Mexico Forges Ahead With Elections After Candidate’s Assassination

BY Larisa Epatko  June 29, 2010 at 4:35 PM EDT


Mexican President Felipe Calderon speaks after killing of gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre. Photo by Presidencia/AFP/Getty Images

After Mexican gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre and four others in his campaign entourage were gunned down Monday in the state of Tamaulipas, his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is working to find a replacement candidate ahead of Sunday’s elections for governors and mayors in 12 states.

Authorities are blaming the attack on drug cartel violence. Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the murder shows the threat of organized crime, but that elections would continue as planned.

One Mexican newspaper cited sources at a military base in Tamaulipas as saying the attack on the candidate by about 15 heavily armed gunmen bore all the marks of a paramilitary drug gang called Zetas, said Ioan Grillo, GlobalPost’s correspondent in Mexico City. The Zetas are engaged in a violent campaign and are being pursued by the government, he said.

Reaction in the country has been varied, Grillo continued. Among politicians and the media, there has been a “very powerful reaction” — the attack led newspapers and many editorials have been written about it; politicians have flown there and made statements.

“The general line is of concern. It’s seen as a real affront to the country’s democracy if you’re seeing a major gubernatorial candidate who is going to win gunned down. All the politicians see it as a major threat to that,” he said.

“However, among everyday people, they find it more difficult to make that distinction (in the political hierarchy), because there’s so much news of violence and bloodshed and even politicians being hit. It’s not like the president himself has been hit,” Grillo continued, adding that the public has more ferociously responded to other cases, such as when a high-profile soccer player was shot, because he was a familiar figure in most households.

Torre is the highest-ranking candidate killed since Luis Donaldo Colosio, also of the PRI, was shot while running for president in 1994, though other politicians have been killed more recently including two running for mayor in this election, said Grillo.

These elections come 10 years after Mexico moved to multi-party democracy from one-party rule, but rather than marking the country’s progress in democracy, the killings of Torre and other candidates are highlighting the hazards, Grillo said. “Various people have been intimidated and saying they’re not going to run out of fear.”