Las Americas

Party Animals


Mexico’s July 6 mid-term elections represent a crucial referendum on three years of rule by Vicente Fox, the first president to be elected from the ranks of the opposition in nearly a century, and his right-wing National Action Party (PAN). Eleven political parties, many of them newly-minted, will field thousands of candidates for local and federal office (all 500 seats in the lower house of congress and six governorships are up for grabs). Many of these candidates will be running on—or away from—their records.

Their criminal records, that is.

Indeed, Antonio Tirado opened his campaign as the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate for the sixth congressional district of Guanajuato, in a jail cell. After the local farmers’ leader announced his candidacy, Guanajuato authorities promptly packed Tirado off to the hoosegow on 1993 warrants charging auto theft and riot—in the Mexican justice system, warrants are often archived for years and pulled out of the files when they can do maximum political damage. Tirado’s supporters were driven off by heavily armed police when they tried to march on President Fox’s nearby weekend ranch in protest.

But he’s not the only lawbreaker running for office in Guanajuato. Emilio Nila, Party of Labor (PT) candidate for mayor of Silao, hawks pirate CDs on the streets of that city and is often collared by local cops when he doesn’t scoop up his merchandise and run fast enough to escape the long arm of the law.

Fox’s PAN is fond of touting its moral convictions—but its criminal convictions may be more pertinent this July 6th. At the top of the Party ladder, the Fox campaign financing scandal now dubbed “AmigoGate,” involves money laundering, perjury, and other criminal finagling but thus far, the only culprit to wind up behind bars has been a low-level Banking and Stock Market Commission functionary who apparently violated sacrosanct banking secrecy rules.

Crime runs like a red thread down the spine of Fox’s usually strait-laced party. Guerrero state PAN leader Miguel Angel Nava is currently on the lam after drunkenly plowing his car into a fiesta crowd, killing two small children, sending five to the hospital, and nearly being lynched by an inflamed mob. Also a fugitive from justice: Francisco Xavier Berganza, a second-string ranchero singing star and former PAN candidate for governor of Hidalgo who is wanted as the “intellectual author” of the kidnap-murder of a wealthy rancher to whom he allegedly owed large sums of money. When he went into hiding, the singer was once again a candidate—this time for municipal president of Tulancingo on the Democratic Convergence ticket.

The state of Mexico, the nation’s most populous and politically powerful, has been hit hard by the PAN crime wave. One local PAN congressman stands indicted for extortion, and the PANista mayor of Tultitlán, a B-actor named Antonio Ríos Granados, embezzled $70,000 from the city treasury to finance a potboiler entitled Orquídia Salvaje (Wild Orchid). The PANista was finally forced to take a leave of absence after his son was nabbed stripping cars.

Soon after, the ex-PAN mayor’s wife and daughter were kidnapped in what political enemies charged was a staged snatch. The refusal of police in nearby Atizapán to take part in the rescue of Granados’ daughter during a blazing gun battle, has invoked suspicion of complicity by authorities in that PAN-ruled city. Granados most recently contributed to public service when, despite an ever-present bevy of Playboy bunnies, he unsuccessfully ran for the Mexico state congress March 9 under the PT banner.

Atizapán, a stone’s throw from Tultitlán, is the scene of the PAN’s most notorious crime spree. Former National Action mayor Antonio Domínguez, a wealthy plastic surgeon, is now housed in a Mexico state maximum security penitentiary, charged with the contract murder of 27-year-old PANista city councilwoman, María de los Angeles Tames, who had been prying into corruption in public works contracts and drug dealing at City Hall.

On the night of September 11, 2001, a hired killer, purportedly paid $30,000 by Domínguez and his cronies, pumped five bullets into the young woman known as “Marigeli” as she stood at her front gate on a tree-lined street in that affluent enclave.

Domínguez is also under investigation for protecting world-class drug Dealers—Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the nation’s most wanted narco-lord who escaped from prison in the first weeks of the Fox administration, is thought to have done business through the Atizapán airport.

Pedro Tames, the dead councilwoman’s father and a life-long PANista, sees the death of his daughter as being emblematic of where his party has gone since Fox captured the presidency in 2000. “Elections do not change anything,” he tells reporters, “the PAN has been infected with the same contagion of corruption as the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party) that ruled Mexico for seven decades before Fox pulled off the upset of the young millennium back in 2000.

To further burnish its dark allure, the PRI was just fined a record billion pesos by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) for the mega-Pemexgate fraud in which the former ruling party swiped $110 million from the national oil corporation to finance its 2000 presidential campaign. Two oil union officials who facilitated the flimflam narrowly escaped prison because as PRI deputies they enjoyed congressional immunity, and the ex-director of Pemex, another former PRI governor, is battling extradition from Texas.

Much of the boodle itself was apparently purloined by nimble-fingered if low-level PRI officials and some of it sunk in rigged raffles in which winners were blackmailed into turning back their prizes to the party.

But the PRI is much more celebrated for mayhem than white collar crime. Recent highlights include the exploits of one Alvaro Toledano, candidate for the Mexico state congress and now the subject of an international manhunt after two of his bodyguards were found buried in a Chimalhuacán garbage field.

In that same grubby industrial city, ex-PRI candidate Guadalupe Buendía, aka “La Loba,” (The She Wolf) was finally jailed after her goons beat to death 14 members of an opposing PRI faction three years ago.

Two PRI congressional reps have been murdered gangland-style in roadside ambushes in Yucatán and Veracruz states in the past year—both killings suggest narco connections. The PRI has long been associated with narco-corruption and presidents are often accused of protecting big-time druglords—Raul Salinas, brother of the disgraced Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and now imprisoned for masterminding the murder of his former brother-in-law, still another former PRI governor, has been fingered by U.S. protected witnesses for his frequent carousing with Monterrey kingpins.

The PRI and the PAN are not the only parties with important links to the drug trade. Mexico Possible, another newly registered entity, is campaigning on a “Legalize Marijuana” platform and its banners were prominent at a recent rare public rally in defense of the much maligned herb.

Mexico Possible is also committed to promoting diversity in politics and has four gay and lesbian candidates running under its logo in provincial cities July 6th, including drag queens Glenda in Monterrey and Tehuana Mama in Juchitán, Oaxaca. The new party is under withering attack from the Catholic hierarchy for advocating condom use, homosexuality, and abortion, the endorsement of which are considered “electoral sins” in accordance with a recent manifesto being distributed by the Bishops Council.

In keeping with the crime motif, Mexico Possible has charged several Catholic bishops with electoral crimes before the IFE—the Constitution bars the Church from publicly backing or rejecting political candidates or parties.

The prevailing ambiance of rapine and malfeasance has encouraged some parties to become family owned criminal enterprises. The Mexican Green Environmental Party (PVEM) rode to power with Fox and the PAN but now cohabitates with the PRI. The party, which has little to do with the environment and whose most meaningful relation to green is the color of money, is run by the González Torres family. The González Torres’ have received vast subsidies from the IFE since the PVEM first won a handful of seats in congress six years ago. But as a close-knit criminal conspiracy, the Party of the Nationalist Society (PSN), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Riojas family, is even more streamlined. Its three seats in Congress, won by embedding itself in the 2000 PRD coalition behind Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, are occupied by Gustavo Riojas, his wife, and his sister—his son is listed as suplente (substitute). Ten other members of the Riojas family are reportedly on the payroll of the party which, it is conjectured, has no other members outside of the immediate family.

Since 2000, the PSN has received nearly $5 million from the IFE, which a recent daily Reforma expose revealed had been invested in a fleet of BMWs and Jaguars, frequent junkets to Miami’s South Beach, and a luxury home in the hills of southern Mexico City.

Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Author/activist/poet/correspondent John Ross will participate in the Occupied Territories for Palestine Freedom Summer in response to a call by the International Solidarity Movement for the presence of older, Jewish activists.