Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Drug cartel politics

It's not politics as usual. Is it a threat to politics as usual? to the government? to the regime?

Mexican democracy tested by drug lords in politics
Three major political parties are campaigning in the Mexican president's home state, but it's the groups that aren't on Sunday's ballot that have everyone worried: the drug cartels.

In hilly, rural Michoacan, a state known for its avocados, marijuana and meth, the mobsters are putting Mexico's halting democracy to a test, using violence and bribes to influence elections for governor, the legislature and all 113 mayors.

While many other Mexican states have been penetrated by narco-politics, nowhere is that influence as overt as in Michoacan, where the electoral season so far has featured the kidnapping of nine pollsters, the gunning down of a mayor, and the withdrawal of at least a dozen candidates frightened off the campaign trail by organized crime.

"Organized crime is getting involved in discouraging candidates, to force (elections) with only one candidate," said Fausto Vallejo, gubernatorial candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. "And that is happening not only to the PRI, but in all the three political parties."

The stakes in Sunday's vote are heightened by the fact that President Felipe Calderon is from Michoacan, and made his home state the launch pad for his war against the drug cartels five years ago. His sister, Luisa Maria "Cocoa" Calderon, is running for governor and pledges to deepen her brother's offensive…

Federal efforts to arrest narco-politicians here in the past have been an embarrassing failure. In 2009, prosecutors ordered the arrest of 12 Michoacan mayors and 23 other state and local officials on allegations that they had protected the La Familia cartel. But by April, every one of them had been acquitted…

The remote mountain town of Arteaga is the hometown of Servando Gomez, alias "La Tuta," founder of the Knights Templar cartel, a pseudo-religious drug gang known as a major trafficker of methamphetamine. But residents here know Gomez as a former grade-school teacher and a humble man who is said to have helped people pay their medical bills.

Vallejo, the PRI candidate, says Michoacan cartels try to win over residents by casting themselves "in the social angle, like Robin Hood."

"Sometimes they will punish a guy who beats his wife," Vallejo said. "They'll tell they money lender, even 'you're charging too much, it's not fair what you're charging. And you, lime grower, pay your workers better.'"

In places like Apatzingan the cartel is so strong it has rallied hundreds of supporters to demand the withdrawal of federal police, ostensibly for abusing townspeople with unjustified shootings and searches. Some marchers painted "Templars 100 percent" on their clothing…

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