Mexican ex-candidate freed by kidnappers

Dec 20 2010 - 2:54pm

MEXICO CITY - A former Mexican presidential candidate was freed Monday seven months after his kidnapping, telling reporters outside his Mexico City home that he is well and forgives his captors.

Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a top Mexican political power broker who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1994, gave no details about his abductors in what was the highest-profile and most brazen kidnapping in Mexico's recent history.

"First I have to tell you that I thank God and the virgin for the help they gave me minute by minute during the past seven months," he said. "I'm strong and my life will continue the same."

Fernandez de Cevallos had been missing since May, when his vehicle was found near his ranch in the central state of Queretaro. His abduction caught the country by surprise: Kidnappers are known to target the rich and powerful -- but not power brokers of his level.

Throughout the ordeal, photographs of the ex-candidate in captivity were sent to the Mexican news media, along with messages purportedly from him and his captors. Local news media reported in October that the family paid more than $20 million in ransom, though the family never confirmed that.

The bearded, cigar-chomping candidate known as "El Jefe Diego," or "Diego the Boss," emerged from relative obscurity during Mexico's first televised debate by presidential candidates in 1994, striking a chord with the middle class with his calls to topple the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had held power since 1929.

He finished second to PRI candidate Ernesto Zedillo that year, but his party finally won the presidency six years later when Vicente Fox was elected.

Fernandez de Cevallos' car was found with some belongings in it near his ranch the morning of May 15. A night watchman told police he was supposed to have arrived at his ranch in the town of Pedro Escobedo the night before and never made it.

Five days later, photos of a blindfolded, grim-faced, bare-chested man resembling Fernandez de Cevallos appeared on Twitter. Two days after that, his family released a statement to the news media asking authorities to "stay out of this process in order to help the negotiation."


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