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In Mexico, Candidates Sling Serious Mud In Tamaulipas


Mexico is in the middle of one of the dirtiest election seasons in recent memory. This Sunday, voters in 12 states will elect mayors and governors, and some of the races are really close. Candidates and campaigns have been slinging a lot of mud. And voters in one northern state, just across the border from Texas, are scared after allegations of cartel influence. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Several homes and businesses on this street in Hidalgo, Tamaulipas, are charred. Broken glass and burned-out bricks litter the properties. Seventy-year-old Paulina Morales Porra is the only around who will talk about the fire that tore through here six years ago.

PUALINA PORRA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They burned the homes of the ones who were killing people," she says, racing past me. Town lore is the business-owners had ties to the Zeta drug cartel. The Zetas and the powerful Gulf Cartel have been waging a brutal battle for control of this northern border state for years. The burned-out buildings and a 30-foot black monument erected in a nearby park warned the Zetas not to return. But lately, the focus of the cartels' war isn't just in the towns along the smuggling corridor leading to the U.S. It also appears to be in politics. Take the battle for the mayor here in tiny Hidalgo.


KAHN: At a recent rally, supporters greet candidate Wenceslao Zuniga Vazquez, the town's elementary school principal. Everyone here calls him profe, the professor. He tells the crowd he's dropping out of the race. The national head of his own party, the PRI - or Institutional Revolutionary Party - accused him of being backed by organized crime and the opposition party.

VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They must prove what they're saying about me. My hands are clean, says Zuniga. Two other mayoral candidates in nearby towns were also forced off the PRI ticket. Angered by the move, the opposition party shot back, slinging cartel accusations at the PRI. Collusion between cartels and politicians isn't an empty accusation in Tamaulipas. Two former governors - both from the PRI party - remain fugitives and face charges in U.S. federal courts. One is accused of accepting cartel bribes, the other for allegedly laundering drug money. Current PRI candidate Baltazar Hinojosa insists he's different than his dubious predecessors.

BALTAZAR HINOJOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I am a person of peace, tranquility, and I am intelligent," says Hinojosa after leaving a campaign rally. But residents like Leticia Zuniga de Leon are tired of the corruption and violence in the state. Last year, more than 750 people were murdered and at least another 300 kidnapped in the state. Extortion and robberies are so rampant, motorists travel the state's highways in police-protected convoys.

LETICIA DE LEON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "There should have been better candidates," she says. "We've all just had to learn to live with this violence. Zuniga's voting for a smaller party's candidate, who campaigns around the state handing out brooms to sweep away what he says are the rat-like politicians. She blames the ruling PRI party for the state's problems. The party hasn't lost a governor's race in 86 years. Polls show, for the first time, the opposition PAN party has a chance at winning.



KAHN: "The winds of change are blowing in Tamaulipas," PAN party candidate Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca yells to thousands of supporters at his campaign-closer in Reynosa.

DE VACA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We will make history, and throw the PRI out," the candidate screams. But this is Tamaulipas, and nearly every candidate seems to be their own questionable credentials to the race. Cabeza de Vaca was arrested as a teen in Texas for stealing guns. And more recently, according to the newspaper Reforma, he purchased a Mexico City luxury apartment worth nearly $3 million. Who takes Tamaulipas may all depend on voter turnout, which polls say will be low due to fear of violence. The army just announced it's sending 2,000 troops to the state by Sunday - voting day. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on