Mexican Drug Cartels Threaten Elections

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 5, 2008

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 4 -- Drug cartels are trying to influence the outcomes of major elections in Mexico by kidnapping and threatening candidates, according to Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora.

The remarks by Medina Mora, released by his office Friday, underscored the Mexican government's growing willingness in recent months to acknowledge the threat drug cartels pose to the nation's fragile democracy. The problem is most severe, Medina Mora said, in the border states of Baja California and Tamaulipas, and in Michoacan, the home state of Mexican President Felipe Calder¿n.

"We have evidence, complaints from candidates who were kidnapped or intimidated, or who received threats intended to influence the results of an election and the behavior of candidates," Medina Mora told the Spanish newspaper El Pais, according to a transcript of the interview.

Medina Mora did not disclose the names of candidates who have been kidnapped.

Mexico's drug cartels have been involved in a major turf war over the past two years, sparked in part by the arrests of several top drug lords, whose rivals have tried to seize control of vulnerable trafficking routes. Medina Mora said drug killings rose from 2,350 in 2006 to 2,500 in 2007.

Medina Mora's assessment of the problem is one of the most alarming to date by a member of Calder¿n's administration. Besides trying to influence state elections, drug cartels have penetrated deeply at the municipal level, he said.

"There are municipal police forces that have collapsed, that function more as an aid to organized crime than as protection for the public," Medina Mora said.

Rumors of drug cartels trying to influence elections are rampant almost every time Mexican citizens cast ballots. But such rumors are seldom acknowledged by public officials.

"I've heard politicians deny that the narcos are involved in elections, but it's what most people who follow Mexican politics believe is happening," George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary, said in a telephone interview.

Grayson, who traveled with a group of students to observe the November governor's election in Michoacan, said Medina Mora's remarks could be interpreted as an effort by the attorney general to position himself as the public face of Mexico's battle against drug cartels. Medina Mora and other public officials, such as top military generals and Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garc¿a Luna, have been increasingly vocal about the drug fight since President Bush proposed an aid package for Mexico known as the Merida Initiative.

"There is a lot of jostling going on regarding who is going to be in charge of Mexico's so-called war on drugs," Grayson said. "The Merida Initiative is like this big pi¿ata. Different agencies are trying to position themselves to get fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters once it's struck."

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