Mexico Drug Violence In Backdrop Of Major Elections

Mexico’s election season has been a violent one — a leading candidate was murdered, and some candidates cast their ballots in bulletproof vests. Did the drug violence mar the elections? Was this an anti-incumbency wave, as some have portrayed it? Host Michel Martin speaks with Jesus Esquivel. He is a Washington correspondent for Processo; a political magazine about what is next for Mexico.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're moving beyond our borders today to Mexico where elections have already upset the status quo in many parts of that country. And then we go to Ghana, where we'll celebrate the life of a South Carolina native, a dentist, who became a fixture in the American ex-patriot community there. Finally, we'll cross back over the Atlantic to a club in Baltimore hidden under the tracks where house music still reigns. You want to stick around to hear the sounds of the Paradox. That's later in the program.

But first, Mexico's extraordinarily violent election season. Some of the details are so gruesome that they're really hard to describe here, so be forewarned. But as we talked about last week, even before the vote, a leading candidate for governor was murdered in broad daylight and the violence that led up to the election may very well have influenced the outcome.

Jesus Esquivel is Washington correspondent for Processo. It's a political magazine. He was with us last week to preview Sunday's election, and he's back with us now to share some results. Thanks for joining us again.

Mr. JESUS ESQUIVEL (Correspondent, Processo): Thank you, Michel, for invitation.

MARTIN: So as you predicted, the ruling or the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or the PRI, proved a very powerful force in the elections. They won nine states handily, according to the preliminary results. So was that expected? Was that more than was expected?

Mr. ESQUIVEL: It was expected. The only thing that was a surprise for the PRI was losing three states: Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, where in the past they were very strong. But this election signaled something very important. Mexicans vote against any politicians' suspicions of having links to the drug cartels.

MARTIN: And is that why that was behind their...

Mr. ESQUIVEL: Yes, it is why. It is why, and is the reason. And this vote was for peace vote for peace. And that it also signals that Mexicans are ready for another change probably in the next few years in terms of who's going to be the next president of Mexico.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, though, the PRI's comeback, as you just noted, is stopped by an alliance of the current president, Felipe Calderon's PAN Party and the left-leaning PRD. And so is that the wave of the future that Calderon's party is seeking alliances or some sort of a coalition with these other two? Or is that just, you think, a one-time-only stopgap measure for...

Mr. ESQUIVEL: I think it's only it was only for these elections. I don't see the party of the president forming another alliance with the PRD for the presidential elections in 2012. It's impossible to have an alliance for that kind of election. This alliance was trying to stop the PRI to get back in terms of forming a very powerful platform for his candidate in the next two years.

But I really believe this alliance was against nature, first of all did something very important to have a candidate clean of any suspicions to have links to the narco-traffickers. That's why they won three states that in the past were so very powerful in the hands of the PRI, Michel.

MARTIN: But you're saying the PRI's comeback in the presidential election of 2012 is very possible based on these results, which makes sense, because there's momentum there.

Mr. ESQUIVEL: Yeah, it's momentum and also the - both it's signal that Mexicans are ready for another change after 71 years of the PRI, we Mexicans thought that it was time for try to have another party in the presidents. And in the last 10 years, we so far haven't seen nothing new in terms of fight against corruption and fight against narco-traffickers.

The violence, the security in all the states in Mexico, it's very important for the decision that we Mexicans are going to take in the next two years. And I really believe that Mexicans are tired of this strategy against the drug cartels by President Felipe Calderon.

MARTIN: What do you think this foretells for U.S. relations with Mexico? Do you have any sense of that?

Mr. ESQUIVEL: Yeah, I think the State Department, the White House, have to be very careful in terms to analyze the results of these elections. I don't think it's a signal that Mexicans want another kind of relation with Washington. We want, first of all, to have another strategy in Mexico not outside our borders to fight against drugs.

But it's also a message to Washington, says you guys have to work more in terms of stop the consumption and demand of drugs in the U.S. because we are Mexicans and paying with blood of this illegal trade of narcotics.

MARTIN: I'm not quite sure how Mexico could enforce that, but I do take your point. Jesus Esquivel is Washington correspondent for Processo, a political magazine. He joined us from NET Radio in Lincoln, Nebraska. Jesus, thanks so much for joining us once again.

Mr. ESQUIVEL: Thank you, Michel.

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