My level of optimism about Mexico fluctuates. Sometimes I’m hopeful. Today, not so much, because of this Reuters piece:
Analysis: Drug gang menace overshadows Mexican election
… As the campaign to pick a new president on July 1 formally begins on Friday, many fear the election will highlight the growing threat of the gangs.
Calderon, who cannot run for a second term, has hailed the capture or death of some senior drug traffickers but the menace of the cartels looms larger than ever in the Mexican public consciousness, and electoral authorities are offering unprecedented levels of protection for candidates.
In northern Mexico the situation is particularly acute, said Eduardo Arguijo, a senior official in the leftist opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in Nuevo Leon state.
“In this area, things are in a really bad way,” he said, referring to the northern part of the state. “There are no mayors, there are no doctors in hospitals, there are no police because of it, because of the fear.”
He said threats had already forced local PRD candidates to quit in some 20 municipalities in the area, which has been ravaged by one of Mexico’s most brutal drug gangs, the Zetas.
There’s no competition here, they (the gangs) are only letting one party in,” he said, referring to the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for most of the past century and is favored to return to power.
That suggests that the cartels have decided that they want the PRI to win because they expect its candidates to continue its traditional approach of letting the cartels do their thing unmolested so long as they pay their bribes on time and leave civilians alone. This goes beyond Stalin’s maxim that it doesn’t matter who votes, it matters who counts the votes; by ensuring that their preferred candidate is the only one in the race, it doesn’t even matter who counts the votes since there’s only one possible outcome.
William & Mary professor George Grayson (a board member of mine, if it matters) makes the point that it’s not really the national candidates the cartels care about:
“All narcotics is local,” he said, borrowing from a phrase on politics coined by Tip O’Neill, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
To keep supply routes under their control, traffickers are expected to focus on pressuring local officials rather than national power brokers who have few ties to their terrain.
A Reuters survey of 17 security experts and political analysts found that two thirds believed drug gangs were more likely to meddle in the electoral process or attack candidates than in 2006. None took the view that the risks had diminished.
Nearly all the experts felt that town mayors and regional politicians would bear the brunt of the threat in the many local, state and federal elections taking place in July.
On the other hand, the cartels operate with such impunity, the outcome of the election may not matter that much to them:
“They’re impervious right now,” Rodolfo de la Garza, a political scientist at Columbia University, said of the gangs. “If they influence the outcome of the election, they get to do what they want. If they don’t influence it, they get to do what they want. I don’t think they believe anybody can beat them.”