Last week, the former governor of the northern border state of Tamaulipas, Tomas Yarrington, denied allegations that he took money from the Gulf and Zetas drug cartels and, through a spider’s web of co-conspirators and bagmen, bought real estate and built front companies in Texas and Mexico, assets that are being sought by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement.
“It is false that I took bribes, it is false that I protected criminals, it is false that I laundered money for the narcos,” said Yarrington, who is under investigation in Mexico and is named in civil proceedings in the United States but has not been charged with any crime.
Yarrington was an important leader — and now a symbol — of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose telegenic standard-bearer, Enrique Peña Nieto, is the front-runner in the July 1 presidential election.
The PRI ruled Mexico for more than 70 years, a one-party, sometimes ruthless autocracy that gave with one hand but took with the other. The question that looms over this election: Does Peña Nieto represent the old PRI, notorious for bureaucratic corruption, crony capitalism and alleged pacts with drug smugglers, or the new PRI, modern, transparent, effective and (relatively) clean?
Peña Nieto, a former governor, is leading most polls by double digits, ahead of rivals Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling party and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the left, who narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election to Felipe Calderon and maintains that it was stolen.
Yarrington says he is a victim of the dark arts, a political persecution orchestrated by supporters of Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN, to hurt Peña Nieto and help Vazquez Mota by reminding voters, at this crucial juncture, what the PRI has represented.
Seeking to limit any damage, the PRI threw Yarrington out of the party last month.
Many here assume it is possible that Yarrington and other top officials in Tamaulipas are being pursued because there is solid evidence of ties to the powerful Gulf cartel and its allies-turned-vicious-foes the Zetas, who post videos of torture sessions, hang women’s bodies from bridges and dump the headless torsos of hundreds of victims on the streets in macabre displays of violence.
“The question we are asking ourselves is: What if both things are true at the same time? That the Tamaulipas government has been controlled by the narcos? And that the Calderon government is using this case, at this point in time, to hurt its rivals?” said Lorenzo Meyer, a political analyst and professor at the College of Mexico.