28 June 2010

PRI gubernatorial candidate assassinated

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas, Rodolfo Torre Cantú, was assassinated June 28 while heading for the airport in the state capital, Ciudad Victoria.

Torre was leading all the polls by a wide margin in what had become one of Mexico's most violent states over the past six months. Over that time, narcotics-trafficking cartels - supposedly an alliance of the Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoacana - had flooded the state with armed toughs to exterminate Los Zetas, the gang of rogue former soldiers that previously was the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel.

The death of a gubernatorial candidate just seven days prior to statewide elections marks the most notable political assassination in Mexico since the 1994 murder of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana. The details and motives for Colosio's death still remain firmly in the domain of conspiracies more than 16 years later.

Torre's death also marks perhaps the most significant political murder since President Felipe Calderón launched his crackdown on the drug cartels in December 2006 - or, according to Patrick Corcorcan of the Gancho Blog, at least the most significant murder since Edgar Millán, acting director of the Federal Preventive Police, was gunned down in May 2008 by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño and anti-drug prosecutor José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos died in a November 2008 plane crash mere miles from Los Pinos (the president's residence) but the incident was ruled an accident and foul play ruled out.

Violence attributed to narcotics trafficking has been rife in Tamaulipas, which borders southern Texas and covers the most northeastern parts of Mexico. Some 20 bodies were discovered in the oil town of Ciudad Madero on June 11, while neighbouring Tampico had been gripped earlier in the spring by rumors of pending massacres and violent acts. The border region has been equally bad with shootouts and cartel-sponsored blockades of major thoroughfares. Journalists in many area now avoid any coverage organized crime activities and violent acts - deaths of journalist have occurred and two reporters from the news organization Milenio were kidnapped.

The cartel influence in the region is so rampant the Economist reported that bars in Reynosa serve Zeta-brand whisky.

The violence had negatively impacted campaigns for the July 4 elections. Opposition parties reported problems finding enough candidates willing run for public office. Those holding public office encountered problems, too: Many mayors in the border region reportedly live in the Río Grande Valley of Texas with their families and only cross into Tamaulipas for work purposes.

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