By RICARDO CASTILLO
With four out of six state races for governor cleared, Mexico’s upcoming June 5 election is left to solve two main frays at the booths: Tamaulipas and Durango.
Most pundits and polls agree that up ahead of schedule, the conservative National Action Party (PAN) will retain the central Mexican state of Aguascalientes, while the once-almighty centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will continue to crumble at its base, with upfront evident defeats in Hidalgo and Oaxaca. In Quintana Roo, on the Caribbean, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party candidate has an insurmountable lead.
So, the focus of politicking attention is now on Tamaulipas and Durango, but for reasons galore, the Tamaulipas race stands up front.
So let’s start with the juiciest case, Tamaulipas.
The main reason now that this race is so contentious is the fact that current state governor, Francisco Javier Cabeza de Vaca, launched over the past two weeks “a ferocious dirty war,” as one political pundit described it, against the opponent Américo Villarreal, backed by Morena as well as the Labor Party (PT) and the Green Party (PVEM). The governor’s candidate is his “compadre” Cesar Verástegi, popularly known as “El Truko,” a word meaning “the trickster.”
Visibly, Cabeza de Vaca´s “war” is on three fronts: first, clearing out all of Morena’s fifth columnists altering elections from within the administration; second, launching a fear campaign against candidate Villarreal, who was even forced to not attend last week’s officially programmed debate in which her was accused of receiving past bribes with recently killed alleged fuel thief Sergio Carmona.
And third, Cabeza de Vaca ordered the arrest last week of the mayors of the state capital Ciudad Victoria, Eduardo Gattás Báez, and Nuevo Laredo (the nation’s main exports hub to the United States), Carmen Lilia Canturosas. Both mayors were promptly released, but their arrests were seen as an act of provocation by the governor.
These past two acts, sources in Ciudad Victoria claim, are part of the campaign being fraught from within the state government’s palace.
More in view was the bash the governor threw last Sunday, May 15, at the plush Corona Regatta Club in the Tampico-Madero twin coastal port cities, with “exquisite paella” being served for several thousand PAN followers. Notwithstanding free beer for all, paella must be cooked with Spain,grown saffron flowers, which sell on the internet at $1,000 a kilo. Unsubstantiated campaign political gossip has it that the dish out was paid for with state funds.
But why this last-minute fierce attack by Cabeza de Vaca? The main reason is that if Cabeza de Vaca’s candidate El Truko loses, he himself will end up in muddy waters. For starters, the Federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) issued an arrest warrant against the governor last year, which was not enforced because as an elected official he is protected by law. But the warrant will be enforced the moment Cabeza de Vaca steps down from the governorship as he is charged of accepting bribes for his vote for the former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2013 Energy Reform. Authorities claim they have a strong case to land him behind bars.
On a rosy front, Cabeza de Vaca still hopes to be the National Action Party’s presidential candidate in 2024, a pipe dream that seems unlikely given his increasingly difficult personal situation.
Let’s not forget that when López Obrador came into power in 2018, Cabeza de Vaca and a group of 10 other PAN governors ganged up against the president with demands that were difficult to meet and that made the president’s rise to office shoddy. The one thing the Group of 10 Governors managed to do was to irritate the knowingly irritable AMLO to the point that Cabeza de Vaca can now validly claim persecution, if not from the president, indeed from the Morena and sympathizing parties’ coalition.
In short, if Cabeza de Vaca loses the reigns of the state of Tamaulipas, he will join the ever-growing number of former Tamaulipas governors now in jail on charges of organized criminal activities, which, observers claim, Cabeza de Vaca is committing in order to pump up El Truko’s candidacy.
To boot, though some polls have the electoral count more or less even for now, other polls claim that Villarreal and Morena will win by a 20-percent majority.
Tamaulipas, no doubt is the top piping hot gubernatorial election this time around. Many observers surely view it as the top political spectacle in this 2022 electoral process. And most definitely, northern Mexicans, avowed eaters of pit-steamed beef barbacoa, know that the best part of the dish is made of cow’s head, namely, Cabeza de Vaca, and they are already stewing the pot.
On the other hand, the election for governor in the state of Durango is more of what one would expect in times of political realignment.
One fact of life in Mexico is that the advent of the National Regeneration Movement in 2015 came to change the entire political spectrum. The PRI and the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) underwent a membership exit stampede that has them severely diminished.
The Durango election is one of coalitions of what remains of these old parties.
Polls have two candidates in a close competition. Not surprisingly, these candidates are Marina Vitela, a former salient PRI member and labor leader who flocked to Morena and is now running for the We Make History Together coalition of Morena, the PT and the PVEM.
Vitela is being confronted by traditional PAN member Esteban Villegas Villarreal, who heads the It Goes for Durango movement sponsored by the PAN, PRI and PRD.
Running way behind the frontal twosome is Patricia Flores of Citizen’s Movement Party.
The salient feature among the candidates is that two are women and represent a new trend in the Mexican political system.
But the reality of these two elections is that the Tamaulipas and Durango are PAN administrations, and a defeat in either one of them would severely downsize the influence of the party, which, again, if its candidates lose, will dwindle down to only five states – Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Yucatán and Chihuahua – weakening the PAN’s conservative influence down to life-threatening dangers, something seen by many as potentially negative for Mexican democracy at large.