Mexico will hold its presidential election July 1 against the backdrop of a protracted war against criminal cartels in the country. Former President Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) launched that struggle; his successor, Felipe Calderon, also of the PAN, greatly expanded it. While many Mexicans apparently support action against the cartels, the Calderon government has come under much criticism for its pursuit of the cartels, contributing to Calderon's low popularity at the moment. The PAN is widely expected to lose in July to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which controlled the Mexican presidency for most of the 20th century until Fox's victory in 2000. According to polls, the PAN has lost credibility among many Mexican voters, many of whom also once again view the PRI as a viable alternative.
In our effort to track Mexico's criminal cartels and to help our readers understand the dynamics that shape the violence in Mexico, Stratfor talks to a variety of people, including Mexican and U.S. government officials, journalists, business owners, taxi drivers and street vendors. At present, many of these contacts are saying that the Calderon administration could attempt to pull off some sort of last-minute political coup (in U.S. political parlance, an "October surprise") to boost the PAN's popularity so it can retain the presidency.
The potential election ploy most often discussed is the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, who is widely believed to be the richest, most powerful drug trafficker anywhere. The reasoning goes that if the government could catch Guzman, Calderon's (and hence the PAN's) popularity would soar.
Still, very real questions exist about whether such an operation really would give the PAN the boost it needs to retain the presidency, however. North of the border, the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama has not been guaranteed by the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden. Political considerations aside, the factors that have helped Guzman avoid capture thus far are the very same factors that inhibit the Mexican government's ability to capture him. While we don't put a lot of stock in these rumors of an election surprise, we do see them as a good reason to examine the factors that have protected Guzman.