Mexico’s July 4 Election – Has the Narco State Arrived?

Michael Collins

Nearly 50 candidates and public figures have been assassinated in the run up to  Mexico’s 2010 state elections.   Former presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos, major leader of the ruling PAN party, was kidnapped on May 16 and has not been heard from since.  Three days ago, Rodolfo Torre, the odds on winner for governor in the state of Tamaulipas, was murdered in a highway ambush.   Torre’s murder represents the highest ranking politician of the 50 assassinations this election cycle.

The political murders by the drug cartels are not focused on one party.  The Los Angeles Times suggested that the goal may be to create chaos and elevate the drug cartel control over the entire Mexican political system.

The Mexican drug cartels also sent a message to the United States in March when a Ciudad Jaurez U.S. Consulate worker (across from El Paso, Texas) was gunned down.  The leader of a cross border gang was just arrested.   Authorities suspect the hit was motivated by unequal distribution of U.S. visas to a rival gang.

The bottom line nature of the assault by drug lords may quickly create an environment where investment in Mexico drops quickly and significantly.  In a bulletin from a leading investment firm to clients, a consultant said:

“Continued assassinations of members and associates of the federal government threaten the rulabilily of Mexico, as the continued casualties of a partisan dirty war weaken the remaining institutions of civil society in many areas.”

When rulabilily is questioned, businesses lose investors and citizens lose their jobs.  This would only worsen an already deteriorating economy and further diminish the average citizen’s standard of living.  Half of Mexico’s 100 million people live in poverty.

The Ruling Party’s War on Drugs

Mexican President Felipe Calderón of the conservative PAN Party was elected amidst a controversy in 2006 election.  Rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador seemed headed for victory until last minute changes in election results gave the nod to Calderón.  There were charges of election fraud and three million-person-plus demonstrations in Mexico City demanding a thorough recount.  European Union and U.S. authorities endorsed the election and that was that.

Calderón was soon faced with the power of Mexican drug cartels, which began growing exponentially.  Total revenue for the nine leading cartels was estimated at grater than $30 billion for 2007.  Today it may be at three times that figure.

As income grew, the stakes of political power also expanded.  The cartels used kidnapping and murder against public officials to gain more favorable terms for their operations.  Then the cartels began killing each other and politicians bought by opposing groups.  Mexican citizens were often caught in the cross fire.

Calderón’s response was to dispatch troops to fight cartel gunmen in the streets of Mexican cities throughout the nation.  Major shoot outs became common place and accounted for a share of the estimated 22,000 deaths in Mexico’s drug war.  In the mean time, well known drug lords were treated like celebrities.

Speaking anonymously, one Mexican observer suggested the following.  If President Calderón really wanted to get at the heart of the drug problem, he could just follow Mexican television the next time they cover a drug lord wedding by helicopter.

Mexico’s army has a big lead in body count for the street confrontations over the past two years but the nation’s political system is now under unrestrained assault by the cartels.

U.S. Involvement and Stakes

As power shifts in Mexico from the ruling elite to the nouveau riche narco cartels, the implications for the U.S. are significant.  The reasons are obvious.  The shared border, the heavy trade between the nations and immigration speak to Mexico’s importance.    Previously, Mexican citizens leaving their home for the U.S. were motivated by a collapsing economy and job opportunities in the U.S.  More and more, immigrants seek escape from intimidation, injury and death at the hands of the drug lords.

The United States is faced with refugees and, at the same time, a numerically small but highly potent cross border gangs of unstrained thugs who use bribery, intimidation, and violence to work their will.

Should Mexico see a de facto takeover by the drug lords, two outcomes will be immediate.  Mexico’s economy will collapse as investors flee.  In addition, the wave of border crossings will increase out of fear and economic necessity.

The Bush and Obama administrations have stressed the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship but Mexico’s decline due to the disorder caused by drug cartels is largely an internal matter to correct.  The only assured outside intervention would be a precipitous drop in U.S. cannabis, heroin, and meth consumption.  That would cripple the cartels but it’s simply not going to happen.

What to Watch in the Mexican Elections of July 4

Will there be violence at Mexican polling places?  Will turnout go down significantly?  How many elections will be challenged?  How many will show obvious signs of election fraud.  If Election Day in Mexico is marred with controversy or produces a major drop in turnout, the cartels will have created a political vacuum that they will hasten to fill.  Image

The specific race to watch is the contest for Governor of Oaxaca.  That state has a strong people’s movement that occupied the state capitol in June 2006.  They defeated police seeking to end their demonstrations and set up their own governing organization.  In November, 2006, harsh measures were used by the central government to end the demonstration.

The protests were sparked by decades of misrule and corruption by Mexico’s PRI Party and then governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.  Corruption was rampant as was oppression.  The PRI’s campaign to carry on their decades of rule forced a coalition of parties to oppose the PRI candidate. The left leaning  PRD,  the conservative PAN party, and the minor parties unified behind Gabino Cué as their candidate.

If Cué is defeated, the belief in change by those throughout Mexico will be severely challenged.  Even if he wins, the nation will face the aftermath of President Calderón’s ruinous war on drugs and the infusion of narco influence and outright control in our most populous and important neighbor.

END

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