Governor in Mexico is replaced Sewer disaster sends Cosio from office


MEXICO CITY -- The governor of Jalisco state was replaced yesterday, becoming the highest-ranking victim of the political scandal surrounding the April 22 sewer explosions that killed 193 people in Guadalajara.

A senior Mexican official said Gov. Guillermo Cosio Vidaurri was virtually fired by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. "These are not times of comfort for persons who hold public positions," the president had noted in a Guadalajara-related speech Wednesday.

The 62-year-old governor had been picketed by survivors who contend that the government should have evacuated the Reforma section of Mexico's second-largest city after residents reported smelling gasoline and solvent fumes.

The state Congress appointed Carlos Rivera, head of the Jalisco organization of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as interim governor yesterday following a message from Mr. Cosio late Thursday that he was taking a year's leave of absence. In the announcement, Mr. Cosio made no mention of claims by his urban development director that he knew the sewers were filled with gasoline an hour before the first explosion.

Mr. Cosio has contended he did not learn of the fumes until moments before the first blast and has disclaimed any responsibility for the disaster.

The governor's announcement came just hours after a judge ordered Guadalajara's mayor, the urban development director, three water company officials and four executives of Pemex, the national oil company, held without bail on manslaughter charges.

A report by the Mexican attorney general said the blasts mainly originated from gasoline that had leaked into the sewer system from a corroded pipeline belonging to Pemex.

Armando Morquecho, Mr. Cosio's spokesman, said in a telephone interview that the governor's leave of absence would be permanent. "He's not coming back," he said.

The timing of the resignation tended to dampen speculation that Mr. Cosio might eventually find himself before a judge. The announcement received little notice yesterday because it was a national holiday, Labor Day, and Mexico's major newspapers were not published.

The resignation rekindled speculation that Francisco Rojas, Pemex's chief and an ally of Mr. Salinas, might also get the ax.

Gasoline leaks in Monterrey and in Mexico City prompted evacuations last week, but to many Mexicans they were just latest examples of Pemex's poor safety and maintenance record in dozens of other communities. In the past 10 years, Pemex explosions and fires have caused scores of deaths and injured thousands.

Even before the Guadalajara disaster, Mr. Cosio had been walking on thin political ice because of charges that he had steered state business to his two sons and because he had rewarded cronies with lucrative hotel properties.

Elected in 1988, the governor was considered a throwback to the PRI's old school that permitted governors to become millionaires through kickbacks and other shenanigans.

But Mr. Salinas has made clear that Mexico can no longer countenance the corruption of times past. Since his administration began in 1988, he has changed 11 of the 31 governors, either because they were corrupt or because he needed them for other administrative jobs.

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