REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- A scandal surrounding a tape has dropped into Mexico's presidential race, and the campaign hasn't even officially started yet.
A voice thought to be that of Josefina Vazquez Mota, the conservative National Action Party (PAN) standard-bearer and first female candidate from a major political party, is heard in a leaked phone call suggesting that federal police chief Genaro Garcia Luna taps her phones but doesn't monitor those of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the world's most-wanted drug lord.
The accusation that the federal government protects Guzman has dogged the incumbent president from her party, Felipe Calderon, for years. His government denies the charge.
If authentic, the tape that surfaced Monday -- first leaked to the news site La Silla Rota, which did not identify its source -- would have the accusation coming from a Calderon insider. Vazquez Mota is a former member of his Cabinet; Garcia Luna still serves as the president's security secretary.
Vazquez Mota's campaign quickly shot into damage-control mode, making the candidate available for an in-studio radio interview with a panel of three liberal-leaning analysts that felt like an interrogation (link in Spanish).
In a statement Tuesday, Vazquez Mota's campaign accused the country's resurgent former ruling party of spying on her.
“The Institutional Revolutionary Party has routinely carried out these types of practices,” said the statement from the PAN headquarters. The former ruling party, known as PRI, denied the charge Tuesday.
Vazquez Mota's campaign said it would request that the attorney general's office investigate the leaked tape.
Vazquez Mota has dropped slightly in the polls after her party's big stadium event to name her as their candidate earlier this month; it started hours late and resulted in damaging images of Vazquez Mota speaking before a stadium emptying out of weary supporters (link in Spanish). She later said the stadium was "full" when she delivered her speech.
Mexico's 2012 presidential campaign officially begins Friday, when the four presidential candidates' campaign messages will begin bombarding voters on airwaves and billboards. The vote is July 1.
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Josefina Vazquez Mota, in the white dress, confers with supporters in April 2011. Credit: Vazquez Mota campaign