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Monday, March 28, 2016

Violence and Narcos Cloud the Run-up to Elections in Chihuahua

Frontera NorteSur

With less than three months remaining before voters go to the polls on June 5 in Mexico's northern border state of Chihuahua, the political thermometer is red hot.  A charged atmosphere pervades the political races for governor, state legislators, mayors and city council representatives, as mutual accusations of narco infiltration and manipulation fly among candidates, episodes of real narco-violence blotch the scene, and assorted electoral irregularities add tinder to the fires.

What’s more, the political scene is framed by internal splits in the major political parties, with candidates hopping from one party to another in various thrusts for political power.

The Ciudad Juarez mayor’s race was jolted this month when unknown perpetrators displayed on city streets two so-called narco-banners addressed to independent candidate Armando Cabada, a longtime newscaster for his family’s Channel 44 station, who retired from the news desk to seek a career in politics.

Signed by “Associates of Farfan,” the message read: “Cabada, you and your wife ‘La China’ robbed the cartel. Now we are coming for ours.” In a subsequent press conference, Cabada acknowledged that his wife, Alejandara Carrillo, had once been married to an individual named Farfan but left the man after six months when she discovered that his transportation job entailed moving more than just legal commodities.

The local press identified the wayward ex-husband as 52-year-old Joel Farfan Carreño, a drug trafficker associated with the Juarez Cartel who was arrested in Spain back in 2005 and extradited to the United States, where he reportedly is serving a 25-year prison sentence.

Calling the banners “an act of cowardice,” the former newsman disassociated himself from any criminal group, adding that he would later reveal who was behind the apparent threat.  “I’m not going to be intimidated,” Cabada vowed. “I have nothing to hide, and I don’t owe anything to the narco.”

On the ground in Juarez, popular speculation stirred over the intellectual authorship of the message, including the possibility that one of Cabada’s political rivals was behind it.

Hailing from a family historically associated with the ruling PRI party, Cabada is among seven candidates as of March 21 – four men and three women – vying for the Juarez mayor's job.

The other mayoral candidates and their respective parties include Hector “Teto” Murguia (PRI), a former mayor who is making his third bid for office; women’s activist Vicky Caraveo (PAN); Juan Carlos Loera de la Rosa (Morena); Lluvia Luna Nevarez (PRD), who is taking up a third political banner after a stint with the PAN and a job in one of Priista Murguia’s administrations; Edna Lorena Fuerte (independent); and Alejandro Ramirez (independent).

At March’s press conference, Cabada contended that a “dirty war” of defamation had been launched against him, illustrated by the filing of multiple and unsuccessful legal challenges to his candidacy by the two independents in the race and the PRI.

Yet the Ciudad Juarez mayoral election is just one contest where the specter of the narco has reared its multi-sided head. Getting even more national attention is the escalating war of words between the PAN and its gubernatorial candidate, Javier Corral, and partisans of Chihuahua PRI Governor Cesar Duarte.

At a rally in Chihuahua City celebrating his candidacy, Corral promised to see Duarte prosecuted for alleged acts of corruption. “We are going to do justice in Chihuahua, and the shadows of the past will be left behind,” Corral told supporters.

Additionally, Corral wrote Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong (a member of the PRI) requesting that the federal government investigate the PRI’s registration of two primary candidates allegedly linked to drug cartels, including the mother-in-law of a man said to be a cartel leader and a friend of Governor Duarte.

Corral also claimed that the PAN was unable to register candidates in two municipalities that it governs, Bachiniva and Chinipas, because of threats from organized crime. Corral’s denunciations have drawn in the leadership of both the PRI and the PAN. The PRI’s national leader, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, accused Corral of family narco-ties, while Chihuahua PAN leader Mario Vazquez Robles labeled Duarte “a distinguished member of organized crime” with interesting family relationships.

According to Vazquez, Duarte’s niece, Estela Ganem Duarte, was married to a Ciudad Juarez police chief during the first administration of Teto Murguia, Saolo Reyes Gamboa, who was arrested in the U.S. for attempting to smuggle a ton of marijuana in January of 2008.

Duarte’s spokesman, Chihuahua state communications chief Sergio Belmonte Almeida, shot back with an open letter against Vazquez which was published in the March 13 edition of the Ciudad Juarez daily Norte.

Belmonte lashed out at the PAN leader for “ungentlemanly and cowardly” statements coming from political desperation. “I invite you to dispense with the verbal diarrhea that characterizes it and back up your statements with proof,” Belmonte declared. “I will continue to publicly check you for being pernicious and a liar.”

Scandalously aired in the mass media, Chihuahua’s current political discourse recalls the unprecedented battle of newspaper display ads that broke out in Acapulco (Mexico’s most violent city) earlier this year among different political parties and elected officials over the controversy involving the city’s police chief, who had not passed all the necessary employment filters designed to supposedly safeguard against criminal infiltration.

Corral has confirmed that one of his brothers was once involved in a drug trafficking scheme, having been arrested 14 years ago for attempting to cross marijuana into El Paso, Texas.

At this juncture it’s not clear whether the family skeletons being dragged out of Chihuahua’s deep and dark closet will lead to more solid evidence of corruption and criminal complicity. The PRI’s candidate for governor, former Ciudad Juarez Mayor Enrique Serrano, proposed that all the political parties conduct internal investigations to ensure that people with criminal backgrounds don’t slip into the campaigns. Besides Corral and Serrano, businessman Jose Luis “Chaco” Barraza is fielding an independent candidacy for the governor’s office, while the PRD and Citizen Movement parties are expected to finalize the registrations of their candidates [before the end of March].

According to the gubernatorial hopeful from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s leftwing nationalist MORENA party, criminal elements have already seriously disrupted the first phase of the election campaigns. MORENA’S Francisco Javier Felix Muñoz demanded heightened security in the Sierra Tarahumara after armed men prevented a party member from displaying political publicity in the tourist town of Creel, and MORENA supporters elsewhere in the mountainous region were warned not to run candidates.

“The situation is completely out of order,” Muñoz said recently, pledging to legally contest the legitimacy of the elections in the Sierra Tarahumara if secure conditions were not restored for campaigning.

In 2016, violence has continuously flared in the Chihuahua mountains between crime groups linked to the Juarez, Sinaloa and possibly other cartels that are disputing control of a prime opium growing area of strategic importance for the heroin export trade to the United States. In recent days, a message widely circulated on social media in Chihuahua and purportedly from groups affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel has inflamed tensions. The message warns residents of several mountain municipalities and Chihuahua City to stay at home after 11 pm because of an imminent extermination campaign against rival drug trafficking organizations.

In other regions of Chihuahua, an independent aspirant for a city office in Delicias, an agricultural and industrial town south of the state capital of Chihuahua City, announced that he had dropped his bid after receiving telephone threats and experiencing suspicious tailings by strange men. Prior to attempting the trendy independent trail, Maximo Duran Gardea had been associated with the PAN and Citizen Movement parties.

On February 22, Alfredo Lozoya, a mining industry businessman seeking the Parral mayor’s post as an independent, filed complaints with the National Electoral Institute and Chihuahua State Electoral Institute alleging that he had received telephone threats while his sympathizers were threatened with losing their jobs if they supported the independent political bid.

In another development with implications for the June state and local elections, the non-governmental organization Mexicans in Exile declared recently that it had discovered 80 exiled or disappeared people from three Chihuahua municipalities on a list of PRI members, all enrolled on the date of January 1, 2014, and without the consent of the individuals in question.

The list includes a disappeared woman related by marriage to the Reyes Salazar family, which suffered multiple assassinations before fleeing the Juarez Valley five years ago, as well as Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza and Rocio Alvarado Reyes, two women who disappeared in 2009 and whose case is now on the docket of the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In the lead-up to the elections, episodes of narco-tainted violence continue to unsettle Chihuahua. A weekend ago, an armed confrontation was reported in Chinipas, the municipality where Javier Corral claimed the PAN’s candidates were banned. The violence wrought property destruction, an undetermined number of men wounded, and an unconfirmed report of a little girl killed by a grenade.

In Ciudad Juarez a man was shot to death while driving his truck on a public street, while the blanketed body of an unidentified woman was found early March 19 in an old building just south of downtown.

On March 12, the body of Emiliano Herrera Hernandez, reputed owner of a dozen nightclubs, was found dumped near the federal penitentiary on the outskirts of Juarez. More than 20 people have been reported as murdered in the border city so far during the month of March.

Meanwhile, the Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office announced the detention of 11 young men who were allegedly connected to the Sinaloa Cartel and linked to numerous homicides. Ranging from 16 to 29 years of age, the suspects were picked up in El Millon, a small community in the Juarez Valley across from Texas. Two of the suspects were identified as originally being from neighboring El Paso.

According to state legal authorities, the men were arrested while in possession of several assault rifles, two pistols, ammunition, tactical gear and marijuana. A 1996 Dodge truck with New Mexico license plates was one of two vehicles confiscated by police during the operation that netted the 11 suspects.

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Sources: La Jornada, March 20 and 21, 2016. Articles by Miroslava Breach and editorial staff. Nortedigital.mx, March 19, 20 and 21, 2016. Articles by Miguel Vargas and editorial staff. Frontenet.com, March 18, 2018. Article by Gustavo Ramos. Arrobajuarez.com, March 10, 18 and 20, 2016. Norte, March 13, 2016. Diario.mx., March 13, 2016. Article by Gabriela Minjares. Proceso/Apro, March 9, 10, 14, 15, and 20, 2016. Articles by Patricia Mayorga. Lapolaka.com, March 9, 10, 16, 18, and 20, 2016.

Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source; translation FNS.  Frontera NorteSur (FNS), Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico

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