* Exiled mine leader sees political shift in 2012 election
* Expects to work out political deal with new president
* Says union strong despite his exile, loss of key battle
By Julie Gordon
(Reuters) – Exiled union leader Napoleon Gomez hopes to return to Mexico after the federal election next year, when he sees a more labor-friendly party wresting power from the current government as the country struggles with economic weakness and raging drug gang violence.
Speaking with Reuters from Vancouver, Gomez said that he believes President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) will lose the election and that Mexico’s Mineworkers Union can then make a deal with the new president for Gomez’s return.
Gomez has been living in exile in Canada since 2006 to avoid arrest on corruption charges that he says were fabricated because of his labor activism.
“We hope that with this change in government, conditions will be completely different and I will be able to make a kind of respectful political arrangement with the new president,” Gomez said. “Then I would be able to go back.”
He added that the miners’ union will be actively involved in the election campaign, both as a political organization and through its connections with the left-leaning parties.
“We are going to play an important role in the next year’s election,” Gomez said. “We have some political connections with the candidates from the PRI party and also the PRD, the leftist party.”
The PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party, ruled Mexico for 71 years and has been in opposition since it lost power in 2000.
The party, which has historically been backed by the major unions, is gearing up for a comeback in the July 2012 election with its young rising star, State of Mexico Governor Enrique Pena Nieto. PRI has been leading in the polls, though it has not yet officially chosen a presidential candidate.
Gomez’s father, Napoleon Gomez Sada, led the Mineworkers Union for decades before his death. The younger Gomez was elected to the top job in 2002 and has been reelected repeatedly.
While the Mineworkers Union was once one of the most powerful unions in Mexico, it has lost clout in recent years, with key members questioning Gomez’s leadership and defecting to start a rival union.
Still, Gomez remains confident in his union, which he said added some 6,000 workers last year.
“(The defectors) haven’t damaged the union that much, because they don’t have very much effect in terms of the workers themselves,” he said. “We have really kept the loyalty, the unity and the solidarity of the workers.”
But the union lost a key battle last year, when Grupo Mexico retook control of the country’s biggest copper mine, Cananea, dislodging an occupation by striking workers that went on for nearly three years.
Grupo Mexico is again ramping up copper production at the mine, which it has renamed Buenavista. Unionized workers are still on strike at the mine. (Reporting by Julie Gordon in Toronto, Editing by Peter Galloway)
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- Grupo Mexico Ordered to Pay $1.3 Billion to Southern Copper (businessweek.com)
- Mexico’s PRI Files Complaint Against President (abcnews.go.com)