His political honeymoon over, President Vicente Fox began another one Monday, marrying spokeswoman Martha Sahagun in an early morning ceremony at the presidential residence.
The private ceremony took place on the one-year anniversary of Fox’s historic victory last July 2, when he ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s 71 years in power. Monday was also Fox’s 59th birthday.
The impending marriage of the longtime intimates, both divorced, had been rumored for the last year, but the news still took observers by surprise. Fox, who divorced his first wife in 1991, has four children. Sahagun has three children from her previous marriage.
Asked about his nuptials during a joint news conference with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Fox grinned and said: “Those are personal matters. But just see my face and with this smile I have, you can judge how I feel.”
Sahagun immediately resigned as Fox’s spokeswoman to assume her duties as first lady. In that role, she supplants Fox’s daughter Ana Cristina, who has made no secret of her dislike of Sahagun and hoped that her mother and Fox would someday reconcile.
Several citizens interviewed Monday expressed surprise at the timing of the marriage, but not at the fact that the pair had decided to tie the knot.
“He made it legal,” said Bernardo Vasquez, a student interviewed in Polanco, an affluent Mexico City neighborhood. “Everybody knew they were together, so it’s nothing new.”
With the economy in a stall and his reform efforts so far yielding little of the huge promises he made during his campaign, Fox has come under increasing criticism. The most recent contretemps was over the purchase of a set of towels costing more than $400 each for the presidential residence, called Los Pinos. That cost seven presidential staff members their jobs.
Newspaper columns and cartoons have taken increasing aim at Fox’s relationship with Sahagun, who reportedly lived at Los Pinos before the wedding. Many people were irked by Sahagun’s murky status as both girlfriend and high government official.
“Here she was having all this power and we didn’t know whether it was because she was the spokeswoman or his lover,” said Guadalupe Loaeza, a popular Mexico City writer and social commentator. “The marriage is a good idea. It gives a good example. Everyone started to say: How could he talk about family values with his life a big mess?”
Mauricio Candiani Galaz, a Mexican congressman and member of Fox’s National Action Party, or PAN, denied that Fox’s relationship with Sahagun was a threat to either the president’s or the party’s image. “Both have been taking care of the duties they have with the absolute dedication that the work demanded,” he said.
“The image of the president is not at all linked to marriage nor is his marriage linked to the public agenda,” added Galaz, who said he is friends with both Fox and Sahagun.
Sahagun, 48, is a former teacher who became a dedicated PAN member in the late 1980s. By 1995, she had become Fox’s spokeswoman after he won the governorship of Guanajuato state.
Present at the ceremony were a judge and, as required by Mexican law, four witnesses: Fox’s brother and sister-in-law, and Sahagun’s father and a sister-in-law.
Aznar, who is in Mexico to promote business, complimented Fox during their news conference for getting married at an early hour “and seizing the day from the very beginning.”
Several Mexicans said the marriage was inevitable. “He was single. Sooner or later he has to get married,” accountant Victor Fernandez said.
Antonio Guerrero, a doorman at a plastic surgery clinic, joked that the $400 towels must have been purchased to beautify the presidential residence for the wedding.
Alison Trinidad of The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.