Mexico's drug cartels targeting specific politicians with death threats

08:38 AM CDT on Thursday, July 17, 2008
By LAURENCE ILIFF / The Dallas Morning News

MEXICO CITY – Having terrorized police and prosecutors across the country, Mexico's drug cartels are escalating their battle with the government by turning their sights on politicians. The most recent threat target is the governor of Chihuahua state, which borders Texas.

"Mr. Governor," reads a banner that was hung last week near his mother's home in Delicias, "put things in order or we will kill your family."

The mother of Gov. José Reyes Baeza lives about 200 yards from where the banner was posted along a major thoroughfare, authorities said. The governor's office is in nearby Chihuahua City.

Analysts said the Chihuahua threat was an ominous sign that trafficking groups are seeking to influence new levels of Mexico's political structure. The cartels have previously been accused of trying to influence municipal elections by contributing to political campaigns and threatening local politicians who refuse to cooperate with them.

"This is the most public threat made against a governor, but we know other governors have been threatened as well because they have said so," said Alfredo Quijano, editor of Norte newspaper in Ciudad Juárez, the epicenter of Mexico's drug violence.

The latest threat comes on the heels of the apparent gangland slaying last month of Mayor Marcelo Ibarra of Villa Madero, Michoacán. Another civic leader, City Council member Mario Espinosa of Acuña, Coahuila, was killed late last year at his home across the border in Del Rio, Texas.

"We are headed toward a narco state if things don't change," said Arturo Yañez, who trains prosecutors at an academy in Mexico City and served as an adviser to the federal attorney general's office in the 1990s. "These criminal organizations are now fully integrated into these communities economically and politically."

The federal government has insisted that it is winning the war against the cartels and that the record levels of violence are signs of traffickers' desperation. Cartel propaganda, including banners targeting the military and police, could be part of that response.

The banner hung in Chihuahua demanded the removal of a police commander whom the authors suggested was responsible "for all the deaths in the state."

Threatened officials have said they are targeted for supporting President Felipe Calderón's crackdown on organized crime since he took office on Dec. 1, 2006. Mr. Calderón, who belongs to a different political party than Mr. Baeza, called the governor over the weekend in a show of solidarity.

"They spoke concerning this matter of the threat against the governor's family, and my understanding is that President Calderón offered all of his support," Chihuahua government spokesman Carlos Alcántara said in a telephone interview.

In an earlier statement, the governor's office called on the media not to report on the printed threat, which it said "has the goal of terrorizing members of the police forces and public officials who participate in the fight against organized crime."

The state government, the statement said, "took the opportunity to implement necessary security measures" and "will continue its participation as part of its joint operations with the federal government, the results of which up until now have been encouraging."

Chihuahua is in the midst of a bloody turf war among the local Ciudad Juárez-based cartel and outside groups seeking to control drug routes into the U.S., authorities say. More than 500 people have died in the state in drug violence this year.

The Delicias banner could be the work of outside groups from Sinaloa state seeking to displace the Juárez cartel and anyone seen as its protectors, said Mr. Quijano, the Norte editor.

"This is part of a media war, using banners, Internet messages, text messages sent to cellular phones, telephone threats, painted walls," he said.

"The threat is made against specific individuals," he said, "but it's also designed to terrorize the entire population" by suggesting that anyone who defies the cartels – including businessmen who must pay for "protection" or families negotiating ransom – could pay with their lives.

Not an isolated incident
Recent threats and attacks against Mexican politicians include:

July 11: A handmade banner threatens the family of Chihuahua Gov. José Reyes Baeza if changes are not made in state law enforcement personnel.

June 1: An armed group kills Mayor Marcelo Ibarra of Villa Madero, Michoacán, as he travels along a state highway.

November 2007: Gunmen kill a mayoral candidate and former mayor, Juan Guajardo, and five others outside a restaurant in Rio Bravo, near McAllen, Texas.

September 2007:

City Council member Mario Espinosa of Acuña, Coahuila, is killed outside his Texas home after leaving his bodyguards on the Mexican side of the border and crossing the international bridge into Del Rio.
May 2007: Four bodyguards protecting the children of Mexico state Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto are shot to death in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. Later, a "narco-message" is left threatening the governor.

February 2007: A federal congressman and former mayor, Horacio Garza, is injured and his driver killed in an attack in Nuevo Laredo.

Staff and wire reports ... 53832.html