Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Wednesday that cartels are seeking to control territory by sinking drug money into political campaigns and buying off officials before they are even elected.
Calderon suggested reforms are needed to make local officials more accountable, including allowing them to stand for re-election _ giving them more reason to answer to constituents _ and more closely supervising cash used in campaigns.
"The main and most practiced method used by criminals is to make contact with officials before they are elected, by financing their campaigns," Calderon said.
"Once an economic link between criminals and the candidate is established, it is very hard, practically impossible, to break it after they are elected, because it becomes a permanent link," he said.
Calderon said such corruption is aimed mainly at local officials, because drug and crime gangs now want to control specific territories for street-level drug sales and need the help of local authorities to do so.
In May, federal authorities arrested 10 mayors in the western state of Michoacan in an unprecedented sweep against politicians accused of protecting cartels, specifically the La Familia cartel. Eight mayors remain jailed on organized-crime charges.
Speaking at a conference aimed at keeping dirty money out of politics, Calderon said that while current electoral rules provide good oversight over campaign accounts at banks, more regulation is needed on spending by candidates in cash _ the form that drug money usually enters the process.
Calderon has also said he will propose allowing local officials to run for re-election.
At present, most elected officials in Mexico cannot seek immediate re-election. Because local authorities serve a single term as short as two or three years, they often have little reason to worry about what their constituents think.
Speaking at the same conference, Vidar Helgesen, a Norwegian who is secretary general of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, said illicit funding is a major threat to democracy around the world.
He said such funds "are being used to influence electoral processes, penetrate political parties, corrupt local authorities and even capture entire state structures."
Helgesen said it is not just a problem for drug-producing nations. "Countries that represent the most important export markets for such substances, like the United States and European countries, are also increasingly being affected," he said.
Elsewhere in Mexico, university officials in Ciudad Juarez, a border city gripped by violence related to drugs and other crimes, announced plans for a protest march after a medical student was forced to kneel before being shot in the head by an attacker.
Officials at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez said 20-year-old Juan Antonio Chavez was killed at dawn Wednesday, but gave no motive for the attack. Spokesman Arturo Pedraza said Chavez was a student and a Red Cross paramedic.
Another student, 17-year-old Alfredo Franco, was killed by gunmen a few days ago, and Pedraza said the university was sponsoring a march Sunday to protest the violence against their students.
In Acapulco, in southern Guerrero state, police said they found the bound bodies of two men in different locations, but both were accompanied by a note saying: "This will happen to all the kidnappers."
The Pacific coast state of Guerrero has been a battleground in the drug-fueled violence that has cost almost 14,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels in late 2006.