November 11, 2013 / 4:51 PM / 6 years ago

Mexican union boss at center of political row dies at 91 -media

MEXICO CITY, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Joaquin Hernandez Galicia, the once-powerful head of Mexico’s oil workers’ union whose arrest on charges of murder and illegal arms possession in 1989 created a political sensation, has died, Mexican media reported on Monday. He was 91.

Citing family members, media said Hernandez died early on Monday after being hospitalized earlier this year.

Known as “La Quina,” Hernandez was thrown in jail weeks after President Carlos Salinas took office in December 1988.

Although he was widely seen as corrupt, Hernandez was also brought down by Salinas’s desire to put pressure on the oil workers’ union as part of plans to liberalize state oil monopoly Pemex.

Hernandez was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison but the term was later cut. The government then paroled him and he was released at the end of 1997.

Hernandez was for years a pillar of labor support for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

At his peak, he controlled 200,000 oil workers in Pemex and oversaw a huge patronage budget.

But his downfall came after he failed to back Salinas as the PRI’s presidential candidate during the 1988 election. He was rumored to be giving support to Salinas’s main rival, left-wing challenger Cuauhtemoc Cardenas.

Hernandez’s supporters called the murder and weapons charges against him trumped up, and Amnesty International dubbed him a political prisoner for daring to oppose government privatization plans and publicly criticizing the president.

But even allies in the union said Hernandez had at times overstepped the mark in eliminating rivals and funneling official and unofficial funds to his favorite political causes.

The death of Hernandez coincides with political events in Mexico that recall the days of his arrest nearly 25 years ago.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who brought the PRI back to power in 2012 after a 12-year hiatus, aims to liberalize the oil industry, and early this year he had the head of the main teachers’ union, Elba Esther Gordillo, arrested on corruption charges.

Opposition politicians have repeatedly called for the head of the current boss of the Pemex workers’ union, Carlos Romero Deschamps, accusing him of corruption. (Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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