World

Ex-candidate Fernandez de Cevallos’ disappearance rattles Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The mysterious disappearance of a former presidential candidate is stoking fear in Mexico that nobody may be safe from relentless kidnapping and rampant drug violence.

Diego Fernandez de Cevallos was reported missing over the weekend and his car was found in the central state of Queretaro with some evidence of violence, but authorities said Sunday that they don’t know if he was kidnapped or if drug gangs were involved.

Many feared one of Mexico’s most successful attorneys and enduring politicians was targeted by kidnappers, and any involvement by drug trafficking gangs would signal an escalation in the government’s bloody standoff with organized crime.

“If it’s a cartel action, it is definitely another escalation in the attacks of drug traffickers against the government,” said George Grayson, a professor at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. “It shows that no one is immune from their reach, not even a multimillionaire super-lawyer.”

There was still no evidence that the 69-year-old attorney and power broker had been kidnapped, said Ricardo Najera, spokesman for the federal Attorney General’s Office, on Sunday.

Fernandez de Cevallos’ disappearance comes amid a wave of drug violence that has killed more than 22,700 people since Calderon launched a crackdown against organized crime in December 2006. Drug traffickers are increasingly attacking political and government leaders in retaliation.

Last week, gunmen burst into the farm supplies business of mayoral candidate Jose Guajardo Varela and killed him and his son, after he ignored warnings to drop out of the race in Valle Hermoso, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Brownsville, Texas.

Federal prosecutors and police are aiding Queretaro state investigation in the probe that had lines of officers combing the fields of rural central Mexico for signs of the 69-year-old power broker.

Fernandez de Cevallos, was the 1994 presidential candidate of President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party, and he has continued to be an influential figure. He finished second to Ernesto Zedillo that year, but his party finally won the presidency six years later when Vicente Fox was elected.

The bearded, cigar-chomping politician known as “El Jefe Diego,” or “Diego the Boss,” is an elder statesman for Mexico’s center-right ruling party. He also is known for his brash, confrontational statements as he brushed off accusations of using his political ties to advance his practice as an attorney for some of Mexico’s richest businesses. He represented companies that often won lucrative lawsuits against the government event as he served in Congress.

Fernandez de Cevallos exchanged insults with public figures including the Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos and leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, labeling the latter “a danger for Mexico.” Lopez Obrador narrowly lost the presidential election in 2006.

In 2005, critics of Fernandez de Cevallos accused him of building a highway with public funds to the home town of his then-girlfriend — 36 years his junior.

Kidnappers often target the wealthy in Mexico but rarely go after such high-ranking politicians or public officials.

Alejandro Marti, a Mexican businessman and outspoken anti-crime activist, saw the disappearance as another failure of law enforcement.

“Another kidnapping and we know about it because it was a public (figure). And all the others?” said Marti, who son was kidnapped and killed in 2008, in a Twitter feed. “How many more lives before you get to work? It’s infuriating!”