A leftist guerrilla movement responsible for many kidnappings and attacks inside Mexico is secretly receiving funding from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, U.S. and Mexican intelligence officials told The Washington Examiner.
The group, called the Ejercito Popular Revolucionario (EPR), is "a terrorist organization bent on destabilizing Mexico. ... Splinters of the group are also adding to the problem," said a Mexican official who requested anonymity. The group, which announced its existence in 1996, claimed responsibility for the 2007 bombings of the Mexican government's Pemex oil pipelines, along with several other bombing attempts of a bank and Sears department stores in cities throughout Mexico.
"Chavez has been funding groups like these in Mexico and throughout Latin America," said a U.S. official with knowledge of the group and its operations. "These groups are nothing more than terrorist organizations and members have connected to other narco-trafficking organizations in Mexico, creating a very dangerous matrix."
Funding from drug cartels and leftist governments like the one in Caracas has enabled the group to mount a significant threat to Mexico and to become a concern for the United States, officials said.
A U.S. military official who has worked in the region said Chavez is using the EPR and other leftist organizations as proxies in an ideological struggle with the United States. One goal is the destabilization of the Mexican government.
"EPR has members that are former Cuban agents, Colombians, as well as others with an agenda to see a shift to the left in Mexico," the official said.
Mexico's intelligence services have a poor track record of predicting the group's operations, as highlighted by the inability to prevent the destruction of Pemex pipelines.
Members of EPR, in conjunction with narco-traffickers, are suspected of organizing the recent kidnapping of President Felipe Calderone's close friend and former leader of Mexico's National Action Party, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, Mexican and U.S. officials told The Examiner.
De Cevallos' car was found near his ranch in the state of Queretaro. Mexican officials say they detected signs of a struggle in the car. The victim is a former presidential candidate.
His kidnappers "are snubbing both the Mexican and U.S. government -- showing both nations that it is Mexico's criminal enterprise that is in charge," said Eduardo Garcia Valseca, the son of a Mexican newspaper baron who was kidnapped by members of the same group in 2008 and held for nearly eight months in a box before being ransomed.
None of his kidnappers have been brought to justice. Valseca, who now lives in the United States, suspects they never will. Although EPR is denying the recent kidnapping of Cevallos, Valseca said the similarities to his kidnapping are too great to ignore.
"Members of the U.S. administration don't understand what's been brewing in Mexico for a while, and this very powerful leftist movement has grown in Mexico," Valseca said. "There is huge international interest to change Mexico into a socialist, communist state. When you listen to the narco-terrorists or the EPR, you hear them say how they hate capitalists and pretend to be like Robin Hoods. I lived through their horror. I know their hate."
Attacks on members of Mexico's politicians and members of the media can be seen as a sign that Mexico is slowly losing control from within, U.S. officials said.
Just last week, gunmen killed a candidate in the National Action Party (PAN) in Valle Hermoso, a town near Brownsville, Texas, and an area known for international trafficking operations. He was running for mayor.
"These groups don't want to see the PAN party succeed, and so with the backing of dictators like Chavez they will continue to try to destabilize Mexico," said a Mexican official who spoke on condition that he not be named. "They've infiltrated our own government."
Next month, 10 Mexican states will be preparing for elections, and politicians have voiced concerns about intimidation from outside criminal forces.
Mexico is "ignoring the warning signs and continues to cover up, hiding behind lies," Valesca said.
Jayne Rager, his wife, said the horror of the kidnapping convinced them to permanently relocate outside Mexico.
"These groups are telling the Mexican government, 'Not only are you not making a difference in organized crime but you can't catch us. We're not afraid of you,' " Rager said. "EPR isn't ideological, but they are terrorists."