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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Mexico will hold its presidential election July 1 against the backdrop of a protracted war against criminal cartels in the country. Former President Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) launched that struggle; his successor, Felipe Calderon, also of the PAN, greatly expanded it. While many Mexicans apparently support action against the cartels, the Calderon government has come under much criticism for its pursuit of the cartels, contributing to Calderon’s low popularity at the moment. The PAN is widely expected to lose in July to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which controlled the Mexican presidency for most of the 20th century until Fox’s victory in 2000. According to polls, the PAN has lost credibility among many Mexican voters, many of whom also once again view the PRI as a viable alternative. Many Mexicans seem to believe that the Calderon administration could attempt to pull off some sort of last-minute political coup (in U.S. political parlance, an “October surprise”) to boost the PAN’s popularity so it can retain the presidency.

The potential election ploy most often discussed is the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, who is widely believed to be the richest, most powerful drug trafficker anywhere. The reasoning goes that if the government could catch Guzman, Calderon’s (and hence the PAN’s) popularity would soar. The National Action Party, Mexico’s ruling party, on Sunday, February 5th chose Former congresswoman Josefina Vasquez Mota to run for president, the first time a major party has nominated a woman to compete for the nation’s top office.

Plata o Plomo

Mexico’s cartels have begun to form into two major groupings around the two most powerful cartels, the Sinaloa cartel and Los Zetas. These two cartels approach business quite differently. The common Mexican cartel expression “plata o plomo” (literally translated as “silver or lead,” the Spanish phrase signifying that a cartel will force one’s cooperation with either a bribe or a bullet) illustrates the different modes of operation of the two hegemonic cartels.

Los Zetas, an organization founded by former Mexican special operations soldiers, tends to apply a military solution to any problem first — plomo. They certainly bribe people, but one of their core organizational values is that it is cheaper and easier to threaten than to bribe. Rather than retain people on their payroll for years, Los Zetas also tend toward a short time horizon with bribery.
By contrast, people like Guzman and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, founders of the Sinaloa cartel, have been producing and trafficking narcotics for decades. Guzman and Zambada got their start in the trafficking business working for Miguel “El Padrino” Angel Felix Gallardo, the leader of the powerful Guadalajara cartel in the early 1980s. Because they have been in the illicit logistics business for decades, the Sinaloa leaders are more business-oriented than military-oriented. This means that the Sinaloa cartel tends to employ plata first, preferring to buy off the people required to achieve its objectives. It also frequently provides U.S. and Mexican authorities with intelligence pertaining to its cartel enemies rather than taking direct military action against them, thus using the authorities as a weapon against rival cartels. While Sinaloa does have some powerful enforcement groups, and it certainly can (and does) resort to ruthless violence, violence is merely one of the many tools at its disposal rather than its preferred approach to a given problem.

Thus, Sinaloa and Los Zetas each use the same set of tools, they just tend to use them in a different order.

Guzman’s Web

Within his home territory of rural Sinaloa state, Guzman is respected and even revered. An almost-mythical figure, he has used his fortune to buy good will and loyalty in his home turf and elsewhere. In addition to his public largesse, Guzman has bribed people for decades. Unlike Los Zetas, the Sinaloa cartel leadership tends to take a long view on corruption. It will often recruit a low-level official and then continue to pay that person as he rises through the ranks. This long-term approach is not unlike that taken by some of the more patient intelligence services, along the lines of the Soviet recruitment of the “Cambridge Five” while they were still students. Quite simply, Guzman and the Sinaloa cartel have had police and military officers, politicians, journalists and judges on their payroll for years and even decades.
This intelligence agency-like approach has permitted the Sinaloa leadership to construct a wide web of assets with which to gather intelligence and serve as its agents of influence. At the street level, all Mexican cartels employ lookouts called “halcones,” Spanish for “falcons,” who provide their cartel masters with early warning of law enforcement or rival cartel activity in the halcones’ area of responsibility. Higher-ranking officials on a cartel’s payroll essentially serve as high-level halcones who provide early warnings when government operations against the cartel are being planned. Such advanced warning allows the cartels to protect their shipments and leadership.
Once an official or politician is on a cartel payroll (a situation similar to a network of sources run by an intelligence agency), he is subject to blackmail should he stop cooperating. And the relationship between a politician and the cartels can go beyond just cash. It can also involve the murder of a rival or provide other forms of non-cash assistance in the attainment of political power.
Whatever the relationship entails, once a cartel gets its hooks into a person, it tends not to let go — and the person thus entangled has little choice but to continue cooperating, since he can be subject to arrest and political or financial ruin if he is caught. He also can be assassinated should he decide to quit cooperating. No Mexican politician wants to become the next Raul Salinas de Gortari, the brother of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who the U.S. government alleges made hundreds of millions of dollars in dirty money, much of it from cartel figures. Raul Salinas’ arrest in 1995 for murder, the subsequent money laundering charges brought against him, and questions about what his brother Carlos knew about his activities were important factors in the 2000 presidential election in which the PRI lost.

Featured is the PRI’s Enrique Pena Nieto presidential candidate with soap opera star and wife Angelica Rivera. He is perceived as the insurmountable favorite to become Mexico’s next president this year. Peña Nieto’s long-held advantage in public opinion polls represents the PRI’s best shot at recapturing the office that it lost in the 2000 Presidential elections. The party’s popularity is an astonishing accomplishment for a group once synonymous with the corruption and authoritarianism of Mexico’s 71-year one-party rule. Peña Nieto’s fresh image and celebrity lifestyle (he is married to former soap-star Angelica Rivera) has for the most part succeeded in rebranding his party as one of youth, idealism, and competence. The elitism that Paulina Peña Nieto’s tweet projected is exactly the type of depiction that the party has worked to disassociate itself with.

This fear of being linked to a figure like Guzman serves as a strong deterrent to his arrest. Guzman has been operating as a high-level narcotics trafficker in Mexico for decades now, and a big part of his operations has involved bribery. For example, in November 2008, Mexico’s drug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano, was arrested and charged with accepting $450,000 a month from Zambada and the Beltran Leyva brothers, who were aligned with Sinaloa at the time.
If Guzman were to talk to authorities after his arrest, he could implicate a number of very powerful political and business figures. Indeed, it is likely this fear led to the delicate treatment he received after his 1993 arrest in Guatemala and his subsequent conviction in Mexico for narcotics trafficking and bribery. Guzman was able to continue to run his criminal empire from behind bars, and it was only when it appeared that Guzman might face extradition to the United States that he chose to escape from his comfortable prison cell in January 2001. Since his escape, he undoubtedly has continued to add strands to the web of protection surrounding him.
We must also note that without Guzman, the dynamics that drive the Mexican cartels would continue, and other leaders or even organizations would rise to take his place. Killing or arresting an individual will not be the end of Mexico’s criminal cartels.

Mexico’s current President Felipe Calderon.

That said, a long line of powerful Mexican cartel leaders have been arrested. Guzman’s mentor, Felix Gallardo, was arrested in 1989 in large part due to U.S. pressure on the Mexican government in the wake of the torture and murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Enrique Camarena. Gulf cartel founder Juan Garcia Abrego, also a protege of Felix Gallardo, was arrested in 1996. Garcia Abrego allegedly was linked to Raul Salinas and other high-ranking officials in the government of then-President Ernesto Zedillo. Garcia Abrego’s successor as leader of the Gulf cartel, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, was arrested in 2003 and, like Garcia Abrego, was deported to the United States and convicted in a U.S. court; he is currently incarcerated in the “Supermax” penitentiary in Florence, Colo. Indeed, Guzman and Zambada are the last of Felix Gallardo’s proteges still at large.If Guzman is concerned that he could be killed rather than captured, like his former associate Arturo Beltran Leyva, it is possible that he could have prepared some type of insurance document incriminating powerful people on Sinaloa’s payroll. As a deterrent to Guzman’s killing, Sinaloa could threaten to release such a document should Guzman be killed.
Along with Zambada, Guzman has been a high-profile fugitive for three decades now. He has not survived that long by being careless or stupid. It would be very difficult to track down such an individual in a short window of time established by political calculations unless those responsible already know his exact location and have chosen not to arrest him thus far. The Calderon administration and the PAN have struggled with public perceptions for some time now, making it likely that if high-level PAN officials knew where Guzman was and wanted to arrest him for the public relations bump such an operation could provide, they already would have done so.
Still, Guzman is one of the most wanted individuals in the world, and large teams of Mexican and U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agents are trying to locate him. Therefore, it is possible that Guzman could be arrested before the election in July. Any operation to capture him would be tightly compartmentalized for fear it could leak out to high-ranking halcones in the Mexican (or U.S.) government. Indeed, special Mexican units working closely with U.S. counterparts and segregated from any outside contact so that they cannot betray their mission — or the intelligence that led to it — normally carry out such sensitive operations. This means such an operation would likely be beyond the control of Mexican politicians to mandate, although they could conceivably provide actionable intelligence to the forces involved in such an operation.
Interestingly, with all the chatter of an election surprise floating around Mexico, any arrest at this point would be met with a great deal of skepticism. The arrest of such a powerful figure would almost certainly become very politicized with all parties attempting to use it to their advantage — and dodge any connections they might have to Sinaloa. Such an environment would serve to bring more attention to the issue of corruption and collusion between the cartels and the government. And that could end up hurting rather than benefiting the PAN in the upcoming presidential election.

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