The state of Veracruz, which has a population of about 8.2 million, snakes down Mexico’s eastern coast with the Gulf of Mexico. Veracruz, which has as its capital the port city of the same name, is an important economic driver for Mexico, particularly in the agriculture and petroleum sectors.
Politically, the state’s governor, Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares, is a member of the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN), as is one of the two federal senators. The other two senators belong to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is also the party of the sitting president, Enrique Peña Nieto.
To understand what’s going on in Veracruz one has to address its recent political history. For 48 days until December 1, 2016, there was an interim PRI governor, Flavino Ríos Alvarado, who assumed power after the disastrous rule of Javier Duarte de Ochoa (1 December 2010 – 12 October 2016), a notorious kleptocrat whose administration was marked by excessive violence and corruption. Federal auditors allege he and his associates misappropriated more than 55 billion pesos (~$US 3 billion at the time of the alleged crimes) via a series of shell companies.
In public interviews, Duarte delivered numerous threats to journalists, helping to create a climate of fear for reporters. In the past seven years in Veracruz it is estimated that a total of 26 journalists have been murdered, and another four have disappeared. Many others have simply fled. Mostly these crimes have been committed with complete impunity, although two men were recently sentenced to 25 years in jail for the 2015 kidnapping and murder of Veracruz journalist Moisés Sánchez.
Sadly, though the violence has slowed it hasn’t stopped. Journalist Ricardo Monlui Cabrera was killed March 19, 2017, when two gunmen shot him as he was getting into his car at his home in Gutiérrez Zamora. Exactly one year later – on March 19, 2018 – Leobardo Vázquez, 42, who ran an online news outlet called Enlace Informative Regional, was shot dead at a taco stand. Several of Vázquez's recent posts were highly critical of Juan Ángel Espejo, the mayor of a nearby town, Tecolutla. On March 6 of this year Vázquez reported on an alleged illegal land occupation by the administration of Juan Ángel Espejo. Then on March 9 Vázquez posted on Facebook that he had received threats and bribe offers to stop writing about Espejo.
|Duarte in his heyday
There has also been some election violence. The mayoral candidate in the municipality of Hidalgotitlan, Santana Cruz Bahena, was gunned down at his home on November 20, 2017.
The ongoing insecurity is largely a legacy of Duarte’s corrupt and violent administration, which federal and state prosecutors have finally begun to address.
On February 8, 2018, a Mexican federal judge charged 31 members of the Veracruz state police, including Veracruz’s former Secretary of Public Security, Arturo Bermúdez, for the forced disappearance of 15 people between April and October 2013. In the middle of June, Luis Ángel Bravo Contreras, Attorney General during the Duarte administration, was jailed for allegedly ordering the forced disappearance of 13 people, and for obstructing the investigation.
The police allegedly used death squad tactics to abduct, torture, kill and dispose of the bodies of their victims. They did this while also stealing a lot of money: at the end of May authorities in Veracruz seized three ranches that allegedly belonged to Arturo Bermúdez Zurita. As well, relatives of Javier Duarte have donated a 100-million-peso (US $5.4-million) ranch to the state in order to avoid prosecution.
In late May of this year an arrest warrant was also issued for Karime Macias, Duarte’s wife. It’s alleged that Macias played a critical role in the embezzlement of state resources. She remains at large, and is apparently living the good life in England, though the Mexican government is pursuing the possibility of her detention and extradition.
When the excessive violence and corruption finally caught up to Duarte, he was forced to resign in disgrace. Interim governor Flavino Ríos Alvarado then helped the former-governor escape. On March 12, 2017, Rios was arrested. He has since been sentenced to one year in jail.
For almost five years no one knew where Duarte was, leading many to speculate that he was benefitting from the impunity afforded to the political class, particularly members of the PRI. He was finally arrested in Guatemala on April 15, 2017, and extradited to Mexico on July 17, 2017.
Which brings us to this year’s election cycle.
This year Veracruz is in deck to elect a new governor on July 1. There are only four candidates: José Francisco Yunes Zorrilla, who is running with a PRI-Green coalition; Cuitláhuac García Jiménez, who is running for the left-leaning Morena-led “Juntos Haremos Historia” (Together We’ll Make History) coalition; Miguel Ángel Yunes Márquez of the “Por Veracruz al Frente” (Mexico First) coalition, which includes the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN), the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and the progressive Citizens’ Movement (MC); and finally Miriam González Sheridan of New Alliance.
|Duarte in custody
Two candidates are effectively out of the game. Miriam González Sheridan of New Alliance, which often runs in a coalition to gain more support, simply doesn’t have the votes. And the PRI has been so discredited by the administrations of Duarte and Ríos that there is little hope Yunes Zorrilla will win. One caveat: as is true elsewhere in Mexico, the PRI can mobilize on the ground, and has an effective system for rigging ballots at the local level.
That leaves us with a two-way race.
The present PAN governor has not been burdened by controversy, despite the fact that he was formerly a member of the PRI. As well, he ran previously on the bizarre PAN-PRD-MC coalition, so there is some evidence that that combination can deliver success.
And the Morena candidate, Cuitláhuac García Jiménez, is riding a national wave of support for the leftist party and its presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).
The most recently released poll by Grupo Reforma and Grupo Radio Centro (June 24) indicate that it’s a close race. Cuitláhuac García Jiménez of Morena now edges Miguel Ángel Yunes Márquez of the PAN-led “Frente” Alliance by two points, 43% to 41%.
One mark that works both for and against Yunes Márquez is that his father is the sitting PAN governor, Yunes Linares. According to the poll, 65% of Veracruzans think that if Yunes wins there would be interference from his father. However, that isn’t a major concern for 50% of respondents, who presumably think that the help would be beneficial.
There is an interesting breakdown of support, which will likely also be reflected in the presidential contest. Morena is stronger in the rural north and south, whereas the PAN has more support in the urban areas in the center of the state. Morena does better with women and more educated voters; the PAN does better with older voters.
When it comes to the presidential race, AMLO is doing much better than his main opponent, Ricardo Anaya of the PAN-led “Por México al Frente” coalition. AMLO is polling at 48% in Veracruz, and Anaya is at 36%. José Antonio Meade of the PRI-led “Todos por México” is bringing up the rear at 15%.
As with other states this election cycle, Veracruz will be sending three senators to the federal senate. We could see some big changes here, too, given that at present two senators are with the PRI, and the party is in a free-fall in Veracruz. So, we could see senators from Morena and PAN, with the PRI shut out.
Below are the links to the posts for each state: