Dallas Morning News
As reported in Borderland Beat yesterday gunmen assassinated the front-running candidate for governor of a Mexican border state Monday in what President Felipe Calderon called an attempt by drug gangs to sway local and state elections this weekend.
The assailants ambushed Rodolfo Torre's vehicle as he headed to a campaign event near Ciudad Victoria, capital of Tamaulipas, a state torn by a turf battle between two rival drug cartels. At least four other people traveling with him were killed.
The slayings of Torre underscored what analysts and officials on both sides of the border said was the pervasive influence of criminal organization and their determination to decide the outcome of who governs Mexico.
In a country faced with so many deaths that it often appears stoic, the killing of Torre drew widespread condemnation from all political parties and from officials on both sides of the border amid fresh fears that the violence in Mexico is threatening the democratic process.
"Today has proven that organized crime is a permanent threat and that we should close ranks to confront it and avoid more actions like the cowardly assassination that today has shaken the country," Calderon said in a televised speech. "We cannot and should not permit crime to impose its will or its perverse rules."
He warned that organized crime "wants to interfere in the decisions of citizens and in electoral processes."
Torre, of Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is the first gubernatorial candidate assassinated in Mexico in recent memory. He is the highest-ranking candidate killed since Luis Donaldo Colosio, also for the PRI, was gunned down while running for president in 1994.
The attack was the biggest setback yet for Sunday's elections in 12 states. Corruption scandals, threats and attacks on politicians have raised fears for months that Mexico's powerful drug cartels are buying off candidates they support and intimidating those they oppose.
Last month, gunmen killed Jose Guajardo Varela, a candidate for mayor of the Tamaulipas town of Valle Hermoso. Guajardo, of Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, had received warnings to drop his campaign.
Several parties, including the PAN, had said they could not find anyone to run for mayor in some towns in Tamaulipas and other border states because of drug gang intimidation.
In the worst corruption scandal of the election, Cancun mayor Gregorio Sanchez was arrested last month for alleged drug trafficking ties, forcing him to drop his campaign for governor of Quintana Roo state. Sanchez was charged with protecting two of Mexico's most brutal drug gangs, allegations he has dismissed as politically motivated.
Calderon's government did not say which gang was suspected in Torre's assassination or why he would be targeted.
Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, has become a battleground between the Gulf cartel and its former ally, the Zetas gang of hit men. Gangs have staged bold attacks on security forces, ambushing army patrols and setting up blockades near army garrisons.
The PAN said it would suspend campaigning by its own gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas, but PAN party leader Cesar Nava said he hoped the vote would go forward.
Torre, 46, held a significant lead in polls as candidate for a coalition comprising two small parties and the PRI, which has long governed Tamaulipas.
"We firmly demand a rapid investigation of these events ... and punishment for those responsible," PRI party leader Beatriz Paredes said in a statement. "Nothing is going to intimidate us."
The PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years before losing the presidency in 2000, is hoping that a strong showing in Sunday's elections will put it on the path to regain the presidency in 2012.
The conservative PAN has formed uncomfortable alliances with the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party to oust the PRI from several states, though not in Tamaulipas. PAN and PRD politicians have insinuated that PRI politicians in Tamaulipas and other states have ties to drug gangs, allegations the PRI dismisses as tired campaign tactics.
Torre, a physician, had served as the state's health secretary from 2005 to 2009. He was married and had three teenage children.
Cartels shaping the electoral process
Source: Dallas Morning News
A U.S. law intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the killing of Torre marks a new chapter and represents a darker and more imminent threat to Mexico in which politicians will increasingly be targeted.
"Targeting politicians in Mexico is not new, but this is a disturbing sign that this will happen on a more systematic level," said the official, explaining that the killing indicates that the interest of criminal groups goes beyond controlling drug distribution routes and now includes control or influence of key states such as Tamaulipas.
"This will only create more anxiety among politicians. It will affect Mexico's entire political system," as the violence is expected to escalate between members of organized crime wanting to cement their influence in key states.
"This signals that things are going to get considerably worse before they get better," said Douglas Farah, a Washington-based security consultant and former journalist who covered Colombia's bloody war for several years. "That's sad for Mexico. Because once this cycle starts it's really hard to stop before more damage is inflicted."
Mexico, which holds elections across the country for local and state office, has already recorded one of the bloodiest electoral cycles. Several candidates have pulled out of races. The anxiety is especially felt in the states of Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, the central state of Michoacan and Hidalgo.
Tamaulipas and Chihuahua, both bordering Texas, have been particularly bloody. Last May, a mayoral candidate in Villa Hermosa in Tamaulipas was gunned down. Campaign workers in Chihuahua and Sinaloa have also been targeted.
Unlike other years, campaigns have also been toned down. Campaigns end early and seem lackluster. Speeches end before sun sets and campaign workers stay away from politicking after darkness. The sense of uncertainty is expected to keep voters away from polls on Sunday.
Mexico's peso slumps on political killing
Mexico's peso sank on Monday as investors were spooked by news of the killing of a candidate for governor in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which has been rocked by drug-related violence.
The Mexican currency MXN=MEX01 shed 0.46 percent to 12.71 per U.S. dollar.
Rodolfo Torre, from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was favored to win the July 4 vote for Tamaulipas governor. He was ambushed on his way to the local airport in Ciudad Victoria, local police said. Four people from Torre's election campaign were killed in the attack, Mexican media said. [ID:nN28263932]
"This has a lot of importance since he was ahead in the polls," said Alfredo Puig, a trader at brokerage Vector in Mexico City.
While drug-related violence has been rising steadily in Mexico, markets have usually brushed off news of bloody gangland street battles and assassinations. But traders and analysts said the political killing marked a new level of concern.
"It is the political level that it is reaching that is the worry," Daniela Blancas, a currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Mexico City.
"We have heard of violence before in lower levels of government, but not directly a candidate (for governor), which could make the markets more nervous about the news," Blancas added.
Brazil's real was slightly weaker after a weekend G20 summit failed to reassure investors over the pace of the global economic recovery.
The bid quote for the Brazilian real (BRBY) was 0.17 percent weaker at 1.781 reais per U.S. dollar on the local spot market in early trading. The spot market closed at 1330 (1630 GMT) due to the World Cup game against Chile.
World leaders agreed to take different paths to cutting their budget deficits, highlighting the uneven and fragile nature of the world's recovery from the financial crisis. For details, see [ID:nN26228300]
But volume was light across the region as Brazilians rushed home to watch the World Cup soccer game against Chile and Chileans took the day off for a religious holiday.