Things Get Rude

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Serious enough in its own right, the Teto affair was but the opening shot of a pitched battle between Chihuahua’s two dominant political parties, the PRI and President Calderon’s conservative National Action Party (PAN).

In late May, PAN congressional candidate and former Chihuahua City Mayor Juan Blanco was arrested by Chihuahua state police officers and imprisoned
on charges of accepting kickbacks in return for granting the concession to operate the Chihuahua City landfill during Blanco’s tenure as mayor of the state’s capital city from 2004 to 2007.

According to one account, the money Blanco allegedly received from the Sirssa company could have been destined for a possible 2010 run by Blanco for the Chihuahua governor’s seat. The legal accusation smacked of the pay-for-play schemes that have increasingly stained politics in New Mexico across the border from Chihuahua. Besides Blanco, some observers have mentioned “Teto” Murguia as a possible 2010 Chihuahua gubernatorial candidate.

Declaring himself a “politically persecuted” individual, Blanco sat in the slammer for nearly a week while supporters rallied to his cause. But even as Blanco waited to be released for trial, a new incendiary spark torched the local political scene.

At a fiery press conference, Chihuahua PAN Senator Maria Teresa Ortuno accused the state’s PRI governor, Jose Reyes Baeza Terrazas, of protecting delinquents, drug traffickers and kidnappers.

“Political opponents are kidnapped in Chihuahua, while organized crime and drug traffickers are protected,” Ortuno charged. “We have hundreds, thousands of murders without clarification.”

Ortuno’s words were backed up by another PAN senator from Chihuahua, Senate President Gustavo Madero, as well as the national party president, German Martinez.

In response, Governor Reyes Baeza slapped a multi-million dollar defamation suit against Ortuno and demanded a public apology. The Chihuahua governor called Martinez’s own words “perverse, ” adding that blame for the public safety crisis in Chihuahua could also be placed on the shoulders of the PAN-run federal government, which has deployed about 10,000 Mexican soldiers and Federal Police in Ciudad Juarez alone but failed to stop crime and killing.

In an unusual but not entirely unsurprising development, several religious leaders backed Reyes Baeza.  The embattled governor’s new supporters included five Roman Catholic bishops and 19 pastors from Protestant denominations in Chihuahua. Words were then allegedly exchanged between Parral Bishop Jose Andres Corral Arredondo and the office of President Calderon’s private secretary, Felipe Bravo Mena, who is a former ambassador to the Vatican.

For her part, Senator Ortuno remained defiant. In a press conference held after the defamation suit against her was filed, Ortuno offered a “correction” to her earlier remarks about Reyes Baeza. The governor, she said, was guilty not only of negligence but inaction as well.

“We have more dead in Chihuahua in two years than 10 years of the Iraq War,” Ortuno hyperbolically proclaimed.

“Things got rude,” editorialized Ciudad Juarez’s Lapolaka newsite, in comments on the 2009 election campaign.

As of June 18, the Chihuahua PRI, PAN and PRD political parties had filed more than 60 complaints of alleged campaign irregularities with the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE).

Shadowy gun-slingers and Mysterious mud-slingers

Unproven charges of narco-infiltration and political corruption were far from unique to Chihuahua in the 2009 campaign. In some ways, Chihuahua’s weekly political scandals were tame in comparison with developments elsewhere in Mexico.

Since the beginning of the year, at least 13 candidates or their supporters have been murdered gangland-style in several states. Other candidates have been threatened or had their vehicles set on fire. The arrests of 27 public officials (including 7 mayors) accused by the federal government of serving La Familia drug cartel in the PRD-run state of Michoacan fueled public suspicions and press comments on the existence of a “narco-state” in Mexico.

The shadow of the narco also tainted political races in Nuevo Leon on Mexico’s northern border and in Colima on the Pacific Coast, among other places. A Mexican Internet news site, Reporte Indigo, posted scandalous audiotapes related to races in both Nuevo Leon and Colima. A recording featured Mario Fernandez Garza, PAN candidate for mayor of San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, confirming the deep penetration of drug gangs in what was once considered Mexico’s richest and safest municipality.

“Infiltration by drug traffickers is real and it happens to all the candidates-at least the ones (narcos) consider have a possibility of winning,” Fernandez was quoted on the tape. “In my case, I let it be known that there would be no obvious agreement.”

A member of the Monterrey-area industrial elite, Fernandez is an experienced politician known for his taste in fine art and his proclivity for frankness, including the admission that he smoked the devil weed in his youth. Although he is a member of the center-right PAN, Fernandez claims a politically eclectic range of friendships, including Fidel Castro, former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, co-founder of Mexico’s center-left PRD party.

On May 27, Reporte Indigo set the fuse of another audio bomb. This one had Virgilio Mendoza Amezcua, PAN candidate for Congress in Colima, allegedly admitting to accepting dirty money.

“(Narcos) approached me like they do half the world, and they sent me money,” Mendoza allegedly said. Outraged, the candidate filed a federal legal complaint against whoever was responsible for fabricating a tape recording. Six rival political parties filed their own charges with the federal attorney general’s office, accusing Mendoza of accepting drug money.

The Reporte Indigo tapes were very similar to previous, anonymously-produced audio recordings and video tapes that involved Mexican politicians and other prominent personalities in scandals.

Typically, the tapes appear during an election season and reek of producers who most likely have experience with a state security agency of some kind. The ulterior motives of the tapes’ authors are almost never publicly revealed-at least at first.

Meanwhile, in another Colima race, the PRI’s gubernatorial candidate for governor, Mario Anguiano Moreno, has come under scrutiny because of relatives previously jailed for drug trafficking. Colima is home to the large Pacific port of Manzanillo,  one of the sites where Chinese-born businessman Zhenli Ye Gon allegedly imported large amounts of ephedrine used to manufacture methamphetamines prior to 2006.

Despite plentiful narco scandals and even scattered violence, the July 5 election is likely to proceed normally in the vast majority of Mexican electoral districts. However, violence and threats in pockets of the states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila, Durango, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Michoacan, and Guerrero could make voting problematic.

Additionally, an armed insurgency led by the leftist Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI) is underway in the mountains of Guerrero. Recently, the ERPI’s Comandante Ramiro told the Mexican press the guerrilla group’s rural base is fed up with politicians and political parties and will not participate in the voting.

As usual, the different political parties have levied widespread allegations of vote-buying, campaign overspending and unfair publicity by rivals.


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