By George W. GraysonCollege of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va
Mexico’s drug cartels are flexing their muscles in the run-up to the 12 gubernatorial elections that will take place on July 4.
In the past, Los Zetas, the Beltrán Leyva Organization, La Familia Michoacana, and the Sinaloa, Gulf, Tijuana and Juárez crime syndicates concentrated their attention, wealth and hit men on mayoral contests, particularly in municipalities where they imported, grew, stored, manufactured, and trafficked drugs.
On June 26, 2009, for example, authorities arrested a dozen mayors in western Michoacán state for alleged ties to the messianic La Familia Michoacana, whose brainwashed, Bible-pounding zealots obscenely torture and viciously decapitate victims, claiming that they are carrying out “the Lord’s work.”
Ultimately, the municipal leaders won their release, largely because La Familia intimidated witnesses whose testimony was pivotal to convicting the accused.
Despite success against the Arellano Félix Organization in Baja California, the drug trade is spreading nationwide like an ink spot on a snow-white tablecloth. As a result, capos are bringing in their “goods” through more ports, roadways and air fields, increasing their number of stash houses and expanding their trade routes.
The marijuana, cocaine and heroin sold in the United States typically originates in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia before being shipped by land, air or sea through Central America and its coastal waters to its Mexican destinations.
Methamphetamines, ever more popular with California and other American consumers, frequently come from China, India, or Western Europe en route to the ports of Manzanillo, Colima, and Lazaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, on the Pacific Coast. La Familia Michoacana makes a fortune operating sophisticated mega-laboratories that convert the imported precursor chemicals into meth.
With the growth of the narcotics industry and the configuration of new and longer supply lines, Mafiosi are focusing more on state campaigns. Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz, an anti-PRI, pro-reform candidate complains of threats to her and her volunteers in Hidalgo, a New Jersey-sized state contiguous to Mexico City, and a center of activities by the vicious paramilitary Zetas.
The drug lords’ interests coincide with the emergence of governors as pivotal actors on their nation’s political stage. During the 1929-2000 period when the Institutional Revolutionary Party ran the country in Tammany Hall fashion, presidents treated state executives like bellhops. For instance, President Carlos Salinas ousted half of the 31 state leaders during his 1988-1994 tenure. Ten years ago, the center-right National Action Party (PAN) – first with Vicente Fox (2000-06) and then with incumbent Felipe Calderón – tumbled the PRI from the apex of the political pyramid.
The PRI’s fall from grace enabled governors to become virtual viceroys in their bailiwicks. They dole out cash to keep legislators in line; distribute state advertising to curry favor with the mass media; promote subsidies, low taxes and benefits to propitiate the business community; turn heaven and earth to name successors, who – it is hoped – will keep mum about past transgressions; and they either conspire with or turn a blind-eye to cartel activities.
A protected witness avers that in the last contest in Michoacán, a criminal organization contributed $155,000 (2 million pesos) to favored mayoral candidates who, if elected, received a second stipend of $15,000 (200,000 pesos) per month. The same anonymous source swore than the state’s current governor, Leonel Godoy Rangel, elected in November 2007, raked in $300,000 from each of leaders of La Familia Michoacana – a charge he vehemently denies.
To mitigate the involvement of drug pooh-bahs in selecting candidates, the PAN’s National Executive Committee chose its gubernatorial contender in Tamaulipas, headquarters to Los Zetas. It did the same with a number of its mayoral and state legislative candidates in Sinaloa, home to the infamous Sinaloa Cartel.
Two events in mid-May – the execution of PAN’s mayoral candidate in Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas – a bastion of Los Zetas and the mysterious disappearance of former PAN presidential nominee and millionaire super-lawyer, Diego “Jefe Diego” Fernández de Cevallos – will direct even more attention on the crime syndicates in weeks before the balloting.
Although the kingpins are delighted when they help elect a friend or defeat a foe, their goal is to generate an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear. In this way, they discourage citizens from registering to vote and, for those who do sign up, damp down participation on Election Day. In so doing, these mobsters demonstrate the weakness of the political regime’s ability to win a war on drugs even as they promote parallel governance – with narco big shots sharing power with elected officials at state and local levels