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Column 021907 Conroy

Monday, February 19, 2007

 

Tijuana, Mexico Mayor in Bid to Takeover State

 

By Nancy Conroy

 

While the streets of Tijuana remain under martial law, the city’s controversial Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon has boldly launched his campaign to become governor of Baja California, Mexico.  Opposition to Hank’s candidacy was either nonexistent or quickly stifled, as candidates for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) slate were nominated in an invitation-only, closed-door session via a method called “applause-o-meter.”

 

The coronation occurred quickly, despite Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s military seizure of Tijuana (“Operation Tijuana”) and even with widespread doubts about Hank’s commitment to crime fighting.  People are already saying that Hank will probably be the next governor of Baja California, even though state residents have voted for the other party since 1989.

 

Hank is a bizarre, larger-than-life character whose critics have accused him of corruption, money laundering, and collusion with organized crime.  The Tijuana newsweekly Zeta claims that Hank masterminded the 1988 murder of the tabloid’s cofounder, Hector (Felix the Cat) Miranda, and runs a full-page ad in every edition demanding justice.

 

Hank owns a multi-million dollar gambling empire, he has 22 children, and he is the son of another flamboyant politician, Carlos Hank Gonzalez, who ruled Mexico City during the era of the so-called PRI “dinosaurs.” 

 

The gubernatorial candidate nomination process was rushed through with breakneck speed, right in the middle of Operation Tijuana.  President Calderon sent Federal troops to Tijuana to stop the violence, and they disarmed the entire Tijuana police force in order to run still ongoing ballistics tests to determine if the police are involved with organized crime.

 

These conditions suggest the Tijuana Mayor has failed miserably at controlling crime in his city, and that he might be under serious pressure from the President.  Presumably, now would not be the best time for the Tijuana mayor to run for governor, but those conditions apparently did not affect Hank. 

 

The conventional wisdom says that Operation Tijuana, and Calderon’s huffing about cleaning up the city, are really just a negotiation tactic and Hank has nothing to fear.  Under this theory, the troops in the city brought Hank to the table, and Calderon quickly put together a backroom deal.

 

That deal would grant Hank the governorship of Baja California in exchange for delivering up a few drug dealers under Operation Tijuana, and making Calderon look good.  A deal would explain why the rest of the slate suddenly jumped on the bandwagon, because a victory was already guaranteed.  But the problem with this theory is that Baja California is the site of the PAN’s (National Action Party) first gubernatorial victory, in 1989, and even if Calderon wanted to throw the Baja California election to Hank it is not clear that he could do so. 

 

The other scenario, which some think is more likely, is that the old guard really is under pressure from the President.  Under this theory, what appears to be a Hank takeover is really a last-ditch effort to circle the wagons.

 

The timing of the nomination process supports this theory.  The nominations were rushed through, just before Beatriz Paredes, a reformer, will probably get elected as the PRI’s new national leader on February 18.  It is thought that Paredes is willing to work with Felipe Calderon regarding certain issues.

 

Thus, by quickly assembling the entire PRI slate in Baja California, before the new PRI president takes office, Hank and his friends are less likely to encounter opposition from within their own party.  Then the cronies can present a united front to the PRI, promise to deliver a political machine, obtain concessions, and thus ensure their own survival.

 

Some PRI members might support the Hank candidacy under the argument that money and power can finally wrest Baja California away from the PAN.  But the glaring presence of the old guard on the Baja California ticket is more likely to backfire politically, because the whole affair is simply too embarrassing.

 

The PRI, which is no longer particularly powerful in Baja California, might simply fracture.  Already many PRI members have quit the party in disgust.  A disorganized PRI could deliver the election to the PAN, assuming that things like votes and political parties are even needed.

 

Hank himself, in conjunction with his allies, might be able to secure a victory without the help of any political party at all.  And if that is the case, the entire state of Baja California is about to be taken over by Jorge Hank Rhon and whatever he represents.

 

That is not exactly the outcome people expected from Operation Tijuana.

 

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Nancy Conroy, a MexiData.info guest columnist, is the publisher of northern Baja California’s biweekly Gringo Gazette North.  She can be reached via e-mail at nancy@gringogazettenorth.com.

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Baja California candidate Jorge Hank