CANCUN, Mexico — His Cuban-born wife has relatives who had high-level jobs in Havana's security services, and his ex-security advisor served 16 years in the Cuban army.
So when Gregorio Sanchez, gubernatorial candidate and former mayor of the Caribbean resort of Cancun, was arrested last month, alarms went off among some Mexican analysts.
The case "opened a surprise window — Cuban intelligence's penetration" of Cancun, Raymundo Riva Palacio, an author who often focuses on security issues, wrote in the El Financiero newspaper.
Cuba has long maintained a large intelligence operation in Mexico City, largely as a base for missions against U.S. targets. But the Cancun presence is new, and therefore worrisome, Riva Palacio added.
Sanchez is now in jail, pending trial on charges of laundering bribes he allegedly received for protecting drug cartels in Cancun, a key arrival point for illicit drugs flowing from South America to U.S. streets.
He's also under investigation for allegations that include smuggling U.S.-bound Cubans, Chinese and Russians into Mexico and eavesdropping on rival politicians and journalists, federal investigators confirmed to El Nuevo Herald.
Sanchez's wife, Niurka Saliva, insists the charges are false and designed to torpedo his run for the governorship of Quintana Roo. His political coalition, headed by the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, has replaced him as its candidate in the July 4 election.
"Everything has been invented, created by the political enemies of my husband and the party that he represents," Saliva wrote in an e-mail replying to El Nuevo Herald questions, noting that the judge in Sanchez's case has been accused of political bias in other cases. Sanchez "has always been a successful businessman and generated good incomes, which apparently has bothered his political opponents.''
One newspaper described Saliva — a 29-year-old who studied medicine in Havana, became a Mexican citizen, and has championed social causes in Cancun — as a better politician than her husband, a wealthy, real-estate and lumber businessman and sometime evangelical pastor 17 years her senior. He was elected in 2008 as mayor of the Benito Juarez municipality, which includes Cancun.
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