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Mexico: Banks Bombed to Protest Taxpayer Bail Out

Associated Press
August 14th, 2001

MEXICO CITY -- A small leftist group said it planted explosive devices at five Mexico City branches of a bank bought last week by Citigroup, a deal that angered taxpayers who had bailed out the Mexican bank only to see it sold to foreigners at a huge profit.

Three small explosives contained in tin cans detonated and two more were defused late Wednesday -- the birthday of the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata. There were no reports of injuries or major damage. An unexploded grenade was found outside a branch hours later on Thursday.

''These were very homemade devices that weren't intended to cause destruction, serious damage, or to injure anyone,'' said Bernardo Batiz, Mexico City's chief prosecutor. ''The intention was clearly to call attention to this group.''

The leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of the People, or FARP, claimed responsibility for the attacks in calls to Mexican news media. FARP also warned that explosives were planted at the Italian Embassy in Mexico City and at the Senate but none were found, police said.

Batiz said witnesses described the bombers as ''youths ... who warned some kids playing soccer nearby to clear out'' before planting the devices. No suspects have been arrested.

Banamex released a brief statement Thursday condemning the bombings. Business at the banks continued as usual, the statement said.

Earlier Wednesday, Congress had released details of fraud and insider loans -- including the names of bankers involved -- in a $100 billion rescue program that bailed out Banamex and a dozen other Mexican banks after a 1995 currency crisis.

An audit showed that taxpayers absorbed losses from about $7.3 billion in insider or fraudulent loans.

Under the slogan ''support transparency,'' Mexico's most influential newspaper, Reforma, ran a front-page appeal Thursday asking readers to help identify deadbeat debtors and locate their assets.

Anger has mounted over the Citigroup deal, the latest in a series of buyouts that has placed almost all of Mexico's financial sector in foreign hands.

Banamex President Roberto Hernandez, a friend and campaign donor of President Vicente Fox, may have gotten as much as $3 billion for selling his stake in the bank -- none of which he has to pay back to taxpayers who spent more than $3.4 billion to bail out his bank when it was drowning in bad loans in 1995.

Mexican bankers said the release of the names, as well as a general hostility toward them, could lead to a violent campaign against banks and their owners.

''They're attempting to create an atmosphere of lynching against the thousands of people and businesses that appear on the list'' of delinquent loans, said Hector Rangel, president of the Mexican Bankers Association.

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