A billboard for Rodolfo Torre Cantu's campaign overlooks a row of hearses waiting to carry the coffins of Torre and his bodyguards from a memorial service in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico. Torre, a candidate for governor in Tamaulipas state, was gunned down June 28 in apparent drug-cartel violence.
A billboard for Rodolfo Torre Cantu's campaign overlooks a row of hearses waiting to carry the coffins of Torre and his bodyguards from a memorial service in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico. Torre, a candidate for governor in Tamaulipas state, was gunned down June 28 in apparent drug-cartel violence. Jason Beaubien/NPR
Voters in Mexico go to the polls this weekend in almost half of the country's 31 states. Twelve governors' offices and numerous mayors' posts are up for grabs. The campaigns have been marred by violence, natural disasters and allegations of criminal conduct by some candidates.
Just days before the elections, the leading candidate for governor in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas was gunned down in a gangland-style hit. Mexican President Felipe Calderon blamed it on the nation's drug cartels.
The assassination this week of Rodolfo Torre Cantu shook Mexico from rural pueblos to the presidential palace.
Torre was the gubernatorial candidate for the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and polls showed him with a wide lead. On Monday, gunmen attacked his campaign convoy on the main road to the airport at 10:30 a.m., killing Torre and four other people in his entourage.
It was the most high-profile political assassination in Mexico since presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was gunned down in 1994.
Egidio Torre Cantu was selected to be the PRI's candidate for governor after his brother Rodolfo was assassinated. Critics say this is a sign that party machinery and the government, not the people, control politics in Mexico.
Egidio Torre Cantu was selected to be the PRI's candidate for governor after his brother Rodolfo was assassinated. Critics say this is a sign that party machinery and the government, not the people, control politics in Mexico. Jason Beaubien/NPR
'Right Now, It's Out Of Control"
In downtown Ciudad Victoria, the state capital, Hugo Enrique Gomez says Torre's murder shocked him. Enrique, a 24-year-old who just graduated from college, says Mexico has become a failed state. If the criminal gangs can gun down a man who was just a week away from becoming governor, he says, they can kill anyone.
"Right now, it's out of control," he says. "The problem has to be attacked at its roots."
It will be hard, Enrique says, but people have to put aside their ideologies and eradicate this problem "in order to protect ourselves."
National leaders of the PRI converged on Ciudad Victoria this week for a memorial service for Torre and to choose a replacement for him on Sunday's ballot. They picked Torre's older brother, Egidio.
Standing in front of a huge banner from Rodolfo's campaign, Egidio Torre called on voters to not be intimidated by the violence.
And because it's too late to change the names on the ballot, Egidio called on residents to check the box for his dead brother, which will count as a vote for him.
Egidio promised that if elected he'll carry out Rodolfo's agenda.
Critics: No Democracy In Tamaulipas
And there is little doubt that Egidio will be elected. The PRI has ruled Tamaulipas continuously since 1929. While the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, broke the PRI's 70-year grip on the presidency in 2000, the party's machinery remains in power in many states.
Mexico's president, Calderon, is from the PAN. His hugely unpopular and bloody drug war is expected to help the PRI on Sunday.
Of the 12 governors' races being held, PRI candidates are leading in the polls in 11 of them.
Eduardo Alcala Ruiz, a lawyer and former professor at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas, says the PRI's decision to install Torre's brother as its candidate for governor is one more example of how there is no democracy right now in Tamaulipas.
Alcala understands the power politics of Tamaulipas well. He was trying to run for mayor in Ciudad Victoria for the Convergencia party. He had launched his campaign, but then party leaders told him that he couldn't run and that they would put forward no candidate in the mayor's race. Now he is calling for independent candidates to be allowed on the ballot.
Alcala says that all of the political party heads in Tamaulipas have been "co-opted by the state government."
"They're practically employees of the governor," he says.
And Alcala says politics, government and organized crime are all intertwined in the state. Tamaulipas will never be able to address the rampant drug-related killings, he says, until it deals with the corruption that allowed the cartels to flourish in the first place.