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Mexican drug traffickers undermine elections

Dozens of candidates in the state of Michoacan drop out of their races because of threats from drug cartels.

November 14, 2011|By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times
  • Luisa Maria Calderon, sister of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, is running for governor of Michoacan state. She's flanked by the National Action Committee's national president, Gustavo Madero, left, and regional president, German Tena.
Luisa Maria Calderon, sister of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, is… (Alfredo Estrella, AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Mexico City — The manner in which drug traffickers have undermined Mexico's democracy was illustrated Sunday in Michoacan, home state of President Felipe Calderon and site of violent local elections.

Dozens of candidates dropped out of their races because of threats from drug-trafficking cartels. A mayor was assassinated a week before the vote as he campaigned on behalf of Calderon's sister, who is running for governor.

Luisa Maria Calderon led most polls going into Sunday's vote, and her win could serve as a morale boost for her brother's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, ahead of next year's presidential election.

But Michoacan, the state where President Calderon launched his military-led offensive against heavily armed drug cartels in December 2006, is a glaring example of the way traffickers have infiltrated the political system.

The state has long been trapped under the thumb of cartels that are the hemisphere's biggest producers and exporters of methamphetamine, organizations that also have penetrated local police forces and city halls. They frequently dictate who runs for office and who votes in elections.

German Tena, regional president of PAN, said armed men showed up at several voting booths Sunday, giving orders to people on how to cast their ballots.

A quarter of the state's voting booths had not been opened by midday, although the reasons were unclear and varied from locale to locale. Most were opened within six hours after voting started. In the Cheran municipality, elections were called off altogether, though the reason seemed to have more to do with local indigenous traditions than danger from organized crime.

"We are asking all the people of Michoacan to go out and vote in peace," Gov. Leonel Godoy said.

Godoy represents the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, which has long dominated Michoacan politics. But he has been criticized as having failed to quell the violence that is sweeping the state. The PRD's candidate in the gubernatorial race is Silvano Aureoles Conejo; running for the other party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, is Fausto Vallejo, the mayor of the state capital, Morelia.

In La Piedad, the Michoacan city where the mayor was killed this month, the local newspaper published an ad warning people against campaigning on behalf of the PAN. The newspaper added a notice that it was publishing the warning under duress.

wilkinson@latimes.com

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