Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mexico's PRI Party Faces Corruption Claims, Protests as Election Approaches

The PRI party, which held Mexico’s presidency for seven decades ending in 2000, says it will suspend a former governor accused of taking bribes from drug cartels, in an effort to assuage concerns that its return to power would mean a return to cooperation with criminal groups.

From 1999 to 2004, Tomas Yarrington was governor of border state Tamaulipas, one of the parts of the country worst hit by drug violence in recent years. In January this year, there were reports that he along with the two other most recent Tamaulipas governors, all members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) , were under investigation by Mexico’s attorney general for taking bribes from cartels.  In February, US federal documents accused Yarrington of accepting millions from the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, as the LA Times reported.

On Tuesday, US prosecutors moved to confiscate more than $7 million in property owned by the former governor or his associates in Texas, which they say were purchased with drug money. The following day, the PRI announced it was suspending his membership until the accusations were resolved, reports the AP. Yarrington denies the accusations, and has claimed that he does not own the properties in question,reports the AP.

The PRI is especially sensitive to such allegations as it has a good chance of winning back power in the July presidential elections. Its candidate Enrique Peña Nieto iscurrently leading in the polls, with 46 percent against 26 percent for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and 24.6 percent for Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party (PAN).

As the LA Times put it, the PRI “hopes to ride back to power behind its handsome young presidential candidate and a rejuvenated image.” However, the photogenic Peña is dogged by the questionable past of his party. Mexico’s drug trafficking industry grew to its present size and power under the PRI, which is widely considered to have cooperated with and turned a blind eye to the cartels. “This was not just a case of insufficiently robust policy or negligent law enforcement, but of deep-rooted political corruption,” according to InSight Crime.

Peña recently released a 10-point plan promising to respect civil liberties, in an effort to placate critics who say the party remains oppressive and corrupt. This has not quieted protests against the party. University students across the country are holding demonstrations claiming that the country’s two biggest television networks are working to get the PRI back into power. Thousands marched through Mexico City on Wednesday, with smaller simultaneous marches in cities across the country, reports the Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal says that the marches “signal the first apparent threat to [Peña's] expected victory during an otherwise muted campaign.”

The protesters are angry about the election coverage of Televisa and TV Azteca, which control broadcasts to 95 percent of Mexican homes. Peña is married to a Televisa soap opera star, reports the WSJ, and “During the PRI's long run in power, Televisa largely acted as the party's propaganda arm.”

The protesters have complained about TV Azteca’s decision not to broadcast some presidential debates, which are considered a weak point for Peña. Meanwhile, reports by Televisa have suggested the protests were organized by Peña’s nearest rival, Lopez Obrador.

Peña is trying to distance himself from his party’s past. As InSight Crime notes, he has “repeatedly rejected any talk of a pact with organized crime, and has made a series of appearances in the US in which he essentially promised a continuation of [President Felipe] Calderon's direct combat of organized crime.”

News Briefs

  • Barack Obama has a strong lead over Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney among Latino voters, at 61 to 27 percent, reports NBC. This may be more to do with the Republicans’ wilful disregard for this demographic group than with Obama’s policies, as noted on previous posts. The NYT hosts a debate on securing the Hispanic vote, with one ex-government official commenting “While Romney may favor 'self-deportation,' Obama has actually deported more illegal immigrants than any president in history.”
  • The NYT has a story on Honduras’ Mosquito Coast, the site of a DEA-supported drug raid earlier this month which left four dead. Damien Cave reports that some residents of the remote village of Ahuas burnt down the houses of their neighbors after the raid in retaliation against those working with drug traffickers. In Gracias a Dios, the province where Ahuas is located, “most live in villages accessible only by boat or plane, scratching out subsistence lives … Government is essentially absent.” Unloading drug flights provides much-needed work for residents.
  • The Washington Post reports that the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel are “engaged in all-out war, and the most spectacular battles are being fought for the cameras,” with many victims likely innocent unconnected with the drug trade. The Post says that the drug gangs are seeking to outdo each other by leaving piles of headless bodies in public locations, in what the authorities call a “gruesome version of text messaging.”
  • Guatemalan ex-military leader Efrain Rios Montt is set to face a second trial for genocide over the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. A judge ruled Monday that Rios, could stand trial over the killings, despite his lawyers’ argument that he was not present when they took place. The decision was met with applause from the families of victims who were in the courtroom, reports the BBC. The 85-year-old is facing further genocide charges, placed against him in January.
  • An Argentine judge said that an explosive device found in a Buenos Aires theater, where Colombian ex-President Alvaro Uribe was due to be attending a function, was only a noise bomb designed to make a loud explosion, and would not have caused injuries, reports Reuters.
  • As expected, Secret Service Director Mark J. Sullivan told Congress that agents’ use of prostitutes in Cartagena before the Conference of the Americas had not caused a security breach. He maintained that it did not point to a systemic issue in the service, blaming “the environment” in Cartagena for the agents doing “dumb things,” as the NYT reports.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics takes a look at newly appointed police chief Juan Carlos "El Tigre" Bonilla Valladares, who it says has been accused of being a member of "Los Magnificos," a group of former and current police officers which carried out an assassination campaign against Honduran youths. It points to a profile of Bonilla by El Faro, also available in English via InSight Crime. “El Tigre is a colossal, fat man, almost 1.9 meters tall, with a hard face, as if it were sculpted out of rock, which reminds you of the Mexican Olmec heads. Among his colleagues he is famed for his bravery, and he likes to be known in this way. ‘Everyone knows you don’t mess with me,’ he says often.”
  • Mexican authorities have arrested a suspect in the killing of Bradley Roland Will, a US journalists shot dead while covering protests in Oaxaca, southern Mexico,reports the NYT. There is no evidence yet linking the arrested man to government agents or to the protesters, according to the report.
  • A gunfight in a prison in the northern Mexico state of Tamaulipas has left three inmates dead and six wounded, reports the AP.
  • The LA Times reports on an economic boom in Brazil's historically poor northeast.
  • Sao Paulo transport workers on the metro and commuter train network went on strike yesterday, paralyzing the city and backed up 155 miles of roads, which the AP said sparked a “new round of anger at the government’s failure to invest in infrastructure.”

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