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Mexico: campaigning during a drug war

A candidate photographed with traffickers. Another shot. It's election season during a drug war.

“This is monkey business by federal prosecutors,” PRD leader Jesus Ortega said Wednesday. “They are trying to take him out of the race to impose the official candidate. We will not permit this.”

Ortega said they are appealing the charges and criticized the protected witnesses.

Sanchez’s defense team claimed the witnesses make absurd claims including one that the candidate went to an imaginary “narco-summit” in the resort of Acapulco with leaders of all the major cartels.

In 2009, federal agents arrested 12 mayors in the state of Michoacan on drug charges, many of them PRD, on the basis of protected witnesses. All but two have been released for lack of evidence, feeding claims that that was a dirty maneuver to affect last year’s elections.

In Sinaloa state, the staining of a candidate for July’s race did not come from federal prosecutors but from the press.

Reforma newspaper published a photograph of gubernatorial candidate Jesus Vizcarra of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) at a party many years ago with kingpin Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada — who has $5 million U.S. bounty on his head.

Vizacarra retorted that he has no ties to traffickers.

Across the country in Tamaulipas, over the border from Texas, elections for mayors have been marred by daily street shoot-outs between rival cartels that have left hundreds dead.

In May, gunmen in the Tamaulipas town of Valle Hermoso burst into the farm supplies business of Jose Guajardo Varela — candidate for the National Action Party of President Felipe Calderon — and shot him dead along with his son.

In three other towns in the state, National Action says it cannot field candidates because of threats from trafficking gangs.

“If there is fear and violence, there is no freedom. And if there is no freedom we cannot have fair elections,” said Maria Eugenia Valdes, a political scientist at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City.

Given such problems of violence and corruption, it is likely that many of July’s races will end up in the courts, Valdes said.

July’s elections comes exactly 10 years after Mexicans voted to end seven decades of one-party rule.

Valdes said the latest tensions show that the nation is still having real problems establishing a multi-party democracy to replace that.

“A new system, a new set of rules, has not been established yet,” she said. “Instead we have many parts of the country that are ungovernable.”