The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed Mexico for 70 years until 2000, was expected to reap gains in the July 4 gubernatorial races, with voters disillusioned by escalating narco-violence under the hardline policies of President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN). In fact, the PRI won nine of the 12 states that elected new governors—including Zacatecas, Tlaxcala and Aguascalientes, three states where it had been out of power for 12 years. The PRI also won municipal races in the border cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. But it lost three states where it had governed for generations—Sinaloa, Oaxaca and Puebla. In each of these three, the PRI lost to candidates fielded by an alliance of the conservative PAN and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). (Latin America News Dispatch, July 6; WSJ, July 6)
Balance of power unchanged
The PAN and PRD lost to the PRI in Aguascalientes, Tlaxcala, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas—all states where they failed to form a coalition. The PRI currently governs 19 of Mexico’s 32 states. It will retain this position after the elections, having taken three governorships from its rivals, lost three and kept six.
The states that held elections have accounted for 60% of the more than 5,000 drug-related killings registered so far this year in Mexico, as well as 37% of the country’s total population, the Excelsior newspaper reported on election day. (EFE, July 7)
Reign of terror also unchanged
As anticipated, the elections were marred by violence and intimidation. A number of polling stations did not open because scores of election workers were afraid to show up. At least one election worker was abducted in Tamaulipas. Some candidates cast ballots in body armor and flanked by private guards. Army patrols were deployed in several states to protect polling places.
In Chihuahua City, four bodies were hung on election day morning from different bridges and overpasses—a typical message from the warring drug cartels. One body was identified as that of a prison warden. (AP, July 7; LAT, July 4)
Narco-politics in Quintana Roo, Sinaloa
In the resort city of Cancún, voters passed by banners reminding them of a scandal that shook the race for governor of Quintana Roo—the arrest last month of PRD candidate Gregorio Sánchez on charges of narco-corruption that he dimissed as politically motivated. The banners read: “Greg’s Cartel—Enough of criminals in government.” They included photographs of Sánchez and other PRD candidates for state positions.
The PRI gubernatorial candidate in Sinaloa, Jesús Vizcarra, long faced allegations of ties to Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin Guzmán AKA “El Chapo”—Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord. The newspaper Reforma recently published a photograph of Vizcarra attending a party many years ago with El Chapo’s second-in-command, Ismael Zambada AKA “El Mayo”. Vizcarra, the mayor of state capital Culiacán and a distant relative of slain drug trafficker Ines Calderón, dodged questions on the campaign trail about whether Zambada is the godfather of one of his children. (AP, July 7)
Candidate assassinated in Tamualipas
On June 28, Rodolfo Torre Cantu, PRI gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas, was killed along with four of his supporters when his convoy was ambushed by hooded gunmen near Ciudad Victoria, the state capital. The PRI’s leader in Tamaulipas named Torre’s elder brother Egidio, a former Ciudad Victoria major, as his replacement. Egidio Torre won 62% of the vote—despite a low turn-out of less than 40% in Tamaulipas, presumably due to fear of violence. (Latin America News Dispatch, AP, July 6; Reuters, June 30; BBC News, June 28)