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Did a Mexican political party have agreements with organized crime?

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, pictured at a meeting last month about the 2011 Pan-American Games.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, pictured at a meeting last month about the 2011 Pan-American Games.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Calderon suggests elections next year might give organized crime an opening
  • Many in the opposition party "think the deals of the past would work now," he says
  • "I don't consider it an appropriate statement for a head of state," an opposition leader says

(CNN) -- The question is a serious one, and its answer has multiple political and security implications: Did a Mexican political party have agreements with organized crime, specifically the PRI which governed Mexico for 71 years?

The way Mexican President Felipe Calderon answered this question when asked by New York Times reporters is creating quite a stir. Asked whether he fears that a victory by the PRI in next year's presidential elections may bring back a corrupt relationship with organized crime, Calderon, a member of the PAN, conceded that is one of his fears.

"It depends on who" wins the elections, the president told the Times. "There are many in the PRI who agree with the (hard-line) policy I have, at least they say so in secret, while publicly they may say something else. There are many in the PRI who think the deals of the past would work now. I don't see what deal could be done, but that is the mentality many of them have. If that opinion prevails it would worry me."

PRI congresswoman and former party president Beatriz Paredes lashed out at the president for making the statement. "I don't consider it an appropriate statement for a head of state," said the former Tlaxcala governor.

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"I cannot respect a Mexican president who travels abroad to make (irresponsible) statements about the opposition without proof. It sounds more like a statement from the member of a political party. I think that if the Mexican head of state has proof about that kind of allegations he would have to take legal action in Mexico," Paredes said.

The controversy, which started Sunday with the publication of the president's comments, prompted Mexican Interior Minister Jose Francisco Blake Mora to make a public appearance Monday to clarify the issue in front of the Mexican media.

"The president didn't say anything that hasn't been said before, particularly the permissibility, the inaction and omissions that have weakened the institutions of our country," Blake Mora said.

He specifically accused former Nuevo Leon Gov. Socrates Rizzo of publicly advocating a policy of negotiation with organized crime.

During a speech to law students at the Autonomous University of Coahuila, Rizzo, a PRI member, said that in a way, prior administrations, in the hands of the PRI until the year 2000, had "solved the problem of drug trafficking."

"There used to be control, a strong state, a strong president, a strong attorney general's office and tightly controlled army. In a way, they (government officials) would tell them (organized crime): 'You cross through here and you through there; but don't touch these places," Rizzo said. His statement, made in February, was widely quoted by Mexican newspapers.

Asked to clarify, Rizzo told Mexican media that he was referring to agreements between the different levels of government, not the drug cartels.

Pressed on whether Calderon was accusing the PRI as a whole, Blake Mora said that "it's false that the president has accused the PRI as an institution. He was referring to some PRI members who advocate that position."

Blake Mora pointed out that there are numerous Mexican public officials in prison, convicted of serving the interests of organized crime. "Is this really something we don't know about?" he asked reporters at the press conference.

"That's why we're working on a new dynamic, a new platform which will strengthen the institutions of our country," he said.

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