Mexico’s June 4 elections have demonstrated once again that the country’s political system is unable to adequately filter out candidates whose questionable pasts should be disqualifying.
The centerpiece of election day was the Mexico State governor’s race, which Alfredo del Mazo won by a three-point margin over Delfina Gómez. During the campaign, both the winner and runner-up were dogged by allegations of improper activity.
Media outlets published documents suggesting that, while serving as mayor of Texcoco, Gómez’s administration had diverted tens of millions of pesos from a public employee pension fund to the brother of the city’s treasurer. Gómez’s signature appears on documents purportedly authorizing the transfers. Her campaign also awarded millions of pesos in contracts to firms run by the same family, though the precise nature of the services rendered remains unclear.
Gómez, who represented the populist National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional – MORENA) party, was also the subject of unsubstantiated allegations that she had ties to drug trafficking. Gómez denied the allegations, which originated in narco banners hung in Texcoco, calling them part of a dirty counter-campaign.
For his part, Del Mazo — a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI) and a cousin of President Enrique Peña Nieto — faced allegations that while serving as the mayor of Huixquilucan, from 2009 to 2012, his administration allowed prominent traffickers linked to the Beltrán Leyva organization to operate there. These allegedly included Gerardo Álvarez Vázquez, alias “El Indio,” and José Jorge Balderas Garza, an associate of jailed Beltrán Leyva leader Édgar Valdes Villarreal, alias “La Barbie,” best known for shooting soccer star Salvador Cabañas in 2010.
The chages allegations against del Mazo are perhaps less personally damning then those against Gómez, as they implied a lack of capacity more than corruption. Both capos were arrested in Huixquilucan under del Mazo’s watch, and his tenure coincided with a sharp increase in violence in his city — a trend that generally reflects conflict among crime groups rather than the consolidation of power by one organization. In 2008, the year prior to del Mazo’s election, the city witnessed 12 murders; three years later, the total had more than tripled, part of a sustained increase that still has not subsided.
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The candidates in other races for governor also had troubling indications of criminal support. In early May, a recording was published on Facebook of a purported phone call between the father and ex-wife of Nayarit’s new Governor-elect Antonio Echeverría, in which they referred to him seeking drug traffickers’ support to finance his campaign. The apparent disclosures of the phone call were never substantiated, and Echeverría, supported by the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional – PAN) and the Democratic Revolution Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático – PRD), nonetheless won his election by a wide margin.
One likely reason is that his closest competitors, Manuel Cota of the PRI and independent candidate Hilario Ramírez Villanueva, also have suspicious backgrounds. Ramírez Villanueva has admitted to stealing from public funds (“but only a little” in his telling) while serving as mayor of the coastal town of San Blas. There are also reports that all three candidates were among the officials who were protected by a Nayarit prosecutor, Edgar Veytia, who is in US custody and is the subject of an indictment for drug trafficking in New York.
In both Mexico State and Nayarit, the leading candidates had credible and longstanding ties to corruption scandals, including those involving organized crime. This reflects a near-total breakdown of the processes through which dirty politicians and failed incumbent parties should be punished. Instead, they have been rewarded at the ballot box.
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Sunday’s contests were not the first time candidates with worrying ties to corruption and organized crime have been politically successful in Mexico. To take but one example, Rubén Moreira won the governor’s post in Coahuila in 2011 despite damning evidence that Humberto Moreira — his brother, predecessor, and chief sponsor — had cut deals with the Zetas and enabled staffers to embezzle tens of millions from state coffers.
Such examples feed a widespread lack of trust in the political system among the entire Mexican population. This is evident in public opinion polls; according to a recent survey by the firm Buendía y Laredo measuring public confidence in different institutions, political parties came in dead last, with 84 percent of respondents expressing little or no confidence in them. Mexico’s high voter abstention rates — more than 50 percent in many elections — also reflect this disconnect between voter needs and what political parties’ are offering.
The fault lies less with voters than with the political class, whose leaders have proven incapable of establishing a standard by which prior associations with scandal prevent candidacy for higher office. This failure essentially sanctions a certain amount of association between politicians and criminal elements, which further degrades the credibility of the political system.
Worse yet, false accusations of criminal associations have become a standard political campaign tactic. In the 2016 campaigns, doctored photos of an armed group supposedly operating on behalf of victorious gubernatorial candidate Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca circulated in Tamaulipas. The originals were unrelated photos of vigilante groups in Michoacán.
During the same campaign, the eventual winner of the Quintana Roo governor’s race, Carlos Joaquín González, was accused of links to drug trafficking after being photographed alongside the leader of a hotel trade group. The same individual had appeared in photos alongside a wide range of Mexican leaders, including President Peña Nieto, and the drug allegations against Joaquín were never substantiated.
The frequency of unfounded allegations undermines the credibility of all such accusations, both the fact-based and the fantastical alike, and it reduces the ability of even well-informed citizens to distinguish between honest politicians and their corrupt counterparts. Put another way, if every politician is dirty, then there is little to uniquely disqualifying about apparently corrupt figures like Humberto Moreira.
This unfortunate dynamic, which shows little sign of improvement, leaves Mexico’s political system without the moral authority needed to lead the fight against organized crime. It renders civil society suspicious of the motives of elected officials at all levels, thereby complicating cooperation that is vital part of any successful public security strategy.
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