The controversial 2006 presidential election that brought Felipe Calderon to power in Mexico reemerged in the secret U.S. diplomatic cables released this week, sparking a fresh controversy on Friday involving -- of all other world leaders -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
In a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, dated October 2009, President Calderon is described as telling the former U.S. director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, that he believed Chavez had "funded" his top opponent and nemesis in the race three years earlier, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Calderon ran with the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, while Lopez Obrador ran with the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. The campaign was characterized by many at the time as the first "U.S.-style" race, with unprecedented levels of television spots. Some Calderon television ads in 2006 directly compared Lopez Obrador to Chavez, calling the leftist a "danger to Mexico."
From the cable:
Calderon emphasized that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is active everywhere, including Mexico. He went out of his way to highlight that he believes Chavez funded the PRD opposition during the Presidential campaign nearly four years ago. Chavez uses social programs, including sending doctors, to curry political influence, and there are governors in Mexico who may be friendly to him. Calderon said that Mexico is trying to isolate Venezuela through the Rio Group. Calderon also commented that he is particularly concerned about Venezuela's relations with Iran, and that the Iranian Embassy in Mexico is very active. Calderon underscored that Iran's growing influence in Latin American should be of considerable concern to the United States, and Chavez is doing all he can to aid and abet it.
Iran maintains an embassy in Mexico City, and its presence in Latin America is a point of concern for the United States, other leaked U.S. documents show, but other claims attributed to Calderon in the October 2009 cable were not immediately verifiable.
Calderon eventually won the 2006 race by less than 1% after a partial recount, a result which Lopez Obrador and his most ardent supporters refuse to recognize to this day. Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki later released a documentary film called "Fraude" on the 2006 race and the social movement that followed that sought to declare Lopez Obrador the "legitimate president."
Violent scuffles, as seen above, gripped the Mexican lower house of Congress in the days leading up to Calderon's swearing in, as some legislators attempted to physically block his ascendance to office. Days after assuming the presidency, Calderon dispatched the Mexican military to confront the country's drug cartels.
Late Thursday, via Twitter, Lopez Obrador demanded that Calderon prove Venezuela's Chavez financially supported his 2006 campaign (link in Spanish). The president's office has not responded.
In other portions of the leaked cable, Calderon requested that the U.S. create a more "visible presence" in Latin America overall.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Conservative PAN and leftist PRD legislators scuffle over control of the podium in the Chamber of Deputies in the aftermath of the disputed 2006 election, Nov. 28, 2006, in Mexico City. Credit: Tomas Bravo / Reuters