Call it the Michoacan Plus Syndrome. Exposed during last fall’s elections in the Mexican state of Michoacan, kidnappings and other crimes against actual or potential political candidates are now surfacing in Mexico’s state and federal elections scheduled for July 1.
In a recent meeting with the Interior Ministry, leaders of the Progressive Movement coalition denounced violent attacks and threats against their members and candidates in seven of Mexico’s states including Quintana Roo, Guerrero, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Jalisco, Morelos and Michoacan.
Made up of the PRD, Labor and Citizen Movement parties, the Progressive Movement is running former Mexico City mayor and 2006 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for president.
Together with Manuel Camacho Solis of the Dialogue for the Reconstruction of Mexico, Progressive Movement leaders Jesus Zambrano, Ricardo Monreal and Luis Walton laid out details of attacks and threats against their candidates in a meeting with Interior Minister Alejandro Poire, according to Mexican media.
Reportedly, a candidate was forced to withdraw from competition in Quintana Roo after a family member was kidnapped and released only on the condition that the contender drop out of the race. A similar incident was also reported in Nuevo Leon, a northern border state wracked by fighting between organized crime groups. In Nuevo Leon, a new form of electoral intimidation was revealed when candidates for state and federal offices received messages demanding protection fees in return for not blockading public events.
The candidates involved in the various incidents denounced by the Progressive Movement were not publicly identified.
In Guerrero, two candidates are reported missing after receiving death threats. Several criminal bands are engaged in a no-holds-barred struggle for the narcotics trade and other rackets in sections of the southern state.
Progressive Movement politicians apparently aren’t the only ones targeted for pressure. In March, the leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Coyuca de Catalan, Guerrero, Nabor Bailon Baltazar, went missing along with Francisco Chavez Araujo, a former mayor of the violence-ridden town. Mysteriously vanished while on a trip to the state capital to register Bailon as a mayoral primary candidate, the two men later turned up safe and sound.
Although federal and state authorities have touted the joint Operation Safe Guerrero as bringing stability to the state, suspected bouts of narco-violence continue to rage in some places. For instance, at least six people were murdered in Acapulco on Thursday, March 29.
Killings in the old tourist city mounted even as the Holy Week-Easter holiday season loomed. PRI leaders plan to request a meeting with Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre to discuss the security situation as it pertains to the elections.
Earlier this month, the coordinator of Lopez Obrador’s Morena organization was shot dead in front of his family in the municipality of Atoyac de Alvarez, Guerrero, one of Mexico’s prime opium poppy growing regions. Jose Guadalupe Pineda, who was also known as “The Baron of Cacalutla,” had held different posts with the PRD and was the leader of the Costa Grande Religious Council.
Violent attacks against individuals associated with political parties were also chalked up in the north during the month of March. Jesus Jaime Gamez Gomez, PRI city councilor in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, and a primary candidate for the state congress, was shot and wounded in an attack that took place in his city.
On March 24, two women teachers and members of Esther Elba Gordillo’s National Alliance Party (Panal) were gunned down at a Chihuahua City bar while in the company of two young men, who were also slain.
Killed in the attack were 42-year-old Nora Edith Rascon Saenz and 24-year-old Mara Ileana Cardona Hinojos. Rascon had been a Panal candidate for the federal legislature in 2009. A state government employee, she also served as Panal’s local coordinator of women. It’s not publicly known if politics or other motives were behind the slayings.
Also in March, the body of a missing National Action Party (PAN) legislator-elect was among 13 victims exhumed from clandestine graves scattered around Durango. A former mayor of Tepehuanes, Alfonso Pena Pena disappeared only three weeks after being elected to office in July 2010.
In a speech to the special election crimes division of the Mexican federal attorney general’s office (PGR), the head of the institution charged with organizing the July 1 presidential and congressional elections acknowledged that insecurity was jeopardizing democracy.
Leonardo Valdes Zurita, president of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), said democracy was only viable in a legal environment that gives “certainty” to the overall process. Valdes said threats existed to the “social pact” which emerged in Mexico during the transition from the PRI’s long era of one-party rule.
“The existence of insecure zones in some regions of the country hurts social harmony and could eventually inhibit the development of democratic life,” Valdes warned.
Valdes said security agencies had an important role in assuring the safety of candidates as well as the unencumbered participation of the citizenry in the political process. “We Mexicans want democracy with freedom, and to vote in peace,” he added.
Separately, Interior Ministry Poire said one of the most important challenges of 2012 was to “avoid any infiltration of organized crime and delinquency in the electoral processes.”
Valdes’ comments came at an event attended by Imelda Calvillo Tello, the new head of the PGR’s election crimes investigative unit.
Calvillo’s February appointment to the critical job- less than five months before the elections- sparked polemics and criticisms from the PRI and PRD parties. A 24-year veteran of the PGR, the controversial law enforcement official has worked on money laundering matters but is not known to have any special experience with probing the labyrinth of electoral crimes that are committed in Mexico.
The incidents conveyed to Poire during his meeting with Progressive Movement leaders recalled numerous, earlier complaints that emanated from last November’s Michoacan state election. The highly-contested race for governor narrowed to a bitter battle between Fausto Vallejo of the PRI and the PAN’s Maria Luisa “Cocoa” Calderon, President Felipe Calderon’s sister.
Despite widespread claims of fraud, violence and intimidation, Mexican legal authorities cleared the path for Vallejo to assume the governorship in February. Not unlike the disputed 2006 presidential election that was legally tipped in favor of Felipe Calderon, the federal electoral court (TEPJF) came down on Vallejo’s side.
In a unanimous decision, the judges rejected a challenge filed by the PRD, PAN and Panal parties that claimed the election was manipulated to Vallejo’s benefit by organized crime and episodes of violence, such as the murder of La Piedad Mayor Ricardo Guzman
Ruling that the charges were “unfounded,” the TEPJF determined that the election challengers lacked sufficient proof to annul the results. “Unfortunately, insecurity has taken the national territory hostage, in some places with greater intensity” said TEPFJ Judge Flavio Galvan. “Nonetheless, there have been elections.”
On the other hand, election authorities ordered a July 1 rematch in the challenged contest for mayor of Morelia, the capital of Michoacan and the state’s most important city. That decision was based on alleged media violations during the campaigning.
Progressive Movement leaders Jesus Zambrano and Ricardo Monreal blasted the decision upholding Vallejo’s victory, but other PRD leaders, the PAN and rival candidate “Cocoa” Calderon accepted the court’s decision. Calderon then went on to gain a senatorial candidacy for the PAN, and to coordinate her conservative party’s political work for this year’s elections in Michoacan. In the 2011 state election, the PRI had filed a legal complaint with the PGR that accused Calderon of buying votes to win the PAN gubernatorial nomination.
Finally seated as governor, Vallejo called for peace, reconciliation and a crusade “for security and against delinquency.”
In the border city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, meanwhile, the specter of narco disruption resurfaced on March 29, one day before the second leg of Mexico’s federal election process commenced.
Reminiscent of episodes from more than two years ago when war erupted between the Zetas and Gulf cartels, groups of people transported from poor neighborhoods blockaded Reynosa’s main thoroughfares and an international bridge leading to the United States. Alleging rampant human rights abuses by the military, the shadowy protesters demanded the Mexican army leave Reynosa.
Sources: El Sur, March 30 and 31, 2012. Articles by Daniel Velazquez and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, March 22 and March 29, 2012. Articles by Ezequiel Contreras and Juan Alberto Cedillo. Nortedigital.mx/El Universal, March 29, 2012. Aztecanoticias.com.mx, March 29, 2012. Provinica.com.mx, March 29, 2012. Article by Yuri Galvan.
El Heraldo de Chihuahua, March 26, 2012. Elpueblo.com.mx, March 26, 2012. El Diario de Juarez, March 26, 2012. La Jornada, February 15, 2012; March 28 and 30, 2012. Articles by Gustavo Castillo, Fabiola Martinez, Jose Antonio Roman and Ernesto Martinez Elorriga. Cambiodemichoacan.com.mx, March 21, 2012. Article by Humberto Castillo. Norte, March 17, 2012. El Diario de El Paso, March 16, 2012. El Sur/Agencia Reforma, February 14, 2012.
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Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico