Nine Mexican polling company workers were released Wednesday, several days after they were apparently kidnapped in a western region plagued by drug-cartel violence.
The polling firm Parametria said its three employees were released Tuesday morning, hours after six working for Consulta Mitofsky were let go in the area near the city of Apatzingan where they disappeared.
No one has said who is responsible for seizing the nine. But Michoacan state prosecutor Jesus Montejano said the area is a stronghold of the La Familia and Knights Templar cartels.
“We believe this could be a consequence of one of the criminal groups that operate in the area,” he said in an interview with MVS radio.
Roy Campos, president of Consulta Mitofsky firm, said in the same radio interview that the six from his firm, five men and a woman, are safe and with their families. Parametria director Francisco Abundis told Milenio TV that his three workers where not threatened by their captors but are shaken up.
“We think they were waiting to identify them to make sure they weren’t people working undercover,” Abundis said of the captors.
All had returned to Mexico City by midday Wednesday and were set to give statements to authorities.
The apparent abductions raised concerns that drug violence could interfere with the state’s Nov. 13 gubernatorial election and possibly Mexico’s 2012 presidential race as well.
Abundis said all Mexican pollsters are now evaluating how to proceed with their work, given the dangers.
“Unfortunately we’ve run into a situation in which we don’t know how we’re going to be able to work,” he said. “Our options are either an information blackout or to continue working in risky situations.”
The polling firms have already decided that some parts of the country are too dangerous, including the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, where the Gulf and Zetas cartels have waged a bloody fight for turf.
“There are many places where we haven’t been for some time,” Abundis said. “The fact is that in this area, Apatzingan and La Cofradia, we had already been working there for a month or a month and half and nothing happened.”
The Mitofsky employees disappeared Saturday. The Parametria workers vanished two days later while conducting home interviews with potential voters about local mayoral and legislative races, including the mayor of Apatzingan.
Both companies said they were working on a poll commissioned by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, which currently governs Michoacan. Parametria was conducting an independent “mirror” poll that candidates and parties commission to verify the results of the original poll.
The company presidents said their employees were from Mexico City but had experience working in rural zones, which in Mexico are often plagued by political and land disputes as well as cartel violence. They said their workers go in as teams with identification and stay in constant contact with supervisors. They are accustomed to being watched and questioned by locals, they said.
The two companies had issued public appeals to anyone who might be holding the pollsters, on the chance they could have been mistaken for government agents.
Mitofsky stressed that its employees were “not part of any conflict.”
“We send a clear message to the authorities, that they cannot allow the best of our country, its people, to be prevented from working in safety and liberty,” Mitofsky said in a statement Tuesday.