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Mexican Politician Luis H. Alvarez Dies at 96

Luis H. Alvarez, a former presidential candidate and longtime prominent figure in the conservative National Action Party, PAN, died Wednesday. He was 96 years old.

The cause of his death has not been released.

Alvarez spent his career fighting for democratic reform in Mexico.

"The passing of Don Luis H. Alvarez fills the party and Mexico with pain, as he was one of the greatest figures of our recent history and one of the leaders of the transition to democracy," party president Ricardo Anaya was quoted as saying.

Born October 25, 1919, in the northern state of Chihuahua, Alvarez ran for governor of that state in 1956 and made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency as the PAN candidate in 1958.

At that time the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, had an iron grip on the presidency and most of Mexico's political system that lasted for 71 unbroken years. Alvarez lost to PRI candidate Adolfo Lopez Mateos, who took nearly 91 percent of the vote.

In 1986, Alvarez attracted attention as the mayor of the Chihuahua state capital by going on a hunger strike to protest alleged PRI vote-rigging in local elections and to call for a more open democracy. He lost 15 pounds during the protest and was hospitalized when it ended after 41 days.

The following year he was chosen at age 67 as the PAN's new leader, a position he used to continue agitating for truly competitive elections.

In 1988 the party finished third in a presidential vote that many believed was fraudulently stolen from Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the leftist opposition.

Seeking legitimacy, the winning candidate, Carlos Salinas of the PRI, forged a tactical alliance with Alvarez and the PAN that forced major reforms to the political system.

During Alvarez's tenure as party president through 1993, the PAN won its first governorships in several states as opposition victories gradually came to be recognized.

The PRI's stranglehold on the presidency finally ended in 2000 with the historic election of the PAN's Vicente Fox, who named Alvarez peace negotiator for talks with leftist Zapatista rebels in the southern state of Chiapas.

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