New fires are steadily igniting in different corners of the Mexican political system. As the country plunges head-long toward the July 1 elections, clashes over candidacies, bouts of negative campaigning and a new spying scandal are lighting up the political scene.
A bizarre video game with a barely concealed subliminal message, “Super Ernesto,” stars National Action Party (PAN) presidential primary candidate Ernesto Cordero in a showdown that has the former economy minister vanquishing rival party presidential candidates Enrique Pena Nieto and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as well as fugitive crime boss Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman.
If current polls are accurate, Cordero will be the one who gets zapped, and as early as February 5, the day of the PAN presidential primary. Surveys show the candidate in third place behind Santiago Creel and Josefina Vazquez Mota in terms of PAN voters’ preferences.
On another front, the rival Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is projecting a youthful image and stressing the “New PRI” in its bid to re-conquer the Mexican White House from the PAN and win other key elections this year.
But an examination of the PRI’s proposed list of candidates for the Senate reveals many career politicians, losing candidates for other offices, sons and daughters of old-time PRI leaders (“babysaurs”) and personalities wrapped in layers of controversy. Seven ex-governors figure high on the candidate list including Patricio Martinez of Chihuahua, Manuel Cavazos of Tamaulipas and Rene Juarez Cisneros of Guerrero.
A booster of closer economic ties between Chihuahua and the U.S. border state of New Mexico, Martinez left office in 2004 surrounded by human rights scandals involving his police agencies.
Of special note was the fabrication under torture of multiple scapegoats in the killings of women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City, crimes that Martinez claimed had significantly diminished after he took office in 1998. While he was still governor, Martinez was quoted as referring to a 2003 Amnesty International report on the mounting murders and disappearances of women in Chihuahua state as “that damn report.”
The last year of the Martinez administration was also marked by the so-called “House of Death” scandal in Ciudad Juarez, when Chihuahua State Judicial Police commanders and officers were linked to narco-related kidnappings and executions of a dozen or more people. During Martinez’s term femicides spread to Chihuahua City, and the Juarez drug cartel firmly implanted itself in the capital city.
Nowadays, Chihuahua City is submerged in violence between rival criminal groups.
In the southern state of Guerrero, which also excels as a hot spot in the so-called drug war, the PRI is poised to elevate former Governor Rene Juarez (1999-2005) to the Senate. Juarez assumed his governorship amid an intense post-electoral conflict that erupted after rival candidate Felix Salgado Macedonio of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) claimed fraud. Salgado’s supporters marshaled evidence of election irregularities and staged a march to Mexico City. Nonetheless, they were unsuccessful in their demands to overturn the election results.
Like the nearly parallel Martinez years in Chihuahua, Juarez’s period of governance was punctuated by scandals involving state police, the expansion of organized crime and an increase in femicides.
Additionally, Juarez’s state law enforcement apparatus came down on different social movements like the Campesino Environmentalist Organization of Petatlan and Coyuca de Catatlan. The two most recent leaders of the group, Eva Alarcon and Marcial Bautista, were abducted by armed men late last year and remain missing; local police have been implicated in the disappearances.
Another familiar name appears in the nomination for the second PRI senatorial candidate from Guerrero. Claudia Ruiz Massieu is the daughter of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, a former governor and general-secretary of the PRI who was gunned down in Mexico City in 1994. Claudia Ruiz Massieu’s uncle, Raul Salinas de Gortari, was accused of the crime and spent a decade in prison before being exonerated. The still-murky slaying happened while Raul Salinas’ brother Carlos was the president of the Mexican Republic.
The final list of PRI candidates for the Senate is expected to be approved or disqualified by the party’s internal affairs commission this week. Elected to a single six-year term, Mexican senators enjoy more power than in the past. The well-paid elected officials also get annual Christmas bonuses valued at approximately $40,0000, and are largely immune from prosecution.
The scramble for the PRI’s senatorial prizes not only heightened internal tension, but triggered reverberations that could affect the presidential race. Several of the proposed candidacies touched off public controversy, including the bid by Maria Elvira Amaya, the wife of former Tijuana mayor and gambling magnate Jorge Hank Rhon. The gaming czar has been investigated but never prosecuted for a variety of crimes including alleged arms possession and murder.
“The PRI has to decide if it wants a candidacy with moral quality, or if it wants one that is from a lot of money of murky origin like casinos,” said Felipe Ruanova, PRI representative on the Baja California Electoral Council.
Ultimately, Amaya was left out of the contest but did not discount running for future public offices.
Disputes over possible Senate seats led to a partial break-up of the PRI’s national electoral alliance with two minor parties.
Last weekend the National Alliance Party (PANAL), founded by teacher union leader and ex-Priista Elba “La Maestra” Esther Gordillo, announced it was leaving the coalition to run its own candidates. Reportedly, veteran PRI members were upset at the prospect of the much smaller PANAL receiving a disproportionate share of candidacies.
Both the PRI and PANAL have since attempted to put a good face on the split, insisting it is an amicable parting of ways instead of a nasty rupture. But the break-up could spell trouble for PRI presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto, especially if the race tightens. The PRI still maintains its alliance with another small party, the Mexican Green Party.
PANAL General Secretary Monica Arriola, who is the daughter of “La Maestra”, told a Mexican interviewer that her party counted on three percent of the vote, undoubtedly a small slice of the electorate but one that could prove critical if the 2012 election shapes up like the controversial one in 2006 in which Felipe Calderon was declared the victor by a razor-slim margin.
Gordillo’s back-room support for Calderon in 2006 was considered an important reason for the latter’s official triumph.
For 2012, about five million Mexicans have been knocked off the voter rolls because they allegedly failed to renew voter identification cards by the January 15 deadline.
Prior to the PRI-PANAL affair, a former governor of Yucatan and ex-national president of the PRI warned her party of the consequences of political in-fighting. Dulce Maria Sauri said the tensions over Congressional candidacies were reminiscent of 2000, when similar political rows disrupted the party and the PRI lost the presidency for the first time. “Nothing is more contagious than conflicts,” Sauri warned.
The admonishment came as the PRI’s Enrique Pena Nieto was showing signs of faltering in his campaign for the presidency.
Not all were convinced the PRI-PANAL break-up was genuine. The presidential standard-bearer of a center-left coalition encompassing four political organizations, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called the announced split a “simulation” designed to publicly distance the PRI and Pena Nieto from the controversial Elba Esther Gordillo while still maintaining a behind-the-scenes political agreement.
In general terms, the rhetoric rising from the political class has grown more negative in recent days. National Action Party (PAN) presidential primary candidate Santiago Creel said the PRI had a candidate (Pena Nieto) who was full of “holes,” while PRI President Pedro Joaquin Coldwell said the last 12 years of PAN governance were a “nightmare” filled with decisions ranging from “stupid” to “mediocre.” The right has “never learned to govern,” Coldwell said. For his part, Lopez Obrador declared that a return of the PRI to the presidency would be akin to a “collective masochistic act.”
As if the political scene did not already have enough heat, a big, ugly piece of kindling was discovered smoldering this week after the bugging of the lower house of the Mexican Congress was exposed. Some parts of the
Congressional headquarters in the San Lazaro building were shut down, and the federal attorney general’s office (PGR) initiated an investigation after receiving a complaint from Congressional staff.
Legislators urged a thorough inspection of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The building in which the alleged bugging of telephone and Internet communications occurred has about 500 video cameras. One lawmaker expressed surprise, saying that San Lazaro has a strong computer security system that on average resists 2,000 hacking attacks every day.
Chamber of Deputies President Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo said the eaves-dropping appeared to be “generalized” throughout San Lazaro, but special targets could have been Acosta’s office as well as the one belonging to Congresswoman Carolina Viggiano, the wife of ex-PRI head Humberto Moreira.
A former governor of Coahuila, Moreira is still embroiled in legal controversies over a large public debt he left behind in the violence-torn, northern border state. The PGR is currently investigating any illegalities that might have been committed in contracting the state debt. Humberto’s successor and brother, Governor Ruben Moreira, recently announced a new state program to investigate the forced disappearances of 1,658 people-1,113 men and 545 women-in Coahuila mainly since 2006. Involving entire families and razed communities, the disappearances are largely blamed on organized crime.
Interior Ministry Alejandro Poire quickly distanced his office and CISEN, Mexico’s national intelligence agency, from the reported San Lazaro bugging. Political spying is an old story in Mexico, one which was written under the long rule of the PRI and its government security apparatus before 2000, but was widely considered to be an odious if still breathing mummy from the past.
PRD Congressman Mauricio Toledo cautioned that the still-developing espionage scandal (Watergate South 2012?) broke at a moment when the Mexican state was in a “condition of worrisome weakness.” “We are in a state of institutional fragility that is not convenient for anyone,” Toledo warned.
Sources: La Jornada, January 23 and 25, 2012. Articles by Alma E. Munoz, Mireya Cuellar, Enrique Mendez, Gustavo Castillo and Roberto Garduno. Agencia Reforma,
January 19, 21, 22, 25, 26, 2012. Articles by Pedro Diego Tzuc, Claudia Salazar, Claudia Guerrero, Mariel Ibarra, Armando Estrop, and Henia Prado.
Proceso/Apro, January 25, 2012. Article by Jesusa Cervantes. El Sol de Tijuana, January 24, 2012. Article by Korina Sanchez S. Milenio TV, January 21, 24 and 25.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico