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Cablegate: Veracruz: All Eyes On 2010 Election

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RR RUEHCD RUEHGD RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM
DE RUEHME #3173/01 3131711
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091711Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8921
INFO RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFIUU/HQS USNORTHCOM
RUEAHLA/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 MEXICO 003173

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR MX
SUBJECT: VERACRUZ: ALL EYES ON 2010 ELECTION

1. (SBU) Summary. Poloff traveled to Veracruz State in early
October to meet with state officials, opposition politicians,
and civil society representatives to discuss local conditions
in the run-up to state governor and local congressional
elections next year. The major parties are already in full
campaign mode, seeking to demonstrate strength and gain
governorships ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
Outgoing Governor Herrera of the Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI), widely criticized as undemocratic and overly
controlling of the state's political landscape, will aim to
play a key role in the state election in an effort to
heighten his influence in the party and advance his
well-known presidential aspirations. The campaign will
probably be largely determined by the efficiency of the PRI
machine, but discontent about the economy may also play a
role: Veracruz suffers from high levels of poverty and has
been hit hard by the economic downturn. While organized crime
is less of an issue than in other states, efforts on security
and human rights fronts still appear tepid at best. End
Summary.

Consolidating PRI Power, Governing Like the Bad Old Days
--------------------------------------------- -----------

2. (SBU) Governor Fidel Herrera Beltran of the PRI barely
defeated his National Action Party (PAN) opponent in 2004 and
since then has worked to consolidate PRI control of the
state. He led the party to significant victories in elections
for local deputies and mayors in 2007 and for federal
deputies in 2009. Though Veracruz has always been governed by
the PRI, it has been a battleground over the past two
decades, as the PAN gained strength and took control of
important cities like the port of Veracruz and Boca del Rio.
The leftist Convergencia Party is also strong in Veracruz,
led by PRI deserter and former governor Dante Delgado.
However, opposition strength has dwindled since Herrera took
office, partly because of systematic intimidation of the
opposition and questionable campaign and election tactics by
the PRI, according to opposition politicians and political
analysts in the state. Secretary of Government Reynaldo
Escobar Perez told Poloff the PRI plans to win the
governorship, the 212 mayorships and all 30 local deputy
positions in next year's elections. (It currently holds 155
and 28 of those positions, respectively.) This thinking
permeated meetings with PRI state officials who repeatedly
asserted that a PRI landslide will benefit the people of
Veracruz by making the state more "governable."

3. (SBU) Hoping to prevent a close race and with an eye
toward his legacy and national ambitions, Herrera plans to
impose a young protg, Javier Duarte, as the PRI
gubernatorial candidate. Herrera's domineering approach,
however, has alienated some PRI members who claim he is
marginalizing more experienced and electable PRI politicians.
His control of the state legislative process also rankles
some in the party who complain that Herrera must approve each
bill before it is even introduced. Local political analysts
and academics who initially supported his campaign have also
become somewhat disillusioned, frustrated by his politically
motivated moves: meddling in the operation of universities,
seeking control of the state's newspapers, and buying off
taxi drivers and other influential constituencies.

4. (SBU) Despite the disillusionment of some, Herrera remains
popular throughout the state, thanks to an effective
marketing strategy directed by a US firm, as well as his
personal charisma and political skill. Herrera has branded
himself the "bridge governor," constructing over 400 during
his term; he labels each with the word "Fidelidad"-- a play
on his first name and the word "faithfulness," as well as the
slogan of the state PRI. This strategy of blurring the line
between the party and the administration extends to painting
bridges and all public buildings red, the defining color of
the PRI in Veracruz. He also demonstrated his political skill
and ability to spin situations to his advantage when a young
boy in Veracruz was confirmed to have the first case of H1N1
in Mexico. Herrera erected a statue to this so-called "Child
Zero" in the boy's village and extolled the virtues of the
Veracruz health system which he claims saved the boy's life.
Images of the governor and his wife are splashed across the
state, and officials often cite Herrera's natural skills as a
politician and his qualifications--including speaking

MEXICO 00003173 002 OF 005


English, Portuguese, and French--to be a player on the
national and international stage. While Herrera may have
national aspirations, he will more likely be a kingmaker
during the selection of the PRI candidate for 2012. His bloc
of 20 deputies in the federal Congress and his role as one of
the party's most prominent governors provide him with some
influence and possibly a high-level position within a PRI
administration, but he does not have enough strength to
compete against more powerful candidates like Mexico State
Governor Enrique Pena Nieto, PRI President Beatriz Paredes,
and Senator Manlio Beltrones.

5. (SBU) In an effort to break the PRI's hold on the state,
the PAN and Convergencia are discussing forming an alliance,
possibly to include the Party of the Democratic Revolution
(PRD) and the Workers' Party (PT), for next year's election.
Similar alliances are under discussion in other
PRI-controlled states like Oaxaca, Hidalgo, and Puebla and
are likely seen by national-level officials of these parties
as a way to interrupt the PRI's momentum ahead of 2012.
Despite the apparent contradictions on the face of such an
alliance, these parties from the left and the right appear
willing to put ideology aside in the interest of unseating
the PRI. Tension will likely arise, however, over candidate
selection, as both PAN and Convergencia officials want the
nomination. Moreover, a lack of unity within the PAN, which
has four pre-candidates, may also complicate the formation of
an alliance. PAN leaders insist, however, that their
preferred candidate, federal State Employees' Social Security
and Services Institute (ISSSTE) Director Miguel Angel Yunes,
could carry the alliance to victory because of his statewide
popularity stemming, ironically, from his tenure as a state
and federal PRI congressman. In fact, PAN officials and some
observers predict Governor Herrera, who harbors a deep
personal animosity toward Yunes, will try to put Yunes in
prison if he emerges as the candidate for the PAN or the
alliance.

Painting Over the Cracks on Security
------------------------------------

6. (SBU) The primary security issue in Veracruz is common
crime, not organized crime, according to state security
officials, the Attorney General, and the President of the
State Human Rights Commission. They claim threats from Zetas
reported last year have subsided, and the Director of the
State Security Council, Ruben Dario Mendiola, says Veracruz
is the fourth safest state in the country; the administration
is planning a public relations campaign to educate citizens
of this fact and highlight administration efforts on the
security front. When asked about key security challenges,
Dario went on at length about telephone extortion attempts
and downplayed the presence of organized crime, despite other
reports Poloff had seen regarding the importance of Veracruz
as a drug transit and shipment zone. In a meeting with the
Veracruz Attorney General, Salvador Mikel Rivera, to discuss
judicial reform and security challenges, Mikel echoed other
officials' statements that organized crime is not a major
threat in Veracruz. He also highlighted the state's progress
on judicial reform, which seem limited compared to other
states. Mikel said Veracruz has passed the necessary judicial
reform legislation but claimed implementation has yet to
begin because of a lack of funding and resistance by some
within the judiciary. He also claimed law curricula are
already being adjusted in schools across the state--a point
disputed by academics--and that the entire process will
require at least six more years to complete. Prior to the
current reforms, Veracruz had made some progress on expanding
indigenous justice systems and alternative resolution
mechanisms, both of which will be reconciled with the new law
as it is implemented.

7. (SBU) Poloff toured the state's C-4 Center (Control,
Command, Communications, and Computation), which officials
claim has been in operation since 2002. The Veracruz C-4
appears to be a glorified emergency call center, not a center
for coordinating state security operations and responses.
Poloff toured the call centers for the state emergency
response numbers (one for anonymous and one for traceable
calls), and both seemed to be relatively modern, with
operators also conducting analyses of where crimes were
taking place and plotting the information on graphs and maps.

MEXICO 00003173 003 OF 005


Operators also watch video screens with images from cameras
across the capital, and Dario said there are cameras in other
cities across the state monitored by six other call centers.
The cameras are a tool for crime prevention, investigations,
and monitoring traffic--a technician can control traffic
lights across the city if necessary.

8. (SBU) Poloff also toured the new Center for Confidence
Control, where state security officials will be vetted and
applicants assessed for security-related positions. The
center will come online in January, but the equipment and
staff are in place, despite repeated claims of a lack of
funding. The center has a staff of at least 30 people, most
of whom were idly passing the day when Poloff toured the
facility. The center's new equipment includes an in-house
medical laboratory, video cameras and high definition
televisions for monitoring polygraph sessions, and bays of
computers for employees and applicants. The center is
awaiting the arrival of polygraphers in training in Mexico
City at the Center for Research and National Security
(CISEN), and Dario asked that the Embassy put Veracruz at the
top of the list as we assist with training under the Merida
Initiative. Some 27,000 officials from across the state will
be vetted in the center over the next four years, and the
10,000 who have already been assessed by the Attorney
General's office will be re-vetted, as only this center can
legally certify qualification for employment in
security-related positions in the state. While the premise of
the center and its construction and staffing are laudable,
several contacts during Poloff's visit warned that the
political appointment of the head of the center could
undermine the vetting process and make the center vulnerable
to corruption.

Roiled by Recession, Lightly Buffered by Key Sectors
--------------------------------------------- ------

9. (SBU) Veracruz has been hit hard by the recession, but
Antonio Luna Rosales, the representative of the federal
Secretariat of Economy in Veracruz, told Poloff Veracruz has
been partly spared. Veracruz is not as reliant on
manufacturing and exports to the US as some northern states
and has relied on its production of primary goods--mainly oil
and foodstuffs to weather the crisis. Veracruz is Mexico's
leading producer of coffee, bananas, limes, pineapples, and
oranges. Like other states, Veracruz collects little in the
way of taxes, and at least 90 percent of the state budget
comes from the federal government. Civil society, opposition
politicians, and some PRI politicians are concerned about the
state's spiraling debt, which has gone from zero to nearly $3
billion USD during Herrera's term, according to local
political analysts and press reports.

10. (SBU) Oil deposits in the north near Chicontepec and on
the Gulf of Mexico are a mixed blessing for Veracruz,
providing something of an economic buffer but also tying the
state to the trials and tribulations of the poorly run state
oil company. Veracruz also has a refinery in the south and
Mexico's only nuclear power plant on the coast in the north.
However, much of the oil, electricity, and agricultural
products are destined for consumption or processing in other
parts of the country. Officials repeatedly lamented this fact
but offered little in the way of ideas--besides demanding
more money from the federal government--to leverage the
state's economic advantages to increase development and
promote growth. Around 50 percent of the state's population
of seven million lives in poverty, and state and federal
officials claim to be attempting to fight increased
unemployment and poverty by building infrastructure and
promoting investment. Jose Yunes Zorrila, who serves as
president of the social development committee in the federal
Chamber of Deputies, told Poloff he is not sure he can do
anything specific for Veracruz to improve social development.
Yunes may even run into opposition from Governor Herrera
because he is planning to seek the PRI gubernatorial
nomination next year.

Lackluster Performance on Human Rights and Trafficking
--------------------------------------------- ---------

11. (SBU) Veracruz officials claim trafficking is not a
serious problem in the state despite Embassy trafficking in

MEXICO 00003173 004 OF 005


persons (TIP) officials citing it as one of the states with
the highest incidences of TIP. Officials acknowledge the
presence of traffickers moving immigrants from Central
America to the US but assured Poloff that trafficking
involving women and children destined for industries in which
they will be exploited is not an issue in Veracruz. The
president of the State Human Rights Commission, Nohemi
Quirazco Hernandez, told Poloff that violations involving
women and children mostly include cases of indigenous
citizens--up to a million people--participating in "cultural
practices" such as selling young daughters. Local PRI deputy
Dalia Perez Castaneda disagreed, asserting that trafficking
in persons is a major problem in Veracruz, with women and
children from Central America and southern Mexico trafficked
through the state to the US border or to Mexico's resort
areas on the Yucatan Peninsula.

12. (SBU) Quirazco told Poloff her commission issued nearly
40 recommendations last year, all of with which the state
government complied. Quirazco said Veracruz does not
experience many human rights complaints and has only limited
problems stemming from the military deployment to the state.
She claimed her office maintains its autonomy and that she is
free to issue recommendations as she sees fit, but her
admission that the state government cut her budget by more
than half calls into question her assertion of complete
autonomy. Given the political environment in the state and
Quirazco's tenure as the Secretary of Government for the
previous PRI administration, it would not be surprising if
the commission were affected by government pressure and
politics before and during the recommendation process.

Limited Operating Space for NGOs and Civil Society
--------------------------------------------- -----

13. (SBU) Poloff spoke with leaders of two local private
universities and officials from an NGO focused on water
conservation and sanitation issues, all of whom expressed
reservations about the ability of civil society to operate
freely in Veracruz. The leader of one university claimed
state officials shut down his school for political reasons
but covered their tracks by citing the violation of an
administrative code. Both academics said universities are
pressured to avoid criticizing the government, and the state
subsidizes universities it deems friendly to the
administration. The head of the NGO said his organization
operates freely but only because it focuses on a relatively
nonpolitical issue. The governor attends some of the group's
functions, but the organization does not appear to be
politicized like many of the other NGOs in the state.

Corruption, Clientelism, and Control
------------------------------------

14. (SBU) Beyond Herrera's efforts to impose his
hand-selected candidate and expand PRI control in Veracruz,
Poloff heard about several troubling trends that could be
considered threats to democracy and a regression to old-style
PRI rule. Multiple contacts accused the Herrera
administration of clientelism and patronage, including
co-opting universities and taxi drivers in the capital;
corruption, to the point of calling the governor a Zeta;
buying off the state's newspapers; and intimidating
opposition parties by tapping their officials' phones and
instructing state officials to drag their feet on any
grievances filed against the PRI or the state government.

15. (SBU) Veracruz PAN officials allege that criminals
associated with the government stole the party's election
materials days before campaigning began for July's midterm
elections. State police and judicial officials assigned to
the case allegedly failed to investigate, deeming it a
"self-robbery." The PAN officials also claim government
officials took PAN election observers to jail on trumped-up
charges and that the PRI accused them of voter harassment and
vote-rigging in the latest election, when in fact it was the
PRI that was guilty of such acts. Herrera has also stacked
the state electoral tribunal with his supporters, they say,
making it virtually impossible to file election-related
cases. In an effort to discredit Miguel Angel Yunes, a
potential PAN gubernatorial candidate, Secretary of
Government Escobar told Poloff that Yunes is a pedophile and

MEXICO 00003173 005 OF 005


has ties to narcotraffickers. The Secretary went so far as to
give Poloff a copy of the book outlining the pedophilia
allegations, marking the page with Yunes' picture with his
own business card.

Comment
-------

16. (SBU) All eyes in Veracruz, including--most
importantly--those of Governor Herrera, are focused on next
year's race for governor and the impact of that race on the
2012 presidential election. In terms of raw numbers, an
alliance among the opposition parties could unseat Herrera
and the PRI. The likelihood of an alliance, however, is
uncertain at this point because its prospective members have
yet to reach a deal. Herrera will take seriously any threat
to PRI dominance in the state and crank up the well-oiled PRI
machinery accordingly. The developments in Veracruz over the
next year will be instructive, both for the viability of an
opposition alliance in other states across Mexico and for the
strategies used by the PRI to regain control across the
country. However, even if Herrera pulls off a victory in 2010
and pursues his national aspirations, national level PRI
dynamics will likely relegate him to the role of a dealmaker
during the selection of the PRI candidate for 2012, rather
than a candidate himself.
Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /
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