Mexico: pre-election plot confirmed?

Former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), top officials in the government of current Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada and a leader of Fox’s center-right National Action Party (PAN) were involved in a conspiracy in 2004 to remove Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the center-left Party of the Democratic Party (PRD) from contention in the July 2, 2006 presidential election, according to a tape played on the “Hoy por Hoy” (“Nowadays”) radio program on Aug. 18. The tape allegedly records a confession by one of the conspirators, Argentine-born business magnate Carlos Ahumada Kurtz, when he was in custody in Cuba in March and April 2004; he is currently imprisoned in Mexico City on corruption charges.

In February 2004 Ahumada released videotapes he’d made allegedly showing two of Lopez Obrador’s close associates, Rene Bejarano and Carlos Imaz, accepting bribes, presumably for Ahumada’s Mexico City construction projects. At that point Lopez Obrador was head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and the front runner in the 2006 presidential race (see WW4 Report, June 16). In the confession aired on Aug. 18, Ahumada said that his lawyer, Juan Collado, arranged with Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, the PAN’s losing presidential candidate in 1994, for the tapes to be made public. Salinas de Gortari was heavily involved, and two members of Fox’s cabinet, then-governance secretary Santiago Creel Miranda and then-attorney general Rafael Macedo de la Concha, were aware of the conspiracy, Ahumada said.

Ahumada was hoping for $30 million and some land in return for the tapes, he said, but he apparently settled for promises of protection from corruption charges. Lopez Obrador lost 15 points in opinion polls when the videos were released, Ahumada noted in the confession. “I mean, [the other candidates] practically took Andres Manuel out of the presidential race,” he said.

Fernandez de Cevallos and Creel promptly denied any wrongdoing, and Macedo de la Concha hadn’t issued a comment as of Aug. 19. Lopez Obrador’s electoral coalition, For the Good of All, announced on Aug. 19 that it was filing charges against Fernandez de Cevallos, Creel, Macedo de la Concha and President Fox. Lopez Obrador was dismissed as paranoid in 2004 when he charged that the release of the videotapes was part of a plot against him headed by Salinas de Gortari. (La Jornada, Aug. 20, 19; Houston Chronicle, Aug. 19)

Lopez Obrador ended up losing the July 2 balloting to PAN candidate Felipe Calderon Hinojosa by just 0.58% of the votes, according to the count by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), although no winner has been officially declared. Lopez Obrador is demanding a complete recount because of apparent irregularities. Officials carried out a recount of about 9% of the polling stations Aug. 9-14. The results have gone to the electoral court and have not been made public. Lopez Obrador’s representative at the IFE, Horacio Duarte, said the recount “obviously modifies the result,” while PAN secretary general Cesar said the difference was minimal and Calderon had won. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Aug. 15 from EFE)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 20

See our last posts on the Mexico and the electoral crisis.