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President’s sister aiming to restore security to Michoacan

August 22, 2011

During the 2008 Independence Day celebrations, two grenades were thrown into a crowd that had gathered in the main plaza of Morelia, Michoacan. Eight people were killed and over 100 injured. This was the moment that Luisa Maria Calderon Hinojosa, older sister of President Felipe Calderon, decided to return to politics.

“It’s time to go back, holidays are over,” the former congresswoman said. “I saw that Michoacan was suffering a lot and that we had to do something. I had experience in politics, so I reported to my party and said ‘here I am, how can I help?’”

Now, as her brother’s term in office draws to a conclusion, Luisa Calderon is hoping to relaunch her political career in a bid to aid the troubled western state. Having won the National Action Party (PAN) primary last week with around 60 percent of the vote, she will be the party’s gubernatorial candidate in the Michoacan state elections on November 13.

Calderon has said the only thing that motivates her is the possibility of improving Michoacan and ending the stigma of it being one of Mexico’s most violent states. But she will face tough opposition in a traditional stronghold of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

The Calderons were born and raised in Michoacan and although the president’s sister will have the advantage of name recognition, she will also have to temper the unrest caused by a massive increase in drug related violence throughout his presidency.

Touring the state earlier this month, the president made it clear that he would not seek to influence November’s election, affirming that the visit would be “the last or one of the last times I come to Michoacan, so as to avoid interfering in the electoral process.”

Calderon made the comments in response to Michoacan’s Governor Leonel Godoy, who has warned that there must not be a “dirty war,” nor use of federal or state funds in favor of any candidate.

“We must ensure security, peace and tranquility for the people of Michoacan to go to the polls on November 13, without confrontations,” said the PRD politician.

Godoy added that local authorities had moved “heaven and earth” to recover the nine pollsters who were released recently after being held captive for several days by kidnappers. No details have been given as to who was behind the abduction of the workers, who had been surveying residents in Apatzingan ahead of the elections.

Michoacan’s state prosecutor Jesus Montejano said their disappearance had been “unusual,” with no ransom having been paid for their release, and revealed only that their kidnapping “could be linked to one of the criminal groups that operate in the area.”

Whoever wins the November election will need to convince tourists that Michoacan is a safe destination once again. Jalisco’s neighboring state, Michoacan is home to idyllic pueblos, forests, lakes, dreamy beaches, a famous monarch butterfly sanctuary and stately colonial cities.

Yet tourism has waned following the rise in violence and insecurity. To the chagrin of many tourism operators, in April the U.S. State Department added Michoacan to the list of places that American citizens should avoid unless absolutely necessary

It was in Michoacan that President Calderon first declared war on Mexico’s cartels in December 2006. Federal authorities have since been largely successful in dismantling the state’s powerful drug gang, La Familia. Its leader Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, also known as “The Monkey,” was arrested in June, while Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, nicknamed “The Craziest One,” was shot dead by federal police last December.

Yet the decline of La Familia has merely created a violent power vacuum from which another offshoot cartel, known as the Knights Templar, has emerged.

Although Luisa Calderon’s main concern is to diminish the insecurity that plagues Michoacan, her relation to the chief prosecutor of the war on drugs may well hinder her chances. A test of what faith remains in the Calderons’ security strategy, the November elections could provide an indication of how next year’s presidential election will pan out.

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