President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's recent removal of two state governors shows how much political trouble he's willing to risk at home to win a free-trade pact with the U. S. and Canada.

To get his way, Salinas needs to project a democratic image north of the border. And with hopes of luring foreign investors to Mexico, he can ill afford political upheaval. That's what he faced in Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi, as opposition leaders mounted steady marches and sit-down strikes to protest alleged fraud in the Aug. 18 elections. In the end, Salinas relented, forcing the elected governors of the two states, both members of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to step down.

The battle that lies ahead will be inside the PRI, which has ruled since 1929. There are forces in the party that are opposed to Salinas' pro-American policies. Many of these people are also pushing for an opening-up of the presidential selection process in 1994. It has traditionally been the privilege of Mexican Presidents to tap their successors. But, facing increasing pressure at home and abroad to democratize, Salinas may have to give up that luxury in 1994--especially if the economy loses momentum.

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