was later a senator for his home state. He was appointed commissioner for indigenous affairs by President Felipe Calderón in 2006.
His nephew Fernando remembered the moment Mr. Álvarez got the call announcing the results of the 2000 presidential election: “His small eyes went wide open as he grabbed my arm and asked, ‘Is this really possible?’ ”
His uncle, Fernando recalled, then said: “I have accomplished my mission. I can now die in peace.”