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Chaotic Scene in Congress Draws Criticism, Praise

September 2, 1988

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The unprecedented chaos in Congress while President Miguel de la Madrid delivered his last address to the nation drew a blizzard of criticism and praise, with some calling it offensive and others saying it was just democracy in action.

Opposition delegates interrupted de la Madrid continuously Thursday in a series of displays never before seen in Congress, which has been absolutely controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, for 59 years.

The outbursts included chants of ″Fraud 3/8″ and ″Mexico 3/8″ Opposition delegates waved what they said were burned, invalidated ballots and staged a walkout that almost degenerated into a brawl.

De la Madrid maintained his composure throughout the 3 1/2 -hour speech as he sought to sum up a six-year term that began in near bankruptcy and is ending with economic reform and political controversy.

″Let us be tolerant, even in the face of the insults of our political adversaries,″ he said, departing from his prepared text after the walkout.

The noisy demonstrations ″showed the delegates’ courage″ in demanding explanations, said Democratic Front presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who claims fraud cheated him of victory in the July 6 elections.

The general secretary of the PRI, Manuel Camacho Solis, praised de la Madrid’s coolness and condemned the protesters for ″immaturity″ and ″anti- democratic practices.″

Fidel Velazquez, the crusty 87-year-old labor leader who heads one of the strongest sections of the governing party, said he’d never seen anything like it. ″But then, we never had such silly opposition before,″ he added.

Later, a Democratic Front delegate, Salvador Miranda Polanco, announced he was changing his loyalty to the PRI in part because he ″does not agree with fascist ideologies.″

A presidential spokesman, who in accord with standard practice could not be named, was more sanguine. The protests, he said, were ″normal in any parliamentary system.″

The speech was interrupted regularly from the beginning, but the climax came when leftist Democratic Front delegates led by Sen. Porfirio Munoz Ledo walked out amid shouts of ″Traitor,″ ″Get out, Judas,″ and assorted obscenities.

Munoz Ledo, who was once president of the PRI, was kicked in the rear and hit in the neck by two PRI state governors. A governing party legislator grabbed Munoz Ledo and asked, ″What is happening to you? This is not the time, brother.″

The galleries, filled with PRI supporters, wives and military brass, roared disapproval and governing party delegates chanted ″Mexico 3/8″ to drown out the opposition.

″We are walking out in protest because they refused to let the voice of the opposition be heard,″ Munoz Ledo declared. De la Madrid’s speech, he said, was full of ″falsehoods and inaccuracies.″

Members of the rightist National Action Party demonstrated but did not walk out. Party leader Abel Vincenio Tovar said he ″respected the gesture″ but preferred less ″hysterical″ means.

He criticized the PRI for packing the house. His party, with 101 delegates, was allowed to invite a total of four spectators, he said.

″When the ruling party doesn’t have the backing of the people, they have to bring their own supporters,″ he said.

The same fractious Congress must, in the next two months, certify the election of de la Madrid’s successor, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who did not attend. Salinas is scheduled to take over Dec. 1.

The most strident objections came when de la Madrid spoke of the controversial July 6 vote, which he praised as ″historic,″ but there were also interruptions as he spoke of his economic reforms.

The reforms reduced state control of the economy, kept the nation out of bankruptcy and controlled inflation, but also reduced the average Mexican’s buying power by about 50 percent.

De la Madrid’s own election reforms broke the governing party’s stranglehold and allowed opposition strength to grow. Before Miranda’s announced switch, the PRI held 260 seats in the Chamber of Deputies to 139 for the Democratic Front and National Action’s 101.

The Democratic Front also holds four of 64 Senate seats. National Action holds none.

State-controlled Mexican television showed some of the protests during a live broadcast of the speech.

Although the cameras shied away during the walkout, shouts and curses were audible. Mexicans later watched the entire incident on news shows.

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