Former Mexican presidential candidate goes missing

MEXICO CITY — A former presidential candidate of Mexico's ruling party has gone missing, authorities said Saturday, the latest in a spate of political violence presumably linked to drug cartels.

The empty vehicle of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a former federal deputy, senator and presidential candidate from the conservative National Action Party, was found at his ranch in the state of Queretaro, the federal Attorney General's Office said in a statement. The site contained "evidence of violence," it added.

Fernandez ran for president on his party's ticket in 1994 but lost to Ernesto Zedillo, a candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000.

A news website based in Queretaro, Plaza de Armas, cited unnamed friends of Fernandez saying that bloodstains were found in the bullet-riddled vehicle, abandoned at his La Cabana ranch.

The Milenio television network said a body was found near the scene but it was not immediately identified.

The 69-year-old Fernandez, whose white beard and expensive suits helped distinguish him from other politicians, runs an influential law firm defending criminal defendants. He also owns several ranches in the Queretaro region.

He remains a major figure in the party of President Felipe Calderon, who delayed a trip to Spain for more than an hour Saturday afternoon as news bulletins announced the disappearance. Calderon's office issued a statement calling Fernandez "a key politician in Mexico's democratic transition" a decade ago.

The past week has seen several attacks on political figures.

On Thursday, assailants in Valle Hermosa, a town 30 miles south of Brownsville, Texas, burst into the agricultural supplies business of mayoral candidate Jose Guajardo Varela and killed him and his son. Drug gangs in the region had warned Guajardo to pull out of the mayoral race.

The border area has become a battleground between two narcotics gangs, the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, a group whose core is made up of former soldiers from the special forces.

In Tamaulipas state, at least a dozen candidates for mayoral posts have complained of receiving death threats and have asked for federal protection.

Scores of local elections will take place in 10 of Mexico's states on July 4.

Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez Mont toured Durango and several other northern states at mid-week to assure candidates that the federal government would offer protections.


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