Philip Bennett, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
Octubre 2, 1989
MEXICO CITY - Manuel J. Clouthier, a robust tomato farmer who emerged during Mexico's 1988 presidential race as one of the country's most colorful politicians, died yesterday in an automobile accident, a spokeswoman for the opposition National Action Party said.
Clouthier was killed in a head-on collision near the town of El Salado in Sinaloa, his home state on the Pacific coast, while being driven to a rally at a baseball park in Mazatlan, his party said. A state congressman for the party, Javier Calvo, also was reported killed.
Clouthier, who was 55 years old, finished third in the official vote count last year as the candidate for the right-of-center party, which is known as the PAN.
But he denounced the election results as fraudulent and continued to rail against the government as leader of the PAN's "alternative Cabinet."
His death came at a time of uncertainty for the PAN, which was founded 50 years ago as a conservative alternative to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. After decades of finishing second, the PAN was supplanted as the largest opposition force by a leftist coalition in the 1988 elections.
But the PAN earned 101 congressional seats in 1988, more than ever before. In July the party won the governorship of Baja California in the first statewide victory by an opposition candidate to be recognized under a political system that took hold in 1929.
Clouthier was a fiery orator whose earthy imagery, and relentless ridicule of the ruling party, electrified crowds. Bearded and weighing more than 250 pounds, known by the nickname "Maquio," he cut an image supporters loved of a self-described "barbarian" come to liberate Mexico from its political dynasty.
Actually, he was a millionaire farmer, principally of tomatoes. From a patrician family in northern Mexico, descended from French immigrants, he attended high school in California and held a degree in agronomy from the Monterrey Technical Institute. He had 10 children.
After the 1988 election, in which he was given 17.1 percent of the vote, Clouthier joined Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a leftist opposition leader who finished second in official tallies, to protest the victory of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and to push for change of the electoral law.
Efforts by Clouthier to organize a vast campaign of civil disobedience after the election failed to produce a sustained movement.
"This is very painful for us," said a PAN representative, Luisa Maria Calderon, as word of Clouthier's death reached party headquarters. "He was totally committed to the party and worked with such energy."
Ironically, as president Salinas has adopted policies similar to some advocated by Clouthier in his campaign. The president has reduced the state's role in the economy and wooed private business groups and the United States.