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Drug wars’ influence on elections growing

MEXICO CITY – One candidate was gunned down with his son inside his business. Another is missing after assailants torched her home. In some towns near the U.S. border, parties can’t find anyone to run for mayor.

The violence is intensifying fear that Mexico’s drug cartels could control July 4 local elections in 10 states by supporting candidates who cooperate with organized crime and killing or intimidating those who don’t.

Nowhere has the intimidation been worse than in the border state of Tamaulipas, where Mexican soldiers are trying to control an intensifying turf battle between the Gulf cartel and its former ally, the Zetas gang.

Gunmen burst into the farm supplies business of Jose Guajardo Varela on Thursday and killed him and his son, after he ignored warnings to drop his bid for mayor of Valle Hermosa, a town about 30 miles south of Brownsville, Texas.

Last week, assailants torched the home of Martha Porras, who had been seeking the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party nomination for mayor of Nuevo Laredo, a city across from Laredo, Texas. She and several of her relatives have disappeared, though police haven’t said if she was kidnapped or fled.

“Organized crime wants to have total control over local elections,” said Carlos Alberto Perez, a federal lawmaker for President Felipe Calderon’s conservative National Action Party, known as the PAN.

The election climate highlights how difficult it is to stop drug gangs from controlling Mexican elections, because the influence doesn’t normally appear as campaign contributions.

The federal government makes it difficult for drug money to infiltrate national and local campaigns with lavish public financing, free television and radio ads, and tight restrictions on private donations. No candidate has been charged with receiving donations from drug traffickers since Calderon took office in 2006.

Instead, candidates have rumored ties to cartels that predate their campaigns and that benefit their businesses or private lives in a country that bans consecutive terms.

Such ties are hard to prove.

When 12 mayors from Calderon’s home state of Michoacan were arrested on charges of protecting the La Familia cartel last year, all but two were released for lack of evidence – a blow to Calderon’s attack on political corruption.

“There is no way in Mexico to control this,” said Manuel Clouthier, a PAN congressman representing Sinaloa, where he says it’s an open secret that drug money controls much of the politics in his state.


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