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Fw: FNS Special Report: The Wild Race for the 2009 Mexican Congress

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  • Greg Cannon
    ... July 1, 2009 Special Report: Mexico at the Crossroads: The Turbulent Race for the 2009 Congress A voodoo-like doll left on a candidate’s doorstep.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2009
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      --- On Wed, 7/1/09, fnsnews@... <fnsnews@...> wrote:

      > From: fnsnews@... <fnsnews@...>
      > Subject: FNS Special Report: The Wild Race for the 2009 Mexican Congress
      > To: fns_nmsu-l@...
      > Date: Wednesday, July 1, 2009, 5:09 PM
      > July 1, 2009

      July 1, 2009

      Special Report:

      Mexico at the Crossroads: The Turbulent Race for the 2009 Congress

      A voodoo-like doll left on a candidate’s doorstep. Political contenders
      jailed for shoplifting at Wal-Mart or receiving kickbacks for a garbage
      dump contract. A century-old cartoon character reborn as a write-in
      candidate. Flying accusations of narco-corruption. Deadly ambushes and
      killings. Such has been the stuff of the 2009 mid-term Mexican election
      campaign.

      On Sunday, July 5, nearly 77.5 million Mexicans will be eligible to cast
      votes for a new federal Congress as well as new state and local
      governments in 10 states and the capital of Mexico City. Predictions
      abound of massive voter abstention, record protest voting and a victory by
      the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

      In important ways, the federal congressional campaign in the northern
      border state of Chihuhaua was emblematic of the national race. A negative
      campaign tone was established early in the year when the Mexico City daily
      Excelsior published an explosive story that alleged money from the Juarez
      drug cartel helped finance the successful 2004 mayoral candidacy of
      Hector “Teto” Murguia in Ciudad Juarez. Murguia is a 2009 congressional
      candidate for the PRI in a border district.

      An graying institution of Mexican journalism, Excelsior cited a document
      from the US Drug Enforcement Administration as a source for its story. A
      DEA spokesperson, Janet Selzer, later denied the report in question was an
      “official” one from her agency.

      The Excelsior story traced the alleged dirty financing to US convict Saulo
      Reyes Gamboa. A former Ciudad Juarez police chief during the latter days
      of the Murguia administration, Reyes was arrested in El Paso, Texas, last
      year by US government agents for attempting to smuggle a large shipment of
      marijuana.

      Aghast at the story, Murguia called the piece a lie. The border politician
      repeated an earlier claim that Reyes had been recommended for the police
      chief job by Coparmex, the influential Mexican employers’ association.

      “Neither we nor Coparmex had a crystal ball to predict that Saulo would be
      involved in trying to pass a shipment of marijuana three months after the
      end of the administration,” Murguia said.

      Days prior to the July 5 election, the Teto-Juarez Cartel story was
      revived with the appearance of an anonymously published newspaper that
      circulated on the streets of Ciudad Juarez. The mysterious rag featured a
      reprint of the original Excelsior story in addition to related pieces.


      Things Get Rude


      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.


      Will Many People Even Bother to Vote?

      The 2009 elections occur amid the highest unemployment in 14 years,
      creeping price inflation and falling tax revenues. Worse yet, the old
      escape valve of migration to the US appears to be wrenched shut for the
      moment.

      Given the severity of the challenges facing Mexico, media spots run by the
      candidates appear frivolous to many observers. In this race, image is
      again the winner over substance; little serious debate about revamping
      social, economic and political structures has occurred within the official
      parameters of the elections.

      Instead, citizens got spots from the PAN that cited very questionable
      statistics in support of President Calderon’s anti-drug war or observed
      messages from the pro-death penalty Mexican Green Party that advocated
      government vouchers for privately-run computer and English schools. Under
      fire from much of his party’s base, PRD leader Jesus Ortega, carried on
      with a small child on the airwaves about making Mexico a better place.

      Although voter turn-out is typically low for mid-term elections, some
      observers predict a record abstention rate this year as perhaps the
      majority of Mexicans do not view any of the political parties capable of
      solving basic concerns like finding a job or paying for the kids’ school.

      “I haven’t heard them,” said Ciudad Juarez accountant Armando Miranda, in
      reference to the political parties’ solutions.

      Maria Carmen Alanis, president of Mexico’s Federal Electoral Tribunal,
      said this week that voter participation trends in Mexico and Latin America
      could result in an abstention rate of 70 percent or more on July 5.

      An unknown number of Mexicans will turn out to vote but wind up casting
      ballots for write-in candidates or crossing them out in protest.

      A collective associated with the Saturday cultural supplement of the
      Aguascalientes edition of La Jornada newspaper is actually promoting a
      vote for Chepito Marihuano, a century-old cartoon character invented by
      the legendary artist Guadalupe Posada.

      “We’re tired of the candidates and the entire system, including the IFE
      and the people involved in it,” said award-winning poet and collective
      member Juan Pablo de Avila. “One answer is to promote genuine candidates
      and representatives of the people, and one of them could be Chepito
      Marihuano.”

      In a similar but perhaps less colorful vein, an organized movement has
      emerged to encourage citizens to turn in blank or mutilated ballots.
      Associated with prominent intellectuals Sergio Aguayo and Denise Dresser,
      among others, the National Protest Vote Movement held its first assembly
      in Mexico City on June 30. According to Dresser, the goal of the movement
      is not to replace the political parties but force them to deal with
      national realities and take action on long overdue reforms.

      Understandably, the party faithful are not keen on the protest vote
      movement. Puerto Vallarta resident Jose Felix Padilla disagreed with
      contentions that all parties and politicians are the same. “The only way
      to get something is by voting,” insisted Padilla, a member of the PAN. “If
      a person does not vote there is no way to make a change.”

      The man in charge of organizing the July 5 federal election, IFE President
      Leonardo Valdes, pledged to a CNN interviewer that his agency would
      fulfill its duty of counting all votes, whether they are crossed out,
      marked for unregistered candidates like Chepito Marihuano or cast for an
      actual living candidate.

      Different polls suggest that annulled votes, which usually fall under less
      than 3 percent of the total cast in any given election, could amount to
      between 7and 20 percent of the votes tallied this year.

      If a high protest vote comes to pass, the “worthless” ballots could have
      an immediate impact. Under Mexican electoral law, recounts are required in
      a federal race if the number of annulled votes is greater than the
      difference of ballots between the leading and second-place candidates. In
      this scenario, resolutions of tightly-contested races could drag on for
      weeks if not months.

      Meantime, most leading polls give the former ruling PRI an edge in the
      July 5 voting.


      Additional sources: CNN en Espanol, June 30 and July 1, 2009. Proceso,
      June 14 and 28, 2009. Articles by Jesus Cantu, Arturo Rodriguez Garcia,
      Alvaro Delgado and Pedro Zamora Briseno. Tribuna de la Bahia. June 28, 29,
      30, 2009. Articles by Agencia Reforma and editorial staff. Lapolaka.com,
      May 12, 2009; June 1, 6,11, 12, 15, 2009. Norte, May 31, 2009.
      Articles by Ricardo Espinoza, Jesus Batista and editorial staff.


      La Jornada, May 24, 2009; June 10, 11, 19, 20, 22, 23, 2009. Articles by
      Sergio Ocampo, Misael Habana, Ruben Villalpando, Miroslava Breach, Gustavo
      Castillo Garcia, Carlos Fernandez-Vega, Mauricio Ferrer, Juan Carlos
      Partida, and David Brooks. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), June 27 and 28,
      2009. Articles by Marlen Castro. El Sur, May 27, 2009. Article by Noe
      Aguirre Orozco. Apro, May 20, 2009. Article by Pedro Zamora Briseno. El
      Diario de Juarez, March 18, 2009: May 4, 5, 13, 25, 2009. Articles by
      Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, Horacio Carrasco and editorial staff. El
      Universal, April 12 and June 4, 2009. Articles by Francisco Resendiz,
      Ricardo Gomez and Jorge Ramos.



      Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
      Center for Latin American and Border Studies
      New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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