History Podcasts

Why was Mexico's former ruling party named the *Institutional* Revolutionary Party?

Why was Mexico's former ruling party named the *Institutional* Revolutionary Party?

The party was founded in 1929, but its current name was given in 1946. What does the word institutional mean in its name?

Does it mean 'revolutionise the institutions'? Or does it mean 'the institutions are the revolution'? Or what?


"Why?" Has two different components.

  1. The intended and revealed meaning.
  2. Reason and cause.

In 1938, President Lázaro Cárdenas reorganized and renamed the party the PRM (the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana or the Party of the Mexican Revolution). The renamed and reorganized party reflected the growing importance of labor and peasant organizations and was composed of four sectors: workers, peasants, the military, and “popular organizations.” In 1946 the party received its current name, indicating the changing political priorities and economic policies of the postwar period.
- DMC: "Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)", in: Don M. Coerver Suzanne B. Pasztor, and Robert M. Buffington (Eds): "Mexico! An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Culture and History", ABC-Clio: Santa Barbara, Denver, 2004.

January 18, 1946. The PRM becomes the PRI, marking an end to military presidents.

The name alludes to, promises and claims that the revolution was and continues to be a good thing. That it was not over, but became itself an institution - and not something temporary but the very basis of society and politics, now enshrined into one party, ensuring the continuity of the achievements. In short, it means something like: this party - as an institution - is the revolution. How much of that was or is true is of course another matter. In effect, it meant the opposite, that "the revolution is over" and rollback time was ahead. But the myth of "the revolution" couldn't be touched.

The PRI was founded by former president Plutarco Elías Calles and his followers in a period of conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, rebellion in the military, and disputes with the United States. In effect, the party represented the institutionalization of the new power structure that had emerged as a result of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), a coalition of regional and local political-military bosses and labour and peasant leaders. This governing coalition sought a more conservative evolution (though often under “revolutionary” guises) and more stability in government. In the new party-state system that emerged, party control came to be concentrated in the Central Executive Committee, whose chief was selected by the president of Mexico and entrusted with the task of approving party nominees for all important elective positions in Mexico except for the presidency. The incumbent president, who under the Mexican constitution could serve only one term, selected his own successor. The Central Executive Committee became responsible for enforcing a common understanding among state and national officials and among the various groups within the party.

The PRI's establishment shifted power from political-military chieftains to state party units and to those sectors of the party representing peasants, urban labourers, and the military. President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40) enhanced the authority of the peasant wing of the party and balanced the existing party sectors with a so-called popular sector representing such disparate groups as civil servants, the professions, small businessmen, small farmers, artisans, youth, and women. The Cárdenas-led PRI government also granted asylum to Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky. In the early 1940s the party's military wing was disbanded, and its members were encouraged to join the popular sector, which became the largest in the party. Under Cárdenas's party reforms, the PRI established a large patronage system that doled out benefits to various groups in return for political support. Cárdenas also attracted support for the party by introducing land reform and nationalizing the oil industry (1930). Although the PRI could count on the enthusiastic support of large segments of the population, when necessary it used repression and, according to its critics, electoral fraud to solidify its position.
- Institutional Revolutionary Party, Encyclopaedia Britannica, (accessed 2019)

That is semantically a bit like marxist and perhaps even trotzkist "permanent revolution" but adapted under Mexican auspices to Mexican realities.

Ironically, this takes away 'the revolution' from unorganised, spontaneous upheaval from below and transforms it into an 'orderly' fashion. And just like it sounds, this ultimately betrayed the foundations of most revolutions ever so gradually until the PRI turned right-wing from 1940 onwards until firmly so in the 1980s. This political shift began exactly in 1946 with the name-change.

As President Ruiz Cortines confessed at the end of his conservative tenure in 1958, masses of Mexicans had not sufficiently benefited from the economic miracle. They did receive, however, plenty of revolutionary rhetoric - including the change in the party name to Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1946. Yet too much poverty, illiteracy, and social pain remained. One reason for this was the PRI's change in dynamics: the peasant and labor organizations had been supplanted in influence by business.
- Lynn V. Foster: "A Brief History of Mexico", Facts on File: New York, 42010.

Ever debatable how accurate Moderately left-wing in the following quote is, it highlights the pupose of the institution:

The PRI, generally considered moderately left-wing, maintained its political dominance for 68 years by weakening any resolve for a political coup by appeasing the middle and lower classes with political opportunities and favors in exchange for votes. Electoral fraud, ballot tampering, violence and bribery were also used.
- Aileen S. Yoo: "The Rise and Fall of Mexican Politics", Washington Post, August 1998.

Compared to

How the Ruling Party Brought Crisis to Mexico actually begins in the early 1950s, when the Mexican political elite resolved a perilous internecine struggle over the presidency and consolidated what the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa called “the perfect dictatorship.” For two decades it was a remarkably stable political system-no mean accomplishment in a nation not yet ready for democracy. The old Mexican regime outlived all other authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century except the Soviet Union, and although it occasionally resorted to repression, it was not a police state. The Mexican economic “miracle” of sustained, rapid economic growth was spoken of in the same terms as South Korea's economy in the 1980s or China's in the 2000s.
- Jonathan Schlefer: "Palace Politics. How the Ruling Party Brought Crisis to Mexico", University of Texas Press: Austin, 2008.

It's essential to observe that the PRI wasn't inherently left-wing to begin with:

The PRI was created by military elites clinging to power after winning the Mexican Revolution. 1928, Revolutionary leader Alvaro Obregon was assassinated. General Plutarco Elias Calles came into power, and in 1929, he created the PRI's predecessor, the National Revolutionary Party or PNR.

Historian Lorenzo Meyer said since the party's birth, it was designed to exercise the power Calles inherited. “That's how the PRI was born in 1929. The party was not born to compete for power. It already had power,” he said.

In 1934, Calles named his successor, another revolutionary General, Lazaro Cardenas. In 1938, Cardenas nationalized the oil sector, creating the state-owned oil monopoly, PEMEX. He said he did it for the benefit of the nation: “This is a clear and evident case. It obligates the Government to apply the Law of Expropriation, because they've broken labor contracts with their workers.”
- Franc Contreras: "PRI: A history of Mexico's ruling party", CGTN Amrica, June 2018.

An older account explained it

The Mexican state is a "balancing act" because it is based on a constantly renewed political bargain among several ruling groups and interests representing a broad range of ideological tendencies and social bases. To a greater degree than in most stable and mature modern states, the political bargain is at the forefront of Mexican politics and of the administrative decision-making process. The politics of daily renewal takes precedence over politics-as-usual. Those who do play politics-as-usual must be constantly aware of their interest in holding together the fragile association upon which their power is based.

In a sense, every new state represents a political bargain. Over time, the bargain is transformed into a series of institutions which, if they work, make all but the most historically minded political participant forget its original terms. The institutions, in other words, develop a life of their own.

The Mexican state is unique, however, in that it has never evolved from its original bargain into an institutionalized entity in the above sense. The bargain through which political stability was achieved in the 1930s was struck between the representatives of lower-class revolu- tionaries and middle-class revolutionaries. It was and remains an agree- ment to share power among proponents of quite different interests and constituencies. The system is held together not by institutions, but by the rigid discipline of the elites in not overstepping the bounds of the bargain. It is therefore less a set of institutionalized structures (though structures like the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI] are there to trap the unwary observer) than a complex of well-established, even ritualized, strategies and tactics appropriate to political, bureaucratic, and private interaction throughoutthe system. More than anything else, the Mexican political system is a set of ways of doing things. The mechanisms for constantly renewing the political bargain neces- sary to keep diverse elements together account for the unusual mixture of authoritarianism and negotiation observed in Mexican politics.

One may object that our characterization of Mexican politics as a clearly defined set of ways of doing things is precisely what is meant by the term institutionalization. That is true at one level. Institutions in this very general sense, however, differ widely in the degree to whicl they are structured and formalized. At one extreme are political struc tures (whether legally or constitutionally defined or not) such as legis latures, executive branches, or parties. At the other extreme are the very loose, informal institutions constituted by social conventions gov erning most (and even some of the minutest) aspects of daily life Somewhere in between are social institutions such as marriage. Mar. riage is governed and delimited by formal and legal rules, but in es sence its content is worked out and negotiated through prolonged anc intimate face-to-face interaction. Today, in the United States at least there is nothing inevitable about the maintenance of the marriag( "bargain"; its fate depends on the constant efforts and sensitivity of the partners. It is at this latter level of the meaning of institution that we shall explore the nature of the Mexican state.

Let us cite but one example of the problem confronting a formal institutional approach: Samuel Huntington uses Mexico as a major illustration of an institutionalized system that he contrasts with the praetorianism of most of the Third World.' His analysis suggests that, whereas institutionalized systems can be analyzed in terms of the adaptiveness and flexibility of their (structured) institutions (particularly political parties), praetorian systems can be understood (since they lack viable institutions) in terms of common political tactics that include direct action by social forces, corruption, and the political leaders' "sell-out" of their followers. However, some of these praetorian tactics are not only commonly used in Mexico - indeed, are "institutionalized" - but a strong argument can be made that they contribute in a very basic way to the stability of the system.'
- Susan Kaufman Purcell & John F. H. Purcell: "State and Society in Mexico: Must a Stable Polity Be Institutionalized?", 32 WORLD POL. 194 (1980).

The re-organisation took on the form of symbolism:

In early 1946, his last year in office, Ávila Camacho presided over the reorganization of the official party, which was renamed the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). The reorganization resulted in the labor, peasant, and popular sectors having a reduced role. Power was further concentrated in the hands of the president and the party's National Executive Committee. As occurred with the founding of the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) and the PRM, decisions concerning the formation of the PRI were made from the top down. In one day, the party's convention agreed on an already-drafted declaration of principles, program of action, and statutes. Ejidatarios and trade union members continued to become automatic party members.

At the time, this was hailed as a way to prevent local bosses with no commitment to democracy from perpetuating fraud. What was not mentioned was that this centralization of authority simply nationalized fraud management. As was intended by its drafters, this legislation discouraged electoral opposition. In 1946 the average number of congressional candidates per district was 5.3, while by 1949 it had declined to 2.0.

Ávila Camacho's choice of his Interior Secretary Miguel Alemán to be the first PRI presidential candidate signaled a continuation of the conservative trend in government. Alemán had resigned his governorship of Veracruz to manage Ávila Camacho's presidential campaign. In his speech accepting the PRI nomination, Alemán emphasized agricultural and industrial development. Alemán, a career civilian bureaucrat, was the first of a string of professional politicians who would dominate Mexican political life for the rest of the century.

The outlines of a new Mexican political system were clearly visible by the end of Ávila Camacho's term. He established cordial relations with the Church and the United States. Presidential power had greatly increased, accumulated on the pretext of war emergency but retained after the end of the war. The government and business began a close alliance that over the course of the next thirty years was to transform Mexico socially and economically. Foreign business interests became active participants in this alliance. Workers and peasants were left leaderless as their nominal leaders looked increasingly to the government rather than their base. Ávila Camacho and his successors, rather than admitting a change in direction, extolled economic nationalism and industrialization, all of which was cloaked in the symbolism of the Mexican Revolution.

Alemán is arguably the most important president in 20th-century Mexican history. He profoundly changed the nation's course by allying the state with moneyed interests, wooing foreign capital, accelerating industrialization, and undoing or mitigating many of the reforms promulgated by Cárdenas.
- John W. Sherman, 2000

Many welcomed Alemán as a charismatic young leader with something of a playboy image. The average age of his cabinet members, who were largely civilian university graduates like the president himself, was forty-four-the first cabinet formed by the generation that had grown up under the Revolution. Military men headed only the secretaries of national defense and navy. Alemán's rise to the presidency made it clear that the military no longer provided entry into the political establishment. Graduation from the National University and a career in government had become the route to the presidency.

The month after he was inaugurated, Alemán declared in a widely publicized speech: “Each Mexican should be a soldier in the great battle for the industrial growth of Mexico. That is the only way we can combat the high cost of living and strengthen our economic independence.”17 By 1950, the PRI had become a smoothly functioning political machine. That year the party adopted new statutes, a declaration of principles, and a plan of action. The 1,066 delegates at the PRI convention unanimously approved drafts of these documents in two days of sessions. The degree to which the PRI had become subordinated to the president was indicated by this overblown resolution passed by the 1951 General Assembly of the PRI:

We consider the political ideas expressed by President Alemán to be doctrine of such congruence, profundity, and precision that it can serve as an official source to stimulate our thinking and our will… This Assembly resolves to increase its reliance on the political thinking of MIGUEL ALEMÁN and the Party's Declaration of Principles so that they may constantly guide the Party's actions.18 Alemán forced all elements of the government to accept his ideological position. Alemán-like political clones replaced the center-left to center-right coalition that had existed under Cárdenas. During his first eight months in office, Alemán removed ten governors who were unwilling to follow his policies or who were closely associated with other strong political figures. Alemán further marginalized the military, which for the first time since the Revolution was allocated less than 10 percent of the federal budget.

Even though Alemán began his administration with a pledge to fight corruption, graft became more firmly entrenched than ever in the Mexican political system. By one estimate, during his term Alemán and his associates “plundered” $800,000,000. Lesser officials followed Alemán's example, noting: “Alemán led and we followed.”
- Philip L. Russell: "The History of Mexico. From Pre-Conquest to Present", Routledge, New York, 2010.

Overall, the shift is remarkably clear in itself, but difficult to label:

The revolutionaries who crafted programs that represented the needs and concerns of their people also demonstrated a receptivity toward foreign programs of reform that had succeeded. Revolutionary representatives traveled widely, in both official and unofficial capacities, in search of programs, institutions, and organizations that worked for the betterment of people. This openness makes Mexicans stand out among other revolutionaries of the century.

Many of the achievements of the revolution were obscured by events beginning in 1946, when a second generation of revolutionaries came to power. Renamed the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution, the party and government administration would go on to cynically practice political manipulation, engage in corrupt financial deals, and oversee repression and injustice for the rest of the century, as society experienced a growing disparity of wealth. These failures do not dismiss the successes of the revolutionary generation that successfully established a regime and carried out revolutionary policies from 1910 to 1946. The emergence of a government held responsible for positive change for ordinary citizens underpins legitimacy. The people demanded respect across the board, radical change, and positive action to make life better both in the short and long run. They demanded economic security, expressed in demands for land and village improvements, and subsequently labor protection and safety-net institutions, such as social security and public health programs. The transformation of the countryside resulted in the creation of a fluid rural population better able to contend with demands on its land and labor. For example, government credit agencies broke the monopoly of local money leaders for the first time. Those able to use the rails and new roads had much-improved economic possibilities, with the option of moving to the cities. Rural isolation gave way to national inclusion. Children learned to read and write in modest schools, beginning a process that would eventually take their children and grandchildren to secondary schools, professional institutes, and universities. Social stratification underwent fundamental changes leading to a class system, with the possibility of upward mobility. The displacement of the elites during the revolution opened political positions at the national and state level to a generation of revolutionaries, largely from the middle and lower classes. Closely coupled with social change, the revolution proudly elevated Indian Mexico to be a part of the national uniqueness. The revolutionary ideal rested on the national culture cleansed of its negative elements. Respect and pride made it possible to use nationalism to bind the republic and classes together.

The revolution did not resolve all the problems that confronted the people in 1910. Moreover it faced new problems as the nation became more industrial and moved further away from subsistence agriculture. These difficulties resulted in the challenges of the second half of the twentieth century. Typical of popular movements, the revolutionary institutions-the government and the party-that had done so much from 1910 to 1946, became the obstacles to the resolution of the new challenges from 1946 to 2000. What the revolutionary party and government became after 1946 cannot diminish the fact that a generation of everyday Mexican citizens made the world's first social revolution.

The second generation of revolutionaries came to power with the election of Miguel Alemán in 1946. These sons and daughters of the veterans of revolutionary battles had come of age in entirely different circumstances. A sweeping generalization about the generation of revolutionaries identifies their rough-hewn, self-made character. Generally they lacked much schooling and they relied on the education of practical experience and learning gained by surviving violence. Even the most successful of them retained small-town, provincial values. They had attempted to educate the young of their families and nation to be revolutionaries.

Some of the heirs of the revolutionary veterans lived the improved life that their predecessors wanted for them, although many did not. Generally the new revolutionary generation had been reared in affluence, received extensive schooling, and been encouraged into the professions. Living in large cities, many in the capital itself, they had an urban orientation with both a disregard for the countryside and an apprehension about city life that appeared in the popular arts and media. Although they knew the myths and rhetoric of their parents' achievements, once they took charge of the nation they acted - in many ways - as strangers in the land of revolution.
- William H.Beezley & Colin M. Maclachlan: "Mexicans in Revolution 1910-1946. An Introduction", University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, London, 2009.

Apart from these semantic and strategic reasons, there is also a historical contingency to observe. Late in 1945 was an election and as it corrupt as ever, some upheavals took place, most impactful in León.

With the installation of Mayor Quiróz on New Year's Day of 1946, tensions ran high. The UCL held a protest rally, not in the zócalo, but in Hidalgo Park, some three kilometers away from the central square. About two thousand people, primarily from the town, attended the rally. Colonel Pablo Cano Martínez, chief of the General Staff of the military forces in Guanajuato, personally led a force of about one hundred soldiers into Hidalgo Park. With a machine gun in hand, Cano Martínez led his troops with fixed bayonets into the crowd and broke up the demonstration; many people were beaten and wounded. In the latter stages, others were run over by the cavalry. What the government's own investigator privately described as a "scandalous show of force" resulted in the death of a pregnant woman a few days later.

That such force had been used against unarmed civilians, in defense of an illegitimate electionand against urban people at thatconvinced shopkeepers to close virtually all of the town's businesses by noon on January 2. As crowds milled around the square, leaders of the Unión Civica Leonesa tried to negotiate with the government. Pressure was also great on Dr. Quiróz to resign his post. By evening the crowd had returned, and a group of young boys, between ages twelve and sixteen, carried a coffin around the plaza with the twin signs saying "Quiróz" and "PRM." Their initiative was received warmly by the crowd. [… ]

And from there is only got worse

Clearly the government troops had acted with inexcusable violence when faced with a peaceful protest against the imposition of the official candidate over the real victor in León. There was not much of a case to be made in defense of the government, and even CTM members on the scene in León were appalled. Labor leaders like Lombardo Toledano hurt their credibility enormously by trying to rationalize away the government's behavior. So great had been the public consternation over these events that it had nearly become necessary for the government to postpone the PRM convention at which Miguel Alemán was selected to be the next president of the republic.

It is notable that the massacre in León, which approached in scale the Tlaltelolco massacre of 1968, has been forgotten to history. The taint of association with the Sinarquista tradition converted the fallen into unworthy victims. The view from the ground, in which local grievances predominated, was quickly lost in the face of official amnesia from the governing party and its media allies. It is little wonder that the PRM decided that it was a fitting moment to change its name.

The political situation was tense as a result of a series of electoral impositionsmost significantly in Monterreyand the massacre at León on January 2, 1946. The legitimacy of the PRM was being questioned more seriously than at any moment since the election of 1940. President Avila Camacho saw the spirit of wartime collaboration dissipating as his powers inevitably slipped away. Based upon his intimate daily contact with the president, Ambassador Messersmith concluded that "perhaps one of the unhappiest men in Mexico in the last half of the year has been the President of Mexico, who is really a very fine and serene, wise and constructive man."

At first the president tried to dismiss the incident as being entirely local in significance.6 However, the episode was rapidly expanding in the national consciousness. Rumor had it that the Permanent Committee of the Congress might investigate and that the PAN was already petitioning the Supreme Court to do so. The Mexican Bar Association called for justice. By coincidence, Ambassador Messersmith dined with President Avila Camacho on the very evening, January 7, on which the president implicitly accepted the illegitimate nature of the imposition in León by declaring the governorship to be vacant. Messersmith described the president as greatly relieved that he was doing the right thing in condemning his own political machine. By removing the governor and two military commanders and also by allowing the Supreme Court to send a delegation to investigate, President Avila Camacho was reining in the PRM and effectively admitting official culpability. Indeed, [newspapers] all reported rumors that the party's public relations specialists were mooting a name change for the governing PRM in an attempt to divert public rage away from candidate Alemán.

It is noteworthy that by this stage Beteta was arguing in private correspondence with U.S. diplomats that the election of Padilla would mean "the elimination of 35 years of the Mexican Revolution." This written correspondence also provided the first word to the U.S. diplomats that the events at León were behind the PRM's decision to change its name to the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

President Avila Camacho had unleashed a conservative assault upon the program of the Mexican Revolution that would continue to intensify until it became a veritable counterrevolution under his successor. Thus, it is somehow appropriate that a government that set out to change the program of the Mexican Revolution so dramatically would end its term of office by changing the name of its own party. Whatever an institutionalized revolution might be, it was clear that it would be profoundly different from the dominant currents of Cardenismo.

- Stephen R. Niblo: "Mexico in the 1940s . Modernity, Politics, and Corruption", SR Books, Wilmongton, 1999.


Profile:

The Institutional Revolutionary Party is described by some scholars as a "state party", a term which captures both the non-competitive history and character of the party itself, and the inextricable connection between the party and the Mexican nation-state for much of the 20th century. Institutionalism in Mexico is a concept that is based in the non-morphological character of consolidated human organizations, having the particular feature of belonging to its determined legal field and settled as the highest manifestation of social common issues, as well as people use to go in and outside the objective legal field. In its origins, it was determined that institutionalism would be the only way to solve social problems as humans establish their differences and common similarities. The PRI held power for 71 years…

IOW, it is "Revolutionary" as a reminder of the Mexican Revolution and it is "Institutional" because it operates in such terms as "L'état, C'est Moi" or "What's good for General Motors is good for the America" (both quotes false!) In other words, it is "Партия власти", i.e., the party whose function is not so much to express and represent certain political views but to support the state. In a way, such a party becomes a state institution. Historically, CPSU and NSDAP were other such examples (no, I do not consider PRI to be a criminal organization, unlike CPSU and NSDAP).


First, the Mexican "Revolution" (of the 1910s) was more like a civil war. It should not be confused with the Guerra por la Indepedencia (War of Independence) 1810-21, which is what Americans would call the "Revolution."

Having been the "gang" that won the (de facto) civil war, the PRI wrapped itself in the "flag" of the "revolution." The acronym refers to the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, which means "Institutional Revolution Party." In effect, the PRI named itself as the "Establishment" Party. This was to distinguish itself from its right-wing predecessor, the PRN, the National Revolutionary Party, and its left wing offshoot, the PRD, the (social) Democratic Revolutionary Party.

Put another way, the PRI is the "Bolshevik" ("big" revolutionary) party of Mexico. By thus claiming "legitimacy," it was able to hold onto power for longer than its political merits might have implied.

I lived and worked in Mexico in 1994, and attended a number of meetings led by PRI officials who explained the above to me.


Tomás Yarrington

Tomás Jesús Yarrington Ruvalcaba (Spanish pronunciation: [toˈmas xeˈsus ˈʝarinton ruβalˈkaβa] , born 7 March 1957) is a Mexican politician affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party PRI. He held office as the Mayor of Matamoros from 1993 to 1995, and the Governor of Tamaulipas from 1999 to 2005. Yarrington sought nomination for the presidential elections for the PRI in 2005.

Yarrington graduated with bachelor's degrees in economics and law from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies and the Autonomous University of Nuevo León respectively. He also received a master's degree in public administration from the University of Southern California. In 1991 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and from 1993 until 1995 he served as mayor of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Later on he headed the local branch of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, joined the cabinet of Manuel Cavazos Lerma as state secretary of finance and served as governor of Tamaulipas (1999–2004). After leaving the governorship, Yarrington entered the presidential primaries by mid-2005.

He was accused in early 2012 for laundering money for Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, after a drug cartel member was apprehended and informed the DEA that Yarringnton had ties with the leaders of the drug trafficking organizations. In addition, Yarrington was accused of plotting the assassination of Rodolfo Torre Cantú, the former candidate for state governor in Tamaulipas, along with the Gulf Cartel, which reportedly carried out the ambush that killed the politician. He was arrested in Florence, Italy, on 9 April 2017.


Why Mexico is not the new Colombia when it comes to Drug Cartels

A press member walks over signs depicting missing or dead journalists during a protest against violence in Mexico City, Aug. 7. Photo by: Marco Ugarte, Associated Press, Sept. 25, 2010.

Car bombs. Political assassinations. Battlefield-style skirmishes between soldiers and heavily armed adversaries.

Across big stretches of Mexico, deepening drug-war mayhem is challenging the authority of the state and the underpinnings of democracy. Powerful cartels in effect hold entire regions under their thumb. They extort money from businesses, meddle in politics and kill with an impunity that mocks the government's ability to impose law and order.

The slaying of a gubernatorial candidate near the Texas border this year was the most stunning example of how the narco-traffickers warp Mexican politics. Mayors are elected, often with the backing of drug lords, and then killed when they get in the way.

Journalists are targets too. After a young photographer was gunned down in Ciudad Juarez Sept. 17, his newspaper, El Diario de Juarez, issued a plaintive appeal to the cartels in a front-page editorial. "We ask you to explain what you want from us," the newspaper said. "You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling."

As the death toll from drug-related violence nears 30,000 in four years, the impression that Mexico is losing control over big chunks of territory — the northern states of Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Durango at the top of this list — is prompting comparisons with the Colombia of years past. Under the combined onslaught of drug kingpins and leftist guerrillas, the South American country appeared to be in danger of collapse.

The Colombia comparison, long fodder for parlor debates in Mexico, gained new energy this month when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the tactics of Mexican cartels looked increasingly like those of a Colombia-style "insurgency," which the U.S. helped fight with a military and social assistance program known as Plan Colombia that cost more than $7 billion.

But is Mexico the new Colombia? As the Obama administration debates what course to take on Mexico, finding the right fix depends on getting the right diagnosis.

Clinton cited the need for a regional "equivalent" of Plan Colombia. After 10 years, the rebels' grip in Colombia has been reduced from more than a third of the country to less than a fifth. Violence is down and, with improved security, the economy is booming. However, tons of cocaine are still being produced and there have been widespread human rights abuses.

Clinton acknowledged that the program had "problems" — but said that it had worked. Irked Mexican officials dismissed Clinton's Colombia comparison as sloppy history and tartly offered that the only common thread was drug consumption in the United States. And while the two cases share broad-brush similarities, there also are important distinctions, including Mexico's profound sensitivity to outside interference.

Here is a breakdown of the two experiences:

The Nature of the Foe
Colombia's main leftist rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, waged war in the name of Marxist ideology, calling for an overthrow of the traditional ruling oligarchy. Separately, the country faced a campaign of violence by drug cartels. To fund the insurgency, the rebels first took a cut from coca producers and traffickers – and then starting running their own drug labs and forming partnerships with the traffickers.

In contrast, the main aim of Mexican drug gangs is to move merchandise without interference from authorities. In many places, traffickers manipulate governors and mayors — and the police they control. Their ability to bully and extort has given them a form of power that resembles parallel rule.

But the goal is cash, not sovereignty. Drug lords don't want to collect trash, run schools or pave the streets. And very often, the violence the gangs unleash is directed against each other, not the government.

Mexico also is a much bigger country. While its social inequities are glaring, there is no sign of a broad-based rebel movement with which traffickers could join hands.

"We've got a criminal problem, not a guerrilla problem," said Bruce Bagley, who chairs the international studies department at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. "The drug lords don't want to take over. They want to be left alone. They want a state that's pliable and porous."

Territory
At the peak of Colombia's insurgency, the FARC controlled a large part of the country, including a Switzerland-size chunk with defined borders ceded to it by the government as a demilitarized zone known as the despeje, or clearing.

Mexico's drug gangs have relied on killing and intimidation tactics to challenge government control over large swaths by erasing a sense of law and order.

In the border state of Tamaulipas, a gubernatorial candidate who was heavily favored to win a July election was gunned down less than a week before the vote. Violence in neighboring Nuevo Leon state prompted the U.S. State Department last month to direct employees to remove their children from the city of Monterrey, a critically important and affluent industrial center.

In Clinton's words, U.S. officials worry about a "drug-trafficking threat that is in some cases morphing into, or making common cause with, what we would consider an insurgency."

But there are no borders defining any drug cartel's domain, making it difficult, even within regions, to say how much of the country lies outside effective government control on any given day. There is no force that appears anywhere near capable of toppling the government and, so far, no zone the Mexican army cannot reach when it wants.

Instead, cartel control is more fluid. It is measured in the extent to which residents stay indoors at night to avoid roving gunmen the degree to which Mexican news media steer away from covering crime so they don't anger the trafficking groups.

The sense of siege hopscotches across Mexico like windblown fire across a landscape.

Targets and Tactics
During the worst days of Colombia's bloodshed, cartel hit men and guerrillas carried out spectacular bombings and assassinations that targeted judges, politicians, police and businesspeople.

Mexico, despite a steadily rising death toll, has seen nothing of that nature. Cartel gunmen have killed scores of police and some prosecutors. Police officers have been killed in the line of duty, or because they were moonlighting for one criminal group or another. But they have not been targeted as part of a sustained effort to topple the government.

Most of the killing stems from open warfare between heavily armed cartels.

The cartels have in a few instances resorted to car bombs and grenade attacks that raised fears they were turning to Colombia-style terrorist tactics.

U.S. officials were alarmed when a remote-controlled car bomb exploded in violence-racked Ciudad Juarez in July, killing a police officer and three other people. Two more bombs exploded in the weeks that followed. Attackers hurled grenades into an Independence Day crowd in Morelia, capital of the western state of Michoacan, in September 2008, killing eight people.

There have been no other such direct, terrorist-style assaults against civilians, but the drug gangs' wanton use of muscle and extreme violence nonetheless has sown terror across much of the country. Gory images of beheaded victims left by feuding gangs have added to a feeling of impotence and mistrust of government authorities.

Even though many Mexicans support the government's anti-crime campaign, the result is a society even more reluctant to join in.

State weakness
Colombia for years was outmatched by the power of foes who capitalized on porous borders, an army in tatters and weak government bodies. In his day, drug kingpin Pablo Escobar even managed to get himself elected an alternate member of Colombia's Congress.

Mexico's military, while stretched thin, is more reliable than Colombia's was at the start. But its police and court system, for many years rife with corruption, have proved ill-equipped to confront drug cartels. Widespread graft means that the criminals and the authorities often are one and the same, blurring the battle lines.

Under the former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, drug trafficking was allowed to flourish, and was at times even orchestrated by corrupt officials. Now, the federal government under President Felipe Calderon and his conservative National Action Party is purging corrupt police. But problems persist at the state and local level, and the justice system is overwhelmed by drug gangs armed with billions of dollars in profits and battlefield weaponry. Prosecutions have been few, convictions fewer.

Officials say it could take Mexico decades to create a trustworthy law enforcement system. In the meantime, Calderon has deployed 50,000 troops to take on the cartels. The troops' actions have raised widespread allegations of rights abuses and suspicion that some units may have been penetrated by traffickers. Lopsided arrest figures have triggered accusations that the government is favoring some cartels over others, a charge the president denies.

Despite its weak institutions, Colombia had a stronger civil society that ultimately rose up to demand and support government action. Colombian newspapers stood up to the violence. In 2002, Colombians elected President Alvaro Uribe, who promised to defeat the insurgents and traffickers rather than compromising with them. The government's willingness to tackle money laundering and seize traffickers' assets was considered a turning point.

Calderon took a page from Colombia by extraditing record numbers of drug suspects wanted in the U.S., reducing the odds that they could buy their freedom from leaky Mexican prisons. But he has done little to tackle money laundering.

These deficiencies could contribute to a fundamental breakdown in the state more closely parallel to Colombia. However, Calderon's government says that won't happen because it is tackling Mexico's institutional weaknesses head-on. "The important thing is we are acting in time," security affairs spokesman Alejandro Poire said.

Designing a prescription
In Colombia, U.S. policymakers put military advisors and special forces troops on the ground to address a drug problem that was largely based on production — one that could be attacked in large measure through wide-scale eradication.

But in Mexico, where the problem is equally one of breaking distribution networks, a Plan Colombia-style military role seems far less likely.

Clinton appeared to suggest that the U.S. military could help, "where appropriate." But sending U.S. troops would be anathema in Mexico, with its bitter history of foreign interventions and a wariness of the United States.

These are sensitivities well known to U.S. diplomats. In 2007, when Presidents Bush and Calderon negotiated the terms of a $1.4-billion U.S. security-aid program for Mexico, they called it the Merida Initiative to avoid echoes of Plan Colombia. And no U.S. officials have called for American boots on the ground in Mexico.

Although the Merida plan initially emphasized helicopters and other equipment aimed at fighting the drug trade, U.S. cooperation is now geared toward softer assistance, such as helping train and professionalize Mexican police cadets, prosecutors and judges.

Asked to lay out the probable next step in U.S. help, a senior American official here answered: "Institution building, institution building, institution building."

Some experts take issue with Clinton's upbeat characterization of the Colombia program, which has drawn numerous allegations of human rights abuses by the revamped Colombian army and right-wing paramilitaries.

The FARC may hold less than a fifth of Colombia, but it has not been eliminated. And while the country's largest drug cartels, those centered on Medellin and Cali, were crushed, scores of smaller ones took their place. Colombian cocaine production remains robust, according to most studies.

Bagley regards Plan Colombia as an unsuitable model for Mexico, which he said should focus on cleaning up corruption and creating a trustworthy justice system.

"They're misdiagnosing this," he said. "They're telling us Colombia was a success and you can export this to Mexico. And you can't."


Mexican Governor got Millions in Drug Cash, DEA Says

A joint operation by México's army, local and state police seized 134 tons of U.S.-bound marijuana on October 18th. This is the largest pot bust in the country's history.

U.S. drug agents have evidence that cartel leaders paid millions to a Mexican border state governor and other figures in Mexico's former ruling party in exchange for political influence, according to a court filing in Texas.

Confidential informants told Drug Enforcement Administration investigators that leaders of the Zetas and Gulf cartels made payments to Institutional Revolutionary Party members including Tomas Yarrington, who served as governor of Tamaulipas state in 1999-2004, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, Texas.

The affidavit says the DEA also has obtained ledgers documenting millions of dollars in payments to Yarrington's representatives.

Yarrington declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Friday.

The U.S. investigation could have ramifications for Mexico's July 1 presidential election. The candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has a strong lead in opinion polls and appears poised to retake the country's most powerful office 12 years after the party was unseated after seven decades of unchallenged rule. The PRI has been fending off allegations of criminal ties from the current ruling party, its main competitor in the vote.

The 13-page affidavit lays out in detail the DEA's case against Antonio Pena-Arguelles, an alleged cartel money-launderer who was arrested Wednesday in San Antonio.

It accuses him of using U.S. bank accounts to funnel millions to Yarrington from leaders of the Gulf and the Zetas. In 2004-2005 alone, it says, he and his brother received $4.5 million from the No. 2 leader of the Zetas, Miguel-Angel Trevino Morales.

The Zetas gang was started by Mexican special forces soldiers who dropped out of the military and initially worked as the Gulf cartel's enforcers before breaking away in 2010 to become a notoriously brutal nationwide cartel of their own, responsible for thousands of kidnappings, slayings and acts of extortion. The Zetas and Gulf cartel then went to war over control of the drug routes running into much of southern Texas, turning Tamaulipas one of Mexico's most violent states.

One of the DEA's four informants told investigators that "during early 2000, Antonio Pena-Arguelles began receiving large amounts of drug proceeds on behalf of Osiel Cardenas, head of the Gulf Cartel, in exchange for political influence within the government in Tamaulipas," the complaint says.

Mauricio Fernandez, head of the DEA's San Antonio office, described the complaint as the result of a lengthy and continuing investigation.

"It's an ongoing matter right now," he said. "A lot of people are working on this."

Mexican prosecutors said late last month that they were investigating former Tamaulipas officials in connection with unspecified federal crimes, a category that includes money-laundering and drug-related crimes. Yarrington and two other former PRI governors, Manuel Cavazos, who served until 1999, and Eugenio Hernandez, who left office in 2010, publicly acknowledged that they were subjects of the probe but denied any links to crime.

In the wake of the revelations, the PRI accused the governing National Action Party, the PAN, its main opponent in the July election, of manipulating criminal justice for political ends.

The PRI's presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, appeared several days later at a rally in Tamaulipas hand-in-hand with Cavazos in a public show of support for the ex-governor, who is now running for a Senate seat.

The centerpiece of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's six-year term has been his heavy militarized fight against drug cartels, and the PAN has been increasingly attempting to paint the PRI as unable to move away from the corruption that marked the autocratic rule that ended with its presidential loss to the PAN in 2000.

Calderon's party seized on the DEA court filing as evidence that the PRI has links to organized crime.

"For months the National Action Party has expressed its concern about the evidence constantly coming to light that current and former PRI governors could be allowing organized-crime groups to operate," Gustavo Madero, chairman of the PAN's national executive committee, told reporters.

Pena Nieto did not directly address the accusations in the DEA affidavit when questioned about them Friday. Standing beside him, PRI head Joaquin Coldwell struck a softer tone than in previous party statements about the probe of the ex-governors.

"Every party member is responsible for his own conduct and behavior, and each party member must carry out his own legal defense," Coldwell said. "What we ask for in this case and others that present themselves . is that the justice system isn't used in a partisan way, for electoral purposes, and that the constitutional rights of the people who are investigated are respected."

Politicians have long been under pressure from cartels in Tamaulipas. In 2010, gunmen believed linked to one of the cartels ambushed a convoy carrying the leading PRI gubernatorial candidate, Rodolfo Torre, killing him and four of his companions. Torre's brother then ran for the governorship and won.

According to the DEA complaint in Texas, Pena-Arguelles' older brother Alfonso was found slain by a monument in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, last year. Next to his body was a banner accusing Antonio Pena-Arguelles of stealing $5 million from the Zetas. DEA informants said the money had been intended to buy the Zetas influence in the Tamaulipas government through Yarrington's connections, the affidavit says.

On the morning of his brother's death, Antonio Pena-Arguelles received a cellphone text message from Trevino, the Zetas' No. 2, accusing him, Yarrington and the head of the Gulf cartel, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, of orchestrating Torre's slaying, the complaint says.


“Dinosaur” Resurrection on Schedule for 2012

Continuing on the path of a centennial reconquest of power, Mexico’s former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) easily won October 18 municipal elections in the northern border state of Coahuila. While the PRI has long been the dominant political force in Coahuila, even during the last nine years of National Action Party (PAN) governments at the federal level, the party born from the blood of the 1910 Mexican Revolution dislodged rivals from the key cities of Torreon, San Pedro and Ciudad Acuna in voting last Sunday.

Coahuila’s second largest city after the state capital of Saltillo, Torreon had been governed by the conservative PAN during the last seven years. Strategically located on highways leading to the US border, the old agricultural center has been the scene of violent competition for control of local and international drug markets during the past five years. Eduardo Olmos Castro will serve as the troubled city’s new mayor.

Situated across from Del Rio, Texas, Ciudad Acuna is a center for border factories called maquiladoras as well as an exit point on smuggling routes into the US. In Ciudad Acuna, Alberto Aguirre, the mayoral candidate for a coalition formed between the PRI and much smaller PANAL, beat Esther Talamas Hernandez, the wife of the outgoing mayor and the candidate of the Coahuila Democratic Unity party (UCD), a local organization which governed the municipality for a number of years.

The PRI also won hands down in the border city of Piedras Negras. Far from a sore loser, the PAN’s Dr. Angel Humberto Garcia Reyes literally embraced winning opponent Jose Manuel Maldonado Maldonado and announced his support for Piedras Negras’ new mayor. “Pepe is my friend,” Garcia said. “He beat me fair and square, and I join his project.”

Statewide, in an election with a turnout estimated at 52 percent of registered voters, the PRI tallied nearly 60 percent of the vote. The victorious party was distantly trailed by the PAN with about 25 percent of votes, the UCD with 4.63 percent and the Mexican Green Party with just slightly above 3 percent- barely enough for the pro-death penalty Greens to keep their legal registration.

Historically enduring a marginal presence in Coahuila, the electoral left was the biggest loser in last Sunday’s contest. In fact, three parties which supported opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the 2006 presidential election-PRD, PT and Convergencia- did not even separately draw the required 3 percent of votes to maintain their registrations and public funding. Coahuila’s election was the latest example of how the parties never managed to build on the surge of support for Lopez Obrador in Coahuila and other northern states in 2006.

Two other small parties, the Social Democratic Party and PANAL, also lost their legal status and were wiped from the current political map as a consequence of last weekend’s ballot count.

The PRD lost San Pedro in the Laguna region, one of its few pockets of support, to the PRI, but managed to eke out a victory in coalition with the PAN and UCD in Castanos, the scene of a 2006 incident in which Mexican soldiers raped dancers in a red-light district.

Local elections were also held in the southern state of Tabasco last weekend. Once again, the PRI swept the race, regaining some ground from the PRD, the second-strongest party in the state. A weaker force in Tabasco, President Calderon’s PAN nevertheless pulled off victories in two cattle-ranching municipalities. According to the state electoral institute, 58.12 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Like Coahuila, Tabasco has been hit with a wave of narco-violence in recent years. Accusations of vote-buying and violent confrontations between state and local cops marred the Tabasco race. The Coahuila election proceeded without disruption, though the bodies of three murder victims were dumped in front of a polling station in Torreon just prior to its opening for voting.

In the wider political panorama, Sunday’s election results were more good news for the PRI as the old ruling party primes itself to retake the presidency in 2012. Almost like icing on the 2009 cake, October’s victories in Coahuila and Tabasco closely follow the PRI’s decisive win in the July federal elections.

In contrast, the October 18 elections were sour news for the PAN and bitter tidings for the PRD and other center-left parties.

In a time of economic and social crises, the PAN, and to a far greater degree, the left parties, have been riveted by internecine disputes, disunity and public scandals.

In an attempt to extract themselves from the political tar pit, leaders of the PRD, PT and Convergencia announced October 19 the reconstitution of the Broad Progressive Front for elections in 2010 and 2012. Manuel Camacho Solis, a former Mexico City mayor for the PRI and lately a prominent Lopez Obrador supporter, will act as coordinator for the reborn grouping.

Even though the PRI benefits from the current weaknesses of its rivals, the party could pay a political price for moves underway in the Mexican Congress to raise sales and income taxes as a way of staving off a worsening state fiscal crisis. In a grueling, nine-hour meeting on October 19, PRI federal lawmakers were warned of political consequences for backing higher taxes during a deep recession.

“You have to think about the poor people,” said Isabel Perez, a PRI representative from Veracruz. “What am I going to tell my indigenous people?”

Ruben Moreira, coordinator of the PRI group of legislators from Coahuila, voiced dismay at the prospect of having to face down voters who were told during the just-concluded local election campaign that the PRI did not support higher taxes.

“That’s why we won the election yesterday,” Moreira declared. “What do I tell them?”

At the end of the debate, the PRI lawmakers voted by a margin of 124 to 41 to up the national value added tax from 15 to 16 percent of purchases. For border states, the tax would increase from 10 to 11 percent if the proposal passes the full lower house of Congress. Also on the table are tax hikes on income, bank deposits, telephones, tobacco, beer, and liquor.


Mexico's former ruling party voted back to office

MEXICO CITY -- The party that ruled Mexico with an iron grip for most of the last century has sailed back into power, promising a government that will be modern, responsible and open to criticism.

Though Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Enrique Pena Nieto's margin of victory was clear in the preliminary count from Sunday's election, it was not the mandate the party had anticipated from pre-election polls that had at times shown the youthful, 45-year-old with support of more than half of Mexico's voters.

Instead, he won 38 percent support, about 7 points more than his nearest rival, according to a representative count of the ballots, and he went to work immediately to win over the two-thirds who didn't vote for him, many of whom rejected his claim that he represented a reformed and repentant party.

"We're a new generation. There is no return to the past," he said in his victory speech. "It's time to move on from the country we are to the Mexico we deserve and that we can be . where every Mexican writes his own success story."

But his top challenger, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, refused to concede, saying he would await a full count and legal review. He won roughly 31 percent of the vote, according to the preliminary count which has a margin of error of 1 percentage point. Lopez Obrador in 2006 paralyzed Mexico City streets with hundreds of thousands of supporters when he narrowly lost to President Felipe Calderon.

This time, only about 700 gathered at his campaign rally and he canceled plans to proceed to the Zocalo, the main square he filled as recently as Wednesday.

"We have information that indicates something different from what they're saying officially," he said. "We're not going to act in an irresponsible manner."

The PRI for 71 years ruled as a single party known for coercion and corruption, but also for building Mexico's institutions and social services. It was often accused of stealing elections, most infamously the 1988 presidential vote. But PRI governments were also known for keeping a lid on organized crime, whose battles with government and each other under Calderon have taken more than 50,000 lives and traumatized the country.

Repeating a popular belief of many Pena Nieto supporters, Martha Trejo, 37, of Tampico said, "He'll stabilize the cartels. He'll negotiate so they don't hurt innocents."

Pena Nieto in his victory speech vowed he won't make pacts with organized crime, but rather will focus on curbing violence.

Many predict he will build on Calderon's economic and security strategies but, working with a more friendly congress, may have more success. The main test of a new PRI will be how it handles corruption.

"We know there is some local corruption in the PRI with organized crime," said Andrew Selee of the Washington-based Mexico Institute. "The question is, `Will they ignore it or go after it aggressively?'"

The vote Sunday went smoothly with the usual protests at polling places that ran out of ballots and a few arrests for small cases of alleged bribery or tampering of ballots. Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Party, Mexico's first woman candidate for a major party, conceded almost immediately after the polls closed and exit surveys showed her trailing in third place. The preliminary count gave her roughly 26 percent.

Her party, the PAN, unseated the PRI after 71 years in 2000 with the victory of Vicente Fox, who won more than 40 percent of vote, and again with Calderon in 2006, who won by a half percentage point over Lopez Obrador.

"I think this will be a major setback," businessman Leonardo Solis, 37, said of the PRI victory. "I don't think they've changed much, but we'll see soon enough."

Results from the polling stations trickled in all night and will continue. The official results will be announced next weekend.

At the PRI headquarters in Mexico City, a party atmosphere broke out with supporters in red dancing to norteno music. The vote count same in slowly and it was too early to say if the PRI would retake at least one of the two houses of Congress and some of the governorships nationwide.

Pena Nieto, who is married to a soap opera star, also has been dogged by allegations that he overspent his $330 million campaign funding limit and has received favorable coverage from Mexico television giant Televisa.

University students launched a series of anti-Pena Nieto marches in the final weeks of the campaign, arguing that his party hasn't changed since its days in power.

Pena Nieto praised their protests Sunday as a positive sign of the democracy and said he, too, wants to see Mexico change.

"You have given our party a second chance," he said. "We will honor that with results."

Enrique Pena Nieto, presidential candidate for the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), left, speaks to supporters accompanied by his wife Angelica Rivera at the party's headquarters in Mexico City, early Monday, July 2, 2012. (AP / Alexandre Meneghini)


Candidate From Mexico's Ruling Party Goes on Attack

MEXICO CITY—The presidential candidate of Mexico's governing party went on the attack in the country's last major debate Sunday ahead of the July 1 vote, accusing her two rivals of representing a return to a chaotic and authoritarian past.

Josefina Vazquez Mota, having fallen to third place in opinion polls, tried to turn around her flagging campaign by sharply criticizing front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto of the country's former ruling party and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution.

Ms. Vazquez Mota, the first female candidate from a major party in Mexico's history, accused Mr. Pena Nieto, a former state governor, of hiding in the bathroom during a May stop at a university where he was heckled by students. The heckling has since become a full-blown protest movement against the front-runner.

"Mr. Pena Nieto, we don't want the kind of person who is going to hide in the bathroom pretending to govern this country," said Ms. Vazquez Mota, candidate for the National Action Party of President Felipe Calderon.

Mr. Pena Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party that governed Mexico for 71 years until 2000, called Ms. Vazquez Mota's allegations a "lie," saying he never hid from students and that their movement was a sign of a more democratic Mexico.

Continue reading your article with a WSJ membership


Mexican church leader still its 'apostle' after rape arrest

MEXICO CITY (AP) - The Mexico-based La Luz del Mundo church said Wednesday that its leader and “apostle” Naasón Joaquín García, who was arrested in California on charges of human trafficking and child rape, remains the spiritual leader of the group, which claims 5 million followers in 58 countries. It also strongly denied the charges.

“We believe these accusations are defamation and slander of our international director, the apostle of Jesus Christ,” said church spokesman Silem García, who is not related to Joaquín García. “His position as apostle of Jesus Christ was given to him by God, and for life, and he continues to lead the church.”

Joaquín García, 50, and a follower of the church, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, were arrested Monday after their chartered flight from Mexico landed at Los Angeles International Airport.

A third defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 36, was arrested in Los Angeles County and a fourth, Azalea Rangel Melendez, remains at large.

The group faces a 26-count felony complaint with allegations that range from human trafficking and production of child pornography to rape of a minor. The charges detail allegations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County.

A judge raised Joaquín García’s bail Tuesday from $25 million to $50 million after investigators conducted additional search warrants.

His attorney, Dmitry Gorin, said he’s had murder cases with lower bail and called the figure “outrageous” and “unreasonable” Wednesday at Joaquín García’s arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The defendants’ arraignment was extended to next Monday. They did not enter pleas at the hearing, where family members - including Joaquín García’s wife and three children - and more than a dozen congregants were in the audience.

Joaquín García answered Judge Francis Bennett’s questions through a Spanish interpreter while his co-defendants responded softly in English. His family waved as he walked out of the courtroom before a bailiff admonished them.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra scheduled a news conference in Sacramento on Thursday to urge additional victims to come forward.

The fundamentalist Christian church, whose name translates to The Light of the World, was founded in 1926 by Joaquin García’s grandfather. His father also led the church and was the subject of child sex abuse allegations in 1997, but authorities in Mexico never filed criminal charges.

The accusations were particularly painful for a church that has tried to cultivate an image for its law-abiding, hard-working, conservatively-dressing people in Mexico - a country where it claims about 1.8 million followers. Its male members favor suits and short hair, and female members wear veils that cover their hair and modest dresses. There are about 1 million U.S. members.

“We have always encouraged prayer, honesty,” said Mexico City church member Ruben Barrera. “Look at the way we dress, it is very honest, the haircuts, the way the women dress. We practice what we preach.”

Barrera said that based on his knowledge of Joaquín García’s life, he believes the accusations are “categorically” false.

The church has itself been the subject of discrimination in Mexico, in part because it has recruited significantly from Mexico’s lower classes and because many in the predominantly Roman Catholic Country are suspicious of religious minorities.

But in the western city of Guadalajara where it is based, housewives seek out Luz del Mundo followers to work as maids, because of their reputation for honesty. When asked why the church has so many well-appointed temples in Mexico, García, the spokesman said “that is because the faithful” - many of whom are construction workers - “are the ones who do the construction.”

Around 1,000 worshippers gathered at the headquarters of La Luz del beginning in Guadalajara beginning Tuesday evening to pray for Joaquín García as he was held in Los Angeles. Religious services were held hourly in its white, wedding cake-like cathedral.

Nicolás Menchaca, another spokesman, said the church trusts the justice system in California: “We believe they will do their job and that they will arrive at a favorable conclusion.”

Joaquín Garcia is named in 14 counts and Ocampo in 21. Oaxaca and Melendez are each named in two counts.

Joaquín García - who was a minister in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California before becoming the church’s leader - coerced the victims into performing sex acts by telling them that refusing would be going against God, authorities said.

He allegedly forced the victims, who were members of the church, to sexually touch themselves and each other. One of his co-defendants also allegedly took nude photographs of the victims and sent the pictures to García, the criminal complaint said.

Joaquín García told one of the victims and others in 2017, after they had completed a “flirty” dance wearing “as little clothing as possible,” that kings can have mistresses and an apostle of God cannot be judged for his actions, the complaint stated.

“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” Becerra, the California attorney general, said in a statement. “We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state.”

The attorney general’s investigation began in 2018, prompted in part by a tip to the California Department of Justice through an online clergy abuse complaint form.

The arrest is sure to prove an embarrassment for Mexico, in part because similar allegations have never resulted in charges there and in part because the church has long had political influence.

“It shows the enormous difference between the quality of law enforcement in Mexico and the United States,” said sociologist Bernardo Barranco of the Center for the Study of Religions in Mexico. “In Mexico, unfortunately, there is an innate protection for clergy, not just for the Luz del Mundo.”

In May, an opera concert at Palacio de Bellas Artes, the main cultural venue in Mexico, generated controversy because in some places it was presented as a tribute to Joaquin García. Critics said a secular state such as Mexico should not use a public place for that purpose.

The work, “The Guardian of the Mirror,” was broadcast on social networks and screened outside the Palace, with the church’s followers in the audience.

La Luz del Mundo denied that it was an homage and said the opinions expressed in social networks were not promoted by the institution.

Mexico’s former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, long supported Luz del Mundo as a counterweight to the Roman Catholic Church, whose followers led an armed uprising against anti-clerical laws in the 1920s.

That relationship cooled after the PRI became friendlier with the Catholic church between 2012 and 2018, but new leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has shown more openness to protestant and evangelical churches than his predecessors. He took office late last year.

Asked about the arrest on Wednesday, Lopez Obrador said “we didn’t know, or at least authorities didn’t have information, about what was made public yesterday,” adding “my conscience is clear.”

Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Rogelio Navarro in Guadalajara, Mexico, contributed to this report.


Mexican church leader still its 'apostle' after rape arrest

Young women pray outside the "La Luz Del Mundo" or Light of the World church after members learned their church's leader Joaquin Garcia was arrested in the U.S., in Guadalajara, Mexico, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. California authorities have charged Garcia, the self-proclaimed apostle of the Mexico-based church that claims over 1 million followers, with child rape, human trafficking and producing child pornography in Southern California. (AP Photo/Refugio Ruiz)

MEXICO CITY – The Mexico-based La Luz del Mundo church said Wednesday that its leader and "apostle" Naasón Joaquín García, who was arrested in California on charges of human trafficking and child rape, remains the spiritual leader of the group, which claims 5 million followers in 58 countries. It also strongly denied the charges.

"We believe these accusations are defamation and slander of our international director, the apostle of Jesus Christ," said church spokesman Silem García, who is not related to Joaquín García. "His position as apostle of Jesus Christ was given to him by God, and for life, and he continues to lead the church."

Joaquín García, 50, and a follower of the church, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, were arrested Monday after their chartered flight from Mexico landed at Los Angeles International Airport.

A third defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 36, was arrested in Los Angeles County and a fourth, Azalea Rangel Melendez, remains at large.

The group faces a 26-count felony complaint with allegations that range from human trafficking and production of child pornography to rape of a minor. The charges detail allegations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County.

A judge raised Joaquín García's bail Tuesday from $25 million to $50 million after investigators conducted additional search warrants.

His attorney, Dmitry Gorin, said he's had murder cases with lower bail and called the figure "outrageous" and "unreasonable" Wednesday at Joaquín García's arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The defendants' arraignment was extended to next Monday. They did not enter pleas at the hearing, where family members — including Joaquín García's wife and three children — and more than a dozen congregants were in the audience.

Joaquín García answered Judge Francis Bennett's questions through a Spanish interpreter while his co-defendants responded softly in English. His family waved as he walked out of the courtroom before a bailiff admonished them.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra scheduled a news conference in Sacramento on Thursday to urge additional victims to come forward.

The fundamentalist Christian church, whose name translates to The Light of the World, was founded in 1926 by Joaquin García's grandfather. His father also led the church and was the subject of child sex abuse allegations in 1997, but authorities in Mexico never filed criminal charges.

The accusations were particularly painful for a church that has tried to cultivate an image for its law-abiding, hard-working, conservatively-dressing people in Mexico — a country where it claims about 1.8 million followers. Its male members favor suits and short hair, and female members wear veils that cover their hair and modest dresses. There are about 1 million U.S. members.

"We have always encouraged prayer, honesty," said Mexico City church member Ruben Barrera. "Look at the way we dress, it is very honest, the haircuts, the way the women dress. We practice what we preach."

Barrera said that based on his knowledge of Joaquín García's life, he believes the accusations are "categorically" false.

The church has itself been the subject of discrimination in Mexico, in part because it has recruited significantly from Mexico's lower classes and because many in the predominantly Roman Catholic Country are suspicious of religious minorities.

But in the western city of Guadalajara where it is based, housewives seek out Luz del Mundo followers to work as maids, because of their reputation for honesty. When asked why the church has so many well-appointed temples in Mexico, García, the spokesman said "that is because the faithful" — many of whom are construction workers — "are the ones who do the construction."

Around 1,000 worshippers gathered at the headquarters of La Luz del beginning in Guadalajara beginning Tuesday evening to pray for Joaquín García as he was held in Los Angeles. Religious services were held hourly in its white, wedding cake-like cathedral.

Nicolás Menchaca, another spokesman, said the church trusts the justice system in California: "We believe they will do their job and that they will arrive at a favorable conclusion."

Joaquín Garcia is named in 14 counts and Ocampo in 21. Oaxaca and Melendez are each named in two counts.

Joaquín García — who was a minister in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California before becoming the church's leader — coerced the victims into performing sex acts by telling them that refusing would be going against God, authorities said.

He allegedly forced the victims, who were members of the church, to sexually touch themselves and each other. One of his co-defendants also allegedly took nude photographs of the victims and sent the pictures to García, the criminal complaint said.

Joaquín García told one of the victims and others in 2017, after they had completed a "flirty" dance wearing "as little clothing as possible," that kings can have mistresses and an apostle of God cannot be judged for his actions, the complaint stated.

"Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period," Becerra, the California attorney general, said in a statement. "We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state."

The attorney general's investigation began in 2018, prompted in part by a tip to the California Department of Justice through an online clergy abuse complaint form.

The arrest is sure to prove an embarrassment for Mexico, in part because similar allegations have never resulted in charges there and in part because the church has long had political influence.

"It shows the enormous difference between the quality of law enforcement in Mexico and the United States," said sociologist Bernardo Barranco of the Center for the Study of Religions in Mexico. "In Mexico, unfortunately, there is an innate protection for clergy, not just for the Luz del Mundo."

In May, an opera concert at Palacio de Bellas Artes, the main cultural venue in Mexico, generated controversy because in some places it was presented as a tribute to Joaquin García. Critics said a secular state such as Mexico should not use a public place for that purpose.

The work, "The Guardian of the Mirror," was broadcast on social networks and screened outside the Palace, with the church's followers in the audience.

La Luz del Mundo denied that it was an homage and said the opinions expressed in social networks were not promoted by the institution.

Mexico's former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, long supported Luz del Mundo as a counterweight to the Roman Catholic Church, whose followers led an armed uprising against anti-clerical laws in the 1920s.

That relationship cooled after the PRI became friendlier with the Catholic church between 2012 and 2018, but new leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has shown more openness to protestant and evangelical churches than his predecessors. He took office late last year.

Asked about the arrest on Wednesday, Lopez Obrador said "we didn't know, or at least authorities didn't have information, about what was made public yesterday," adding "my conscience is clear."

Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Rogelio Navarro in Guadalajara, Mexico, contributed to this report.


By signing up, I agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use and to occasionally receive special offers from Foreign Policy.

REYNOSA, Mexico — A Mexican Navy helicopter pursues two SUVs carrying armed suspects through the outskirts of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. Schools and local businesses are placed on lockdown as marines arrive to secure the area. Finally cornered in a public plaza, the eight suspects abandon their vehicles and take aim at the chopper with automatic weapons. The marines aboard quickly return fire, killing eight gunmen.

Such a dramatic showdown would make headlines almost anywhere else in Mexico, yet in Tamaulipas state, which lies across from southeast Texas on the country’s oil-rich Gulf Coast, it was just another April afternoon. The Tamaulipas Coordination Group, a joint security body composed of local and federal forces, released a single official statement to confirm the incident took place. In recent years, Tamaulipas has earned a bloody reputation as one of Mexico’s deadliest and most politically opaque states, where information regarding law enforcement and military operations is closely guarded and the media is cowed by threats from organized crime.

REYNOSA, Mexico — A Mexican Navy helicopter pursues two SUVs carrying armed suspects through the outskirts of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. Schools and local businesses are placed on lockdown as marines arrive to secure the area. Finally cornered in a public plaza, the eight suspects abandon their vehicles and take aim at the chopper with automatic weapons. The marines aboard quickly return fire, killing eight gunmen.

Such a dramatic showdown would make headlines almost anywhere else in Mexico, yet in Tamaulipas state, which lies across from southeast Texas on the country’s oil-rich Gulf Coast, it was just another April afternoon. The Tamaulipas Coordination Group, a joint security body composed of local and federal forces, released a single official statement to confirm the incident took place. In recent years, Tamaulipas has earned a bloody reputation as one of Mexico’s deadliest and most politically opaque states, where information regarding law enforcement and military operations is closely guarded and the media is cowed by threats from organized crime.

Tamaulipas is one of 14 Mexican states set to hold local and gubernatorial elections on June 5 and one of five in which the National Electoral Institute, the country’s independent electoral authority, has issued warnings for the possibility of violence and fraud. And with good reason. Ahead of the last gubernatorial race in 2010, front-runner Rodolfo Torre was shot dead in an ambush by masked gunmen on the eve of his probable victory. The motive for the hit has never been determined.

In many ways, Tamaulipas is a microcosm of the challenges facing Mexico’s troubled democracy, which finally emerged from one-party rule in 2000. In 2012, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the country’s former ruling dynasty, returned to the presidency following 12 years of governance by the National Action Party (PAN). When President Enrique Peña Nieto took office, he vowed to turn the page on a bloody chapter of Mexican history dominated by drug violence.

Few states offer a more damning example of the failure of consecutive administrations to tame the mayhem than Tamaulipas. The result of this year’s gubernatorial race may be historic: The PAN’s Francisco Cabeza de Vaca, a senator and former mayor of Reynosa, is polling ahead of Baltazar Hinojosa of the PRI, which has governed the state uninterrupted for more than 80 years. Allegations of high-level corruption among the incumbent party in Tamaulipas are rife. Two former recent governors, Tomás Yarrington and Eugenio Hernández, have been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for laundering money from the cartels, while two other officials are officially under investigation in Mexico. All four remain fugitives.

“There are few states in Mexico where corruption is believed to be so widespread and the ties between leading public servants and organized crime so deeply rooted,” Jesús Cantú, a political analyst at the Technological Institute of Monterrey, told Foreign Policy. “The dominance of a single party and a mafia-style approach to politics has prevented the emergence of strong institutions compatible with democracy.”

Like many Mexican border states, Tamaulipas has a long and storied history of organized crime. As early as the 1940s, legendary gangster Juan Nepomuceno Guerra led a criminal dynasty dedicated to drug trafficking, gambling, and other rackets. According to Carlos Flores, an expert on Tamaulipas at the Center for Investigations and Superior Studies in Social Anthropology in Mexico City, the lack of transparency in state politics due to one-party rule led to a symbiotic relationship between public officials and organized crime. “There are many cases over the years of relatives and business associates of gangsters holding public office at a time when a single party allocated municipal and congressional seats,” he told Foreign Policy. “In few places in Mexico is the evidence so clear.”

In the 1980s, Juan Guerra’s nephew, Juan García Ábrego, forged ties with Colombian drug traffickers and founded the Gulf Cartel, which, according to the U.S. government, trafficked billions of dollars of cocaine across the Mexican border every year. At the same time, Mexico was rapidly democratizing on the back of landmark electoral reforms, and local politics became more competitive. Several parties, notably the PAN, began to win municipalities in Tamaulipas. “Today, you have a problem with ‘disorganized’ crime and decentralized corruption,” Jesús Cantú said. “As politics has become more competitive, the cartels have begun to compete more fiercely for protection.”

Crucial to the current violence was a 2007 split between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, the former’s highly trained armed wing, which produced an ongoing fight for territorial control. In 2014, President Peña Nieto launched “Plan Tamaulipas,” the latest of several federal interventions involving the military and federal police. Yet the insecurity continues. In recent years, several well-known businessmen in the state have been kidnapped by the gangs, a number of them murdered despite the payment of ransom. In 2010, the corpses of 72 undocumented migrants were found in a mass grave in the rural municipality of San Fernando. The victims were kidnapped from a passenger bus as they headed to the U.S. border and executed after they allegedly refused to pay protection money.

The man tipped to finally defeat the PRI in Tamaulipas, Cabeza de Vaca, has promised increased investment in education and job creation and greater coordination with federal authorities as a way out of the crisis. Yet both Cabeza de Vaca and his rival, the PRI’s Hinojosa, have accused each other of complicity with the mafias. Hinojosa has repeatedly cited a 30-year-old incident when Cabeza de Vaca, then 19, was arrested in Texas on firearms charges. On May 7, the PRI suspended three of its municipal candidates on allegations that they had been bribed by organized crime to defect to the PAN. Cabeza de Vaca and the party’s national leadership deny the claims.

“The cynicism of the PRI knows no limits,” PAN national chairman Ricardo Anaya said in a statement following the allegations. “If any party has historically been linked to organized crime in Tamaulipas, it’s the PRI.”

Concrete evidence of criminal influence via campaign donations in Mexican elections is scarce, yet transparency regarding the source of funds is near-nonexistent. Edgardo Buscaglia, a senior research scholar in law and economics at Columbia University who has observed elections in several Mexican states, said evidence of vote buying in rural communities in Tamaulipas and intimidation of the electorate by organized crime groups is commonplace. “Elections in Mexico are extremely competitive nowadays, but the institutions responsible for adjudicating them are weak,” he said. “It leaves the door open for organized crime to capture the process.”

Many residents of Tamaulipas said they see little difference between the parties competing in the state. “I’ll vote on June 5 because I believe in exercising my right to do so, but I don’t think that anything will change in a hurry,” said Felipe Cortés, a restaurant owner and father of three in Reynosa, declining to name which party he favored. “The challenges for whoever wins are too great.”

The June 5 state-level elections will be a litmus test for the strength of Mexican democracy as the country heads to a presidential election in 2018, yet few are likely to be as controversial as the race in Tamaulipas. “Right now, Mexico is a democracy without the rule of law,” political analyst Jesús Cantú said. “The result, in states like Tamaulipas that are particularly vulnerable to corruption, has been chaos.”

Photo credit: RAUL LLAMAS/AFP/Getty Images

Paul Imison is a Mexico City-based journalist covering politics, economics, and crime. Twitter: @paulimison