Mexico politician freed after 7-month-long abduction

December 21, 2010

BY TIM JOHNSON, McClatchy News

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s most mysterious and high-profile recent kidnapping came to an end Monday with the liberation of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a former presidential candidate and major ruling-party powerbroker.

Fernandez, a cigar-chomping political kingmaker known as “Boss Diego,” emerged looking gaunt and sporting a bushy white beard that had lengthened during seven months and six days in captivity, but speaking in a firm voice.

Fernandez shed no light on the identity of his kidnappers.

“I’m fine, thank God. I am strong,” he said as a scrum of TV cameras pressed against him outside his home in the elegant Las Lomas district of the capital. “I will not respond to any questions.”

Fernandez, 69, a leading member of the ruling National Action Party (PAN, in its Spanish initials), was the center-right party’s presidential candidate in the 1994 elections, losing to Ernesto Zedillo. He also had served as president of the Senate.

Since his disappearance the night of May 14 from his ranch near Queretaro in central Mexico, mystery has surrounded his abduction. His vehicle bore bloodstains and signs of violent resistance. Less than a week after his disappearance, his kidnappers released a photo of him bare-chested and wearing a blindfold. They signed off only as “The Mysterious Disappearers.”

Friends and relatives of Fernandez began passing the word early Monday that he’d been freed, generating news bulletins, but the politician didn’t appear in public until around 1:30 p.m.

“As far as the kidnappers are concerned, as a man of faith I forgive them. But as a citizen, I believe the authorities have a job before them,” Fernandez said, adding that he would provide details of his captivity later on.

Minutes after Fernandez’s appearance, President Felipe Calderon’s office issued a short statement that celebrated his return but struck a defensive tone about why his administration maintained a hands-off policy on probing the abduction, leaving ransom negotiations to the family.

“At all times, federal authorities were respectful of the decision by relatives of the former PAN legislator in order to prevent harm to him and attain his return,” the statement said. “The Attorney General’s Office will continue an investigation to apprehend those responsible and bring them to justice.”

Speculation about the group behind Fernandez’s abduction ranged from drug traffickers to former leftist guerrillas and on to disgruntled former clients of his law firm, where he defended prominent corporations and alleged drug lords.

Even as fellow politicians hailed his release, a few, such as former Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castaneda, questioned how such a powerful politician could be held in captivity for so long with so little information.

A gruff manner and a gift for oratory marked Fernandez’s career. He was a member of the lower house of Congress from 1991 to 1994 and a senator from 2000 to 2006.

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