Mexico’s Presidential Favorite Sticks Close to Party’s Old Guard

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A map of the relationships of Enrique Peña Nieto, who is set to win Mexico’s presidential election on Sunday, is a reminder of his ties to the old power brokers of the PRI party, including highly questionable elements like an ex-mayor accused of dealings with the Tijuana Cartel.

Southern Pulse has drawn up a diagram (see below) of Peña Nieto’s most important relationships, both professional and personal, to track the groups and individuals influencing the man who is likely to be Mexico’s next president.

The organization identifies two factions within Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that have played the greatest role in pushing his candidacy. It says that the most important is the Atlacomulco Group, a powerful structure based in Mexico State which propelled him to the governorship in 2005. The other faction is led by former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who is said to be a political godfather to Peña Nieto.

Both branches of the PRI have used their connections with media behemoth Televisa to push the front-runner’s campaign, according to Southern Pulse.

InSight Crime Analysis

Southern Pulse’s report makes clear the extent of Peña Nieto’s ties to the old power brokers of the PRI. The party, which ruled Mexico for more than seven decades until 2000, presided over a massive expansion of the drug cartels, which put them in the position to inflict today’s bloodshed on the country. Many elements in the party made deals with drug bosses, letting them go about their business unhindered in exchange for money and a relatively peaceful existence.

Peña Nieto has tried to distance himself from the old, corrupt days of the PRI, stating repeatedly that he would not make deals with criminals. His political opponents have used the party’s past to attack him, with President Felipe Calderon warning that a PRI government might make pacts with traffickers; “There are many in the PRI who think the deals of the past would work now.”

The fact that Peña Nieto’s candidacy is sponsored to such a large extent by these old factions, including Salinas, who held the presidency from 1988-1994, undermines his efforts to distinguish himself from the party’s past. As Southern Pulse puts it; “The involvement of these forces is also evidence that [Peña Nieto] is not the strong political leader that has been crafted for the public eye.”

One controversial figure that the power map links him to is flamboyant former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon, who has been accused of several murders, close ties to the Tijuana Cartel, and trafficking ivory, amongst other things. He was arrested last year and charged with illegally possessing an arsenal of guns, but had to be swiftly released due to lack of evidence.

The ex-mayor and his brother Carlos are linked to Peña Nieto through both his major PRI power bases, according to Southern Pulse’s report. They are leading members of the Atlacomulco Group, led for many years by their late father Carlos Hank Gonzalez, who was also an ally of Salinas, as well as being a “political hero” to Peña Nieto.

The PRI candidate looks more and more certain to be the one setting Mexico’s security policy for the next six years — the latest polls give him a 17-point lead over his closest rival. Southern Pulse’s map sets out clearly how, despite his fresh image, he has not moved far away from the party’s past.


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