Drug-Related Violence a Major Theme in Mexico's Presidential Campaigns

Article excerpt

Even as the major candidates are offering solutions to address the seemingly out-of-control drug-related violence in Mexico, there is some concern that the major drug cartels are plotting to influence the upcoming elections in July. Because of tight monitoring of campaign donations and the very public scrutiny of all the activities of the major presidential candidates, it is less likely that the cartels will have much direct impact on the presidential race. Still, there is some concern that "dirty money" will somehow filter into the campaigns, not only for the presidency but especially for congressional, gubernatorial, and local elections. In addition to electing the president, Mexicans will elect 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies, 128 senators, six governors, and the mayor of Mexico City. Several municipal and state legislative races will also take place.

Another concern, said Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire, is that the cartels might seek to "stick their noses" into the elections and disrupt the July 1 vote with violence. Even with this possibility, Poire dismissed suggestions that the government postpone the vote. He said the Secretaria de Gobernacion (SEGOB), the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE), and other agencies have developed a map identifying communities where the potential for violence is greatest. "We have discussed some problems that need to be addressed, and we are working closely with the IFE and local authorities to guarantee a peaceful process," he said.

Government, political parties monitor campaign contributions

But the threat of violence is not the foremost concern ahead of the elections. Political analysts and the major parties are worried that the drug cartels might try to influence the national campaigns with donations to individual candidates. The IFE has previously taken steps to keep donations from drug cartels out of the elections (SourceMex, Feb. 18, 2009), but there is no evidence to indicate whether the institute's efforts were successful.

The major parties--the governing Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) and the opposition Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the center-left coalition led by the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD)--have all raised concerns that organized crime might infiltrate the elections. Corruption allegations have touched all three major parties (SourceMex, May, 30, 2001, April, 21, 2004, and May 27, 2009).

The PRI, which governed Mexico for seven decades, developed a strong reputation of cooperating with the drug cartels, particularly during the administration of ex-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (SourceMex, July 22, 1998, and May 20, 2009). Because of that perception, the PRI executive committee (Comite Ejecutivo Nacional, CEN) has taken decisive action to ensure that none of the party's candidates is linked to organized crime.

PRI president Pedro Joaquin Coldwell said the party would look closely at the personal finances of candidates seeking any office in the 2012 election, and anyone proven to have taken funds from organized crime would be asked to withdraw from the race. The PRI president emphasized, however, that the party would use due process, acting only when presented with concrete proof and documentation. "We will not act on mere rumors," said Coldwell.

Despite the best efforts of the government and the political parties to keep organized crime out of the elections, some experts believe that it is a nearly impossible task. "The controls we have are not sufficient," said journalist Ricardo Ravelo, author of the book El Narco en Mexico," which takes a close look at the operations of the drug cartels in Mexico.

Ravelo said the cartels are not going to discriminate in their attempts to influence the elections. "The dirty money is going to flow through all the parties. Money is money," the author said.

Lack of enforcement powers a big problem

Even the government acknowledges that it might be difficult to stop the flow of money from organized crime into the elections because of a lack of enforcement and investigative powers. …