This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Crime, politics, and three bullets in the head

Salvatore Mancuso, a paramilitary chief in Colombia, famously claimed control over a third of the Colombian Congress after the 2002 legislative elections. The truth behind this statement continues to unfold even today as more and more Colombian politicians on the national level fall to the so-called para-politico scandal. Colombian paramilitaries across the country were able to extended their reach to national politicians because prior to 2002 they completely controlled politics on a state and municipal level in many of Colombia’s departments.

Violence leading up to elections is the best evidence of the fact that organized crime has a hand in political matters, and while the recent municipal elections in Colombia were not as violent as those of the past, it remains a fact that former paramilitary leaders still control some municipalities in Colombia.

Observing this pattern across the region, there is a striking similarity between Colombia and Mexico.

Mexico is ruled by three political parties. The PAN, represented by the president, Felipe Calderón, has a strong presence in the Congress. The PRD occupies the second-most seats on the national level and sits as the main opposition party. And then there’s the PRI – a political party that holds relatively little sway on the national level but controls nearly all of the Mexican states from the governor down to literally hundreds of municipalities.

These states include: Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Durango, Veracruz, , Quintana Roo, and Yucatan among others. The states listed here, however, are arguably those most afflicted by Mexican organized crime.

Focusing on Tamaulipas, considered the head quarters of the Mexican drug trafficking organization known as the Gulf Cartel, we see that violence surrounding elections denotes a heavy presence of organized crime in local and state-level politics.

On 29 November, men in a Suburban, a Jeep Cherokee, and a pickup opened fire on the recently elected president of the border-town municipality of Rio Bravo, Antonio Guajardo Anzaldúa, who was exiting his offices with a federal police escort. After the rain of bullets, one of the attackers calmly opened the door of his pickup, walked over to Guajardo, and shot him three times in the head.

Later that day, a main Tamaulipas-state newspaper received a call from the Gulf Cartel, warning that when reporting the news of Guajardo’s death the reporters should be careful with that they print, according to Mexico’s El Proceso magazine.

Guajardo was a member of the Workers’ Party, part of the coalition formed by the PRD. He was a relatively unimportant politician in the grand scheme of Mexican politics, but he had information on PRI politicians in Tamaulipas that he insisted on using to denounce the presence of organized crime in state and municipal politics.

During his campaign, Guajardo focused on blowing the whistle on any and all PRI politicians or political appointees who had connections to the Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas. He denounced the state’s governor, Eugenio Hernández Flores, as an accomplice of the Gulf Cartel. He denounced Servando López Moreno, who won the elections in the border municipality of Miguel Alemán. López, according to Guajardo, had already appointed Juan Felipe Hinojosa, father of a well known crime boss Carlos Hinjosa, as the municipality’s treasurer. And the list goes on, too long to share with you here.

Guajardo’s death and the following cover up underline the close relationship between organized crime and PRI politicians in Tamaulipas. But what about other states and other municipalities where organized crime likely controls politics as much as it does in Tamaulipas?

Consider that the PRI controls governorships and municipalities in just about every state where organized crime is a principle problem and you’ll get a sense of the possible depths of corruption Calderón must tackle as he fights to remove organized crime from his country.

Eventually we may see the day when an organized criminal boss declares that he controls a third of the Mexican Congress. It would be a stretch to make such assumptions now, but if that day comes, many will remember when Salvatore Mancuso said the same thing in Colombia in 2002 and then proved it by telling the truth and crushing the careers of various politicians in 2007.

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