Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a top member of Mexico's ruling party, was declared missing over the weekend after authorities found his car with 'signs of violence.' It comes as drug cartels are increasingly targeting top leaders.
The case has rocked Mexico, with President Felipe Calderon saying he is closely monitoring the investigation into the disappearance. Calderon delayed his trip to Spain trying to analyze and figure out what to do with the disappearance of Diego Fernandez Cevallos who has been missing since Friday under suspicious circumstances. His car was found near his ranch in the state of Queretaro with his belongings inside and “signs of violence.
A former presidential candidate in Mexico and prominent member of President Felipe Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) was declared missing over the weekend, which could be the latest escalation of violence by drug traffickers.
Calderón called Fernandez de Cevallos “a key politician in the Mexican democratic transition.”
Before leaving on his trip Calderon ordered his security cabinet to provide all support needed to locate the former presidential candidate.
That is how Calderon left from the hangar in Los Pinos while reading his directive to six of his closest political advisors that circled him before boarding his plane. Prior to that there were wide speculation that Calderon might cancel his trip. Claderon had been in constant contact with his cabinet secretaries of security along with families of the missing politician.
Meanwhile the traces of blood found on the vehicle where Diego had been travelling on prior to his disappearance was linked to Diego. This suggests that Diego was injured in some way, but many questions remain unanswered. Did he resist his captors?
If this was a kidnapping by the drug cartels, it marks a major escalation in the crimes against political figures although there have been many recently. It seems like polticians have come under the sights of organize crime. Politicians have voiced concerns about intimidation in other parts of the country, especially as 10 states gear up for races this July. There is no doubt that the influence of organized crime on politics has been increasing in recent months.
The violence is intensifying fear that Mexico's drug cartels could control July 4 local elections in 10 states by supporting candidates who cooperate with organized crime and killing or intimidating those who don't.
Nowhere has the intimidation been worse than in the border state of Tamaulipas, where Mexican soldiers are trying to control an intensifying turf battle between the Gulf cartel and its former ally, the Zetas gang.
"Organized crime wants to have total control over local elections," said Carlos Alberto Perez, a federal lawmaker for Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN).
The election climate highlights how difficult it is to stop drug gangs from controlling Mexican elections, because the influence doesn't normally appear as campaign contributions.
The federal government makes it difficult to for drug money to infiltrate national and local campaigns with lavish public financing, free television and radio ads, and tight restrictions on private donations. No candidate has been charged with receiving donations from drug traffickers since Calderon took office in 2006.
Instead, candidates have rumored ties to cartels that predate their campaigns and that benefit their businesses or private lives in a country that bans consecutive terms.
Such ties are hard to prove.
When 12 mayors from President Felipe Calderon's home state of Michoacan were arrested on charges of protecting the La Familia cartel last year, all but two were released for lack of evidence — a blow to Calderon's attack on political corruption.
"There is no way in Mexico to control this," said Manuel Clouthier, a PAN congressman representing Sinaloa, where he says it's an open secret that drug money controls much of the politics in his state. "This supervision of funding is just another sham."
In Tamaulipas, PAN leaders have complained publicly for weeks that their candidates were getting death threats.
Yes Calderon has condemned Guajardo's assassination. Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez-Mont said Friday that the government has provided security in appropriate cases — but in discreet ways that won't interfere with the candidate's political activities.
Last week, assailants torched the home of Martha Porras, who had been seeking the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party nomination for mayor of Nuevo Laredo, a city across from Laredo, Texas. She and several of her relatives have disappeared, though police haven't said if she was kidnapped or fled.
The PAN has been unable to field candidates in three Tamaulipas towns run by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years before losing the presidency in 2000. It still controls many states, including Tamaulipas.
The PRD says its party members are too scared to run in the same three towns, but the PRI hasn't had trouble fielding candidates there.
"In Tamaulipas, it has been very difficult for us to persuade citizens to be candidates for mayor, deputy mayors and legislators because they are constantly being threatened," PRD national leader Jesus Ortega said in a recent interview with Milenio newspaper. "It seems the only ones who are acceptable are from the PRI."
PRI leaders dismiss allegations that the party is in bed with organized crime, saying it is a tired tactic that opponents dredge up every election.
The PRI gained seats in congressional elections last year amid discontent with a flagging economy and surging gang violence. Calderon's 3-year-old crackdown on drug cartels has claimed more than 22,700 lives.
This year, the PAN and the PRD have formed uncomfortable alliances in the hopes of unseating the PRI in several gubernatorial races.
One of those states is Sinaloa, a stronghold of the powerful cartel by the same name.
In December, the newspaper Reforma published a photograph of the PRI gubernatorial candidate Jesus Vizcarra attending a party many years ago with a man identified as Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, the No. 2 leader of the Sinaloa cartel.
In a phone interview, Senovio Ruiz, the head of the PRI in Sinaloa, insisted that Vizcarra had no ties to drug cartels. He said the allegations are "part of the media campaign" against the candidate, who is the mayor of the state capital of Culiacan.
Ruiz refused to comment on the Reforma photograph.
Clouthier, who has angered his party by openly criticizing Calderon's drug war strategy, said little has been done to prevent drug money from reaching political interests.
"Narco-politics goes back many years," Clouthier said. "It's looking for its coronation in these elections."