Mexico Hunts Candidate's Killers Amid Bloodiest Election Season Since 1994
Declaring the nation’s institutions under threat from organized crime, Mexican President Felipe Calderon vowed to capture the suspected drug traffickers behind yesterday’s slaying of a leading gubernatorial candidate.
Rodolfo Torre Cantu, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, and four members of his motorcade were gunned down in the border state of Tamaulipas, where Torre Cantu had a two-to-one lead in polls ahead of July 4 elections.
The candidate, who made fighting violence a pillar of his campaign, is the highest-level politician to be assassinated since presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was killed in 1994. Calderon called today for political leaders, the media and academics to begin a dialogue to discuss how to deal with organized crime, the nation’s “biggest” challenge.
“More than ever, dialogue and unity are needed,” Calderon told reporters. “United, Mexicans can defeat and will defeat a common enemy that today threatens to destroy not only our peace but our democratic institutions.”
Mexico’s peso fell for the second day as news of the assassination undermined investors’ confidence in the country’s stability. The currency weakened 0.9 percent to 12.8423 per U.S. dollar at 9:48 a.m. New York time. The IPC stock index fell 1.9 percent to 31,960.14.
“Mexico is on a very dangerous path,´´ Walter Molano, head of research at Greenwich, Connecticut-based BCP Securities, an emerging-markets focused investment bank, said in a phone interview from Chile. “This definitely shows Mexico is coming closer to following the footsteps of Colombia in the 1980s and 90s when the narco movement took on political characteristics.”
Last Campaign Rally
Torre Cantu, 46, had made improving security and fighting impunity a top campaign pledge before the elections, which will choose new governors in 12 of 31 states.
“Violence in all its forms threatens the well-being of the population, in addition to inhibiting investment, trade and productive activities,” he said in a document on his website.
Many voters in the state, while worried about a rise in murders and kidnappings, didn’t expect the violence to spill over into the campaign.
“The violence is serious but I don´t think it´s to the point of suspending the election,” Iveth Sauceda, a 30-year-old homemaker, said at a campaign rally of 2,000 people for Torre Cantu on June 22 in Reynosa.
After yesterday´s slaying, Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN for its Spanish initials, and the Party of the Democratic Revolution suspended campaigning in Tamaulipas.
Torre Cantu, a surgeon and congressman from 2003 to 2006, had 61 percent support, compared with 30 percent for PAN candidate Jose Julian Sacramento, according to a June 12-16 poll by Mexico City-based Consulta Mitofsky. The poll had a margin of error of 1 percentage point.
The assassination is most likely a show of force by the Zetas drug gang as they challenge the Gulf Cartel for control of lucrative smuggling routes across the Rio Grande into southern Texas, said George Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“The cartels don’t seek a failed state,” Grayson said in an e-mail. “They want dual sovereignty -- that is, the old system whereby they paid off public officials, who, for their part, turned a blind eye to criminality.”
Mexican politicians in states where cartels operate are frequently pressured by the groups, said Alejandro Schtulmann, research director of Emerging Markets Political Risk Analysis, a Mexico City consulting firm.
“If you benefited one, there could be reprisals from another,” Schtulmann said yesterday in a phone interview. “If you benefited none of them, there could also be reprisals.”
Low Turnout Expected
Voter participation in next week’s vote may drop to as low as one-third of voters from previous midterm elections when turnout was between 44 percent and 60 percent, Tony Payan, a political scientist at the University of Texas in El Paso, said before Torre Cantu’s killing.
Luis Adame, a gas station attendant in Camargo, about 288 kilometers (178 miles) north of Ciudad Victoria, where Torre Cantu was killed, said he won’t vote for mayor this year because he fears the drug traffickers who operate in the border city.
“It’s too risky,” said Adame, 19, standing across the street from a boarded-up convenience store in a town where drug- related violence has caused residents to flee and the economy to shrink.
Rising Death Toll
Mexico has turned increasingly violent since Calderon came to office in December 2006 vowing to fight traffickers. More than 22,000 people have been killed in Mexico by organized crime since the crackdown began, according to the U.S. State Department.
The government estimates violence shaves 1 percentage point from gross domestic product each year. Mexico’s drug-related killings in 2010 rose to 5,339 through mid-June, compared with 6,587 in all of 2009, according to data from Reforma, a Mexico City newspaper.
In Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, PAN mayoral candidate Jose Mario Guajardo was murdered last month. Calderon´s party couldn’t find anyone willing to risk running for mayor in the cities of Mier and Nuevo Progreso, and the party’s candidate in Camargo quit the race after threats, said Francisco Javier Garza, the state party president.
In Chihuahua, state election authorities asked candidates not to campaign in at least four towns because of the violence. Politicians in the state of Durango don’t hold campaign rallies at night because of potential violence.
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