Official: Drug cartel tried to skew Mexico vote

November 18, 2011 - 9:00 PM

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican official said Friday that drug traffickers tried to influence elections in the western state of Michoacan, a charge already made before the voting by some of the candidates and party leaders.

Juan Marcos Gutierrez, the outgoing acting interior secretary, said a drug cartel conducted "boldfaced interference" in last Sunday's state elections. Though he did not name the gang, a single cartel, The Knights Templar, dominates most of Michoacan.

"We cannot allow this participation by organized crime to even start trying to influence (election) results," he said. "We have the obligation to bulletproof ourselves against this kind of bold-faced interference."

Gutierrez said traffickers tried to intimidate voters to cast ballots a certain way. He also referred to a local newspaper in a city whose mayor was shot to death shortly before the elections being forced to run an ad that threatened to kill anyone who voted for the mayor's party.

The mayor, like President Felipe Calderon, is a member of the conservative National Action Party. Calderon's sister ran for governor in the Michoacan elections, but lost narrowly to the candidate of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Gutierrez called the threats and pressure used by traffickers "extremely worrisome."

Gutierrez served about a week as interim interior secretary, before handing over the post to Alejandro Poire on Thursday. In Mexico, the interior department oversees domestic security and political negotiations with congress and also helps organize elections.

In a speech upon taking office, Poire said, "We will not permit criminals of any kind to interfere with our right to freely elect our representatives."

Also Friday, the Mexican army said it had seized a $350,000 radio communications network that was purportedly operated by the Zetas drug cartel in the northern state of Coahuila. The Defense Department said the system consisted of 122 radio sets, mostly hand-held, and was used by the Zetas to conduct internal communications and monitor law enforcement agencies.

The Mexican navy reported it had detained 14 alleged Zetas members in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, where drug gang violence has worsened in recent months. The navy said the 14 were stopped late Wednesday in suspicious vehicles along a road.

The Veracruz state government reported that four people were killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers near the state capital. The statement did not say which law enforcement agency was involved or whether those killed in the confrontation belonged to any drug gang.