Meet the Candidates: Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Josefina Vazquez Mota, presidential candidate for the ruling National Action Party (PAN), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)

What will the change in “leadership” do for Mexico?

Will there be dirty politics in Mexico’s Presidential Election?

An employee of the Electoral Federal Institute (IFE) classifies and sorts votes casted by Mexicans living outside Mexico, on June 29, in Mexico city. Mexico will hold presidential elections July 1. Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/GettyImages
Sunday’s presidential election represents a difficult test for Mexico’s wobbly democracy: Can it hold a fraud-free national vote in the midst of a raging drug war? The country’s top election official conceded recently that violence in parts of the country prevented election officials from completing some preparations. But the official, Leonardo Valdes, insisted that safeguards are firmly in place to prevent the kind of brazen electoral fraud once notorious in Mexico. And, he said, most of the strong-arming, threats and payoffs by drug traffickers remain limited to local politics and less influential in the national race.
June 10, 2012 A student from the anti-PRI youth opposition movement “Yo soy132” (“I am 132”) holds up a placard before the presidential candidates’ televised debate in Guadalajara. Tomas Bravo/Reuters
“Mexican presidential elections today are armored against fraud,” Valdes said. More than 1 million trained poll workers will be deployed in 143,151 voting stations, nearly all of which will also have monitors from at least three political parties. The specter of fraud looms especially large this year because the party that perfected the buying of votes and rigging of elections, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is favored to return to the presidency with its telegenic candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. The PRI held on to power for seven decades through repression, coercion and co-opting opponents, until it was ousted in 2000. It is staging a hard-fought comeback.
“It will be the biggest march of your life” a comrade of La Izquierda Socialista (Marxist wing of Morena) said Wednesday, 27th of June, when leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), like other candidates in the coming Mexican presidential elections, was to hold his final election rally or ‘cierre de campaña’ (campaign closing) as it is called here.
One of the largest demonstrations in the history of Mexico
AMLO directly mentioned the “I am 132” movement and the role it has played in energizing the population to defeat the bourgeois candidates. Also, when mentioning the organizations that back him he put an emphasis on MORENA (“Movement for National Regeneration), which is not an ‘official’ party yet but acts as a mass movement of more than 3 million members, many of whom youth and students, who are organized in brigades and committees all across the country. Tellingly, the mention of MORENA also got the loudest applause, possibly to the chagrin of some of the PRD bureaucrats present.
Despite tighter oversight and strengthened laws to ensure clean elections, analysts say Mexico remains vulnerable to many of the dirty tricks that flourished during PRI rule. Voter credentials make it easier to confirm a person’s identity, for example, but candidates and parties have turned to handing out discount cards to win influence with voters. Taking a page from the PRI’s old playbook, all three parties now bus voters to the polls on election day, giving them meals or other perks along the way. Another reported ploy is for voters to take a picture of their marked ballot with a cellphone and later show it to party operatives in return for cash.
“We continue to have elections that have serious problems in terms of legality, equality of access,” said John M. Ackerman, a law professor in Mexico City who has written about the country’s election laws.

While the PRI has opposed reform, Peña Nieto has run a campaign openly calling for structural changes in energy, tax, social security, education, labor etc, which is promising according to Fuente. “For others, though, a resounding victory by the PRI conjures up images of a return to one party-rule in Mexico, with the centralism and cronyism that characterized much of the PRI’s 70 year hold on power until 2000.” photo source: Danny Aguilar/Getty Images

Even before the first ballot was cast, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Peña Nieto’s closest rival, warned of a fraud that would rob him “once again,” as he puts it, of the presidency.
To see how bad political posturing can get, rewind to 2006, when Lopez Obrador lost to Felipe Calderon by less than 1% of the vote. Lopez Obrador refused to recognize Calderon’s victory, unleashing a wave of paralyzing street protests. The following year, Congress passed electoral reforms that regulate air time by parties, prohibit attack ads and shorten to 90 days the amount of time presidential candidates may campaign. A big concern among Lopez Obrador supporters is the PRI’s strong grass-roots presence across most of Mexico’s 31 states and long history of vote-tampering during its rule. Leftists worry that the same well-oiled machinery could be used to inflate the vote on Peña Nieto’s behalf. But the odds for post-election controversy could hinge on the vote tally. A large margin would weaken potential charges of fraud, one reason why the Peña Nieto campaign hopes polls suggesting a blowout prove accurate.

photo source: The grandmother of police officer Jose Ramirez grieves over his body after he was killed by unidentified gunmen while on patrol in Las Joyas neighborhood of Acapulco, Mexico, in July 2010. Ramirez’s grandmother did not give her name, citing security reasons. Three other officers in the vehicle were also killed in the attack. AP/Bernardino Hernandez

Despite a drug war that has claimed more than 50,000 lives in almost six years, and traffickers’ penetration of many levels of Mexican life, most experts agree that the fertile field for narco-influence in politics remains at the local level. Traffickers are keen to control local police forces and city halls so that they can produce, sell and transport their drugs unimpeded. In elections in the state of Michoacan late last year, for example, cartels published ads in newspapers and made phone calls to regional officials with instructions on how to vote. In 2010, the ultra-violent city of Ciudad Juarez elected a mayor alleged to have had ties to a cartel, while in the state of Sinaloa, historic heartland of Mexican drug-trafficking, the compadre of one of the country’s top drug lords only narrowly lost the race for governor.

Starting in the mid-1990’s, different drug gangs increasingly became more violent, fighting to be on top, and gain more control and territory. After Gallardo was arrested, his lieutenant, Joaquin Guzman, started a war with other drug-lords that has since claimed over 50,000 lives.(Kellner) Little was done about the violence, and for a while, there were not even stories in the papers about these horrific and gruesome murders.

“We have had to recognize, especially locally, the presence and actions of criminal groups in the realm of elections,” Interior Minister Alejandro Poire said last week. “We are acting to prevent it … to guarantee that citizens be able to go out and vote in peace…. We cannot call this an election of fear.” The election has forced Mexicans to ponder the progress of democracy in their nation. Most celebrated the defeat of the authoritarian PRI in 2000 and welcomed a new party, Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN). But 12 years later, many feel, rightly or wrongly, that the experiment failed. Fundamental reforms of the educational system or of the monopolies that dominate and strangle the economy were not undertaken. Instead, Mexicans are saddled with a bloody war, a gnawing sense of terror and insecurity, and, now, the return of the very party they ousted.

President Felipe Calderon (PAN)

“Millions of Mexican people thought that, almost magically, alternation [one party handing off to another] would bring about profound changes in Mexico,” said Alfonso Zarate, a political analyst in Mexico City. But a PRI victory, he said, “would mean the censure and disapproval of the PAN governments. It means disillusionment.” At the same time, the flow of power to the state governors since the centralized PRI regime was ousted has created powerful fiefdoms where governors can rule without the checks and balances of a healthy democracy. “On the state level, we have gone backward,” Zarate said.

May 13, 2012 Josefina Vazquez Mota, presidential candidate for the ruling National Action Party (PAN), waves Mexico’s flag during a rally in Veracruz. Oscar Martinez/Reuters

As even more mature democracies have shown, an open multi-party system does not necessarily produce stellar candidates. Numerous Mexicans have expressed near-existential dismay over the choices they have in this election; they chafe at the prospect of the PRI’s return, can’t stomach more of the current, discredited government, and see Lopez Obrador as an unreformed erratic. “This is a democratic process,” Mexican historian Enrique Krauze said. But “the democratic voter — the voter who in Mexico believes deeply in democracy — has a difficult choice to make.”

Read More: LA Times

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Mexican President Felipe Calderon (L) and his Guatemalan counterpart Alvaro Colom arrive at a joint press conference at the official residence Los Pinos, in Mexico City, capital of Mexico, on July 27, 2011. (Xinhua/David de la Paz)

Los Zetas and Guatemalan Organized Crime 

Guatemalan authorities arrested Horst Walther Overdick-Mejia, a Guatemalan drug distributor working with Los Zetas, on April 3 in San Lucas Sacatepequez, Guatemala, near Guatemala City. According to a U.S. indictment, Overdick was responsible for trafficking illicit drugs, including cocaine, via land and maritime routes into Mexico since at least 1999 and played a significant role in the establishment of trafficking routes through Guatemala for Los Zetas.

Several Mexican transnational criminal organizations, including the Gulf cartel, Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas, employ people in Guatemala like Overdick to transport illicit drugs through the Central American country. For Mexican organized crime, these liaisons are crucial for moving illicit drugs through Guatemala. Logistical liaisons, such as Overdick, allow foreign groups to establish a presence in unfamiliar terrain and facilitate communications with Guatemalan contacts. However, for at least the last five years, Los Zetas have placed an increasing focus on expanding their operations into Guatemala. The group thus likely has alternative plans to prevent operations depending on a single point of contact.

Members of Los Zetas pose with their drugs and weapons following their arrests by Mexican special ops police. Photo credit: DEA/DoJ File Photo 04/12/12

Unlike other Mexican organized criminal groups such as the Gulf cartel and the Sinaloa Federation, Los Zetas use their characteristic violent tactics to exert influence in Guatemala. On May 15, 2011, in the Peten department of Guatemala, gunmen murdered 27 farm workers on a ranch owned by Guatemalan drug distributor Otto Salguero. A week later in Quetzaltenango, Quetzaltenango department, three Guatemalans were arrested after posting narcomantas signed Z-200 that claimed Otto Salguero was one of “the most important suppliers of cocaine” to the Gulf cartel. Los Zetas have targeted other drug trafficking organizations, which family organizations largely control in Guatemala. Los Zetas attacked one such group, Los Leones, on March 25, 2008, with gunmen killing 11 of its members including Juan Jose “Juancho” Leon, a leader in the organization.

Guatemala Blames Mexico’s Most Brutal Drug Gang For Killing And Decapitating 27 People (05-17-2011) photo source el narco blog

Given Los Zetas’ established ability to assault rival criminal groups in Guatemala and its increasingly public presence (through narcomantas appearing in Guatemala’s largest cities), it is unlikely that Overdick’s arrest would significantly hinder Los Zetas influence in, and ability to traffic drugs through, Guatemala. Los Zetas are likely to adjust to Overdick’s arrest to continue operations in Guatemala.

July 6, 2011 – Guatemala, Guatemala – FILE: A picture dated 31 may 2011 shows Agents of the National Civil Police of Guatemala seizes 336 kilos of cocaine after a fight against drug traffickers in Rancho de Progreso, 80 kilometers north of Guatemala city. The group Los Zetas, one of the most violent organizations of organized crime, supplied drug from Guatemala and not direcly in Colombia, as revealed by number three in the group, jesus Enrique Rejon arrested in Mexico on July 3, 2011. Photo: Jesus Alfonso/dpa.

Turf War Hits Cancun

Spring Break in Cancun, in the narco era, via FP. March 2009

Gunmen shot and killed a 21-year-old man in front of the Hotel Ibis in Cancun, Quintana Roo state, on March 27. Authorities said they were looking for a missing taxi driver in connection with the murder. On April 2, authorities discovered the bodies of three males along the Cancun-Leona Vicario highway with two vehicles, one of which was registered as a taxi vehicle. According to authorities, the murders probably were linked to the March 27 killing. Two days later, authorities arrested seven members of the Los Pelones gang in Cancun in connection with the murders. After interrogating the suspects, authorities said the March 27 victim was killed for belonging to Los Zetas. Five members of Los Zetas were arrested April 5 in the district where the March 27 murder happened. Those arrested said they had arrived in Cancun 10 days before to carry out several assassinations.

The hotel is located in a high commercial traffic area at the intersection of Tulum and la Nichupté avenues.

Though Cancun does not typically see violence related to the drug war, violence may erupt without notice in any part of Mexico. At present Los Zetas and Los Pelones, a name historically associated with the Sinaloa Federation but not necessarily the same gang in Cancun, are attacking each another in Cancun. How far the violence could escalate remains unknown, but travelers to the resort town should pay attention to the security situation given the March 27 killing, which occurred in the area where numerous travelers will stay. Collateral damage easily could result from violence between the organizations.

April 3

  • Authorities discovered three bodies — two male and one female — at a ranch in Brisenas, Michoacan state, near the Jalisco state border.

April 4

  • Four gunmen were killed in Ario de Rosales, Michoacan state, when they opened fire on a military patrol. No military casualties were reported.
  • Authorities discovered the bodies of four executed individuals, two of whom were decapitated, in three different municipalities of Morelos state.
  • Francisco Medina Mejia “El Comandante Quemado,” the reported mastermind of the Casino Royale fire that killed 52 individuals in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, was killed by Mexican military in a firefight on the Nuevo Laredo-Piedra Negras highway. Three other gunmen were also killed.

April 5

  • At least seven individuals were murdered in separate incidences in Acapulco, Guerrero state.

April 6

  • Gunmen arrived at a residence in a vehicle and kidnapped four police officers before shooting and killing them in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.

April 7

  • Authorities discovered the body of a woman in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. The victim’s eyes were taped shut and there were signs of torture on the body.
  • Three individuals were killed in Acapulco, Guerrero state. Two of the victims were decapitated, and their heads were left in an ice cooler inside a vehicle. The third victim was a taxi driver, and his body was left in a taxicab.
  • In Arriaga, Chiapas state, two narcomantas were placed along bridges. The first stated that “Los Z” has arrived and warned that 100 people would die. The other stated that “La Familia” did not kill women, children or innocent and that justice begins.

April 8

  • The Mexican army with municipal police seized 844 kilograms (1,860 pounds) of marijuana from a residence in Tijuana, Baja California state.
  • Authorities discovered four decomposing bodies in a well in Rioverde, San Luis Potosi state.
  • Gunmen killed three men who had arrived at a car wash in Chihuahua city, Chihuahua state.

April 9

  • Gunmen kidnapped a man in La Trinidad, Sinaloa state. Authorities later discovered the decapitated body with the hand placed in the mouth.
  • Gunmen opened fire in a bar in the center of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, killing a waiter and a patron.
Read more: Stratfor

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