Drug war casts dark shadow over Mexico voting

MEXICO CITY — Presumed enforcers for drug gangs hung four bodies from overpasses before dawn on Sunday in Chihuahua, the capital of a violence-wracked Mexican state that borders Texas and New Mexico as Mexican voters went to the polls to pick new state and local leaders.

The political party that ruled Mexico for seven decades before voters threw it out a decade ago appeared poised to gain new momentum in the elections in which the country's ongoing drug cartel violence has been the major issue.

The results are likely to be a gauge of the frustration Mexicans feel over the unchecked violence, in which thousands of people have died, and give an idea of whether that furstration will influence the presidential vote in 2012, which could allow the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to regain power following its rout in 2000 after 71 years as Mexico's preeminent political party.

Mexicans fume over President Felipe Calderon's strategy of all-out war with drug gangs, saying it has failed to bring security. More than 23,000 people have died since Calderon, the leader of the National Action Party (PAN), came to office in late 2006.

The new slayings fueled that tension.

A local newspaper, El Heraldo, reported on its website that two of the four bodies found dangling in Chihuahua victims may have been guards at a local prison.

In the capital of Tamaulipas, another border state, 30 bodyguards protected Egidio Torre Cantu as he cast a ballot. Torre's brother was the 2-to-1 favorite to win the governorship of Tamaulipas before gunmen ambushed his convoy June 28, the highest-level political assassination in more than a decade.

The brother assumed the candidacy on behalf of a PRI-led coalition.

Suspicion for the attack fell on Los Zetas, a powerful drug gang at war with its former ally-turned-rival Gulf Cartel that has turned Tamaulipas into a battlefield in recent months.

In Sinaloa state, one of the states with the worst violence, voters appeared to care little about presumed links between some candidates and narcotics syndicates.

PRI gubernatorial candidate Jesus Vizcarra Calderon has refused to respond to reports that the godfather of one of his seven children is drug kingpin Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, one of the leaders of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Federal police arrested Gregorio Sanchez, the PRI's candidate for governor of Quintano Roo, home to the resort of Cancun, on May 25 on charges he was linked to the Beltran Leyva and Los Zetas drug gangs. Even so, the PRI candidate who replaced Sanchez was on track to victory.

PRI governors currently hold 19 of Mexico's states. Projections among pollsters said the party stood a chance of holding 22 states after Sunday's ballots were counted.

That would give the PRI's likely presidential candidate in 2012, state of Mexico Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto, who already holds a lead in opinion polls, a further leg up in trying to recapture power for the party.

Elections at the state level have grown in importance as drug cartels have burrowed deeper into regional politics. Within state governments, authoritarianism and corruption have intensified even as political pluralism has taken root at the national level.


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Check out this McClatchy blog: Mexico Unmasked