Diplomacy

Meade over the Fire

Corruption sways Mexican election

A string of new corruption scandals has hampered the Mexican ruling party’s chances of winning the presidential election on July 1.

Wishful thinking only gains that moniker once the object of its desire has become impossible to obtain. In the annals of history, often it is only wishful thinking—followed by brisk action—that produces the desired results.

The jury is no longer out on whether it was wishful thinking or plain foolishness for the New York Times to report every day for months that Hillary had an 85% chance of defeating Donald Trump.
Similarly, the widespread Anglo-American prediction that ruling party economist Jose Antonio Meade will cruise past left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico’s July 1 presidential election is beginning to seem untenable.

A little known social development minister with no party affiliation before being tapped to become the ruling party’s presidential candidate at the end of November, the grace period for the PRI’s first non-party candidate in 90 years barely lasted through Christmas.

Indeed, Meade’s stainless outsider status as an American-trained economist and minister of foreign affairs under Enrique Peña Nieto has been called into question by scandals in both the finance and social development ministries, both of which he ran under the currently sitting president.

The gift that keeps on taking

In December, Alejandro Gutierrez, once head of the PRI’s books, was arrested over the misallocation of USD13.3 million in public funds purportedly siphoned off for PRI political campaigns in Chihuahua state.

Claiming they were funneled through the finance ministry, Chihuahua state Governor Javier Corral now claims that further federal resources are being withheld from his state in retaliation for going public with the above allegation.

Though Meade says the Chihuahua clamor is nothing more than pre-electoral noise from the PAN-PRD, an opposition coalition cobbled together from Mexico’s two other biggest political parties, the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the social democratic Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), it is hardly the first time the violent border state has darkened the PRI’s reputation in recent times.

The state’s previous governor, PRI stalwart Cesar Duarte, simply absconded at the end of his six-year term October 2016 rather than face looming corruption charges in civilian garb.

Issuing an extradition request for Duarte on January 18, Mexico’s attorney general confirmed that nearly a dozen separate charges were pending against the former governor, whose whereabouts are still unknown 16 months later.

Though Mexican authorities declined to specify which country the extradition request was sent to, it’s widely believed he absconded to the US.

Combined with separate allegations of a misuse of antipoverty funds at the Ministry of Social Development, to which he has responded with wooden-mouthed silence, Meade’s message of transparency has come up hard against his new obligation to defend the PRI from a very wary public while also convincing its footsoldiers that he’s one of them.

A poisonous task within a party already deeply unpopular, the most recent polls have shown Meade fall to third place against Obrador (23.6%) and PAN-PRD candidate Ricardo Anaya (20.3%) to a measly 18.2%.

Converts left and right

And it’s not only poll respondents getting cold feet. On January 21, the longtime militant PAN member and senator Gabriela Cuevas announced she was throwing her support behind AMLO, as Obrador is colloquially known, in order to better “persevere in the struggle for a more just and free democracy.”

A day later the former national football star Cuauhtémoc Blanco, a political neophyte until winning the 2015 mayoralty of Cuernavaca, Mexico’s fifteenth-largest city, left the PRD to support AMLO.

Nor are these two alone. Former aide to president Vicente Fox (2000-2006) Alonso Durazo, himself a one-time PRI-man turned PAN-ster, has been promised the public security ministership as part of his long-term leftward drift, should AMLO win.

Also included in this tentative team announced on January 4 was Alejandro Gertz, former head of public security under President Fox, and Marcos Fastlicht, the businessman and father-in-law of Emilio Azcárraga, chairman of Latin America’s largest media company, Grupo Televisa.

With prominent converts from the right, center, and social democrats, the election is beginning to look like AMLO’s to lose.