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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Electoral violence continues to stun Mexico days before election

Thirty-seven political candidates have been killed in Mexico since the past summer, and experts say that though drug trafficking organizations are a contributor to political violence, there are other factors at play.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — With the murders of 37 political candidates since June 2023, Mexico has experienced one of its bloodiest election seasons this year, now with just days to go before Sunday's presidential election.

The violence hasn't stopped even as the campaigns drew to an official close; two mayoral candidates were murdered this week, one on Tuesday and another on Wednesday.

On May 29, José Alfredo Cabrera, mayoral candidate of Coyuca de Benítez, Guerrero, was shot dead while walking towards the podium to give his closing campaign speech. Ricardo Arizmendi, mayoral candidate of Cuautla, Morelos, was shot on May 28 five times in the head while in his office. No arrests have been made for either shooting.

According to data collected by the society organization Votar Entre Balas, 73% of politicians who suffered violent attacks were candidates running on the local level.

There have been 339 aggressions toward political candidates in 2024, which include threats, murders, kidnappings, attempted murders, armed attacks and disappearances.

The majority of deaths related to the electoral process this year occurred in the southern state of Chiapas, where on May 17, six people were murdered during a campaign rally for mayoral candidate Lucero López Maza in La Concordia. López Maza was one of the victims.

Just days later, two different ambushes in the state left nine people dead over the same weekend.

Four members of the convoy of Robertony Orozco Aguilar, candidate for municipal president of Villacorzo, were attacked returning from a campaign event May 18. The same night, the convoy of Nicolás Noriega Zavala, candidate for municipal president of Mapastepec, was attacked, leaving five members of his team dead and two seriously injured.

That day saw 515 political candidates across Chiapas step down from running for office.

Even Claudia Sheinbaum, the presidential front-runner, was not spared by confrontation in the state when her convoy was stopped at a checkpoint in the municipality of Motozintla on April 21 by men who delivered a strong message: "Remember these mountains, the poor people, when you’re in power."

Sheinbaum is expected to win the election by a large margin against her closest opponent Xóchitl Gálvez on Sunday.

Major media outlets characterized Mexico after the incident as "a country in the midst of a deadly turf war between rival cartels and government security forces."

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador assured the public in a May 21 morning press conference that 3,000 military troops are protecting at least 500 candidates across the country.

"So far things are going well and we hope that all people will participate, that all citizens go out to vote and together we guarantee clean and free elections," López Obrador said.

In their final debate on May 19, Sheinbaum said she would continue López Obrador's "hugs, not bullets" policy, and Gálvez blamed the level of insecurity on this policy, calling Sheinbaum the "narco-candidate."

López Obrador has deployed 300,000 military troops onto Mexican streets during his presidency, the most ever in the country's history, though they have been unable to stop the political violence during this election season.

According to Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political science professor at George Mason University, the image of cartels ignores the real drivers of violence.

"Most people don't really acknowledge the complexity of crime in Mexico," she said in a phone interview. Correa-Cabrera described organized crime in Mexico as "complex adaptive systems" in which many independent elements lead to unpredictable outcomes, making it impossible to measure the reach of each criminal group.

"Not every candidate is backed by a cartel, not everybody is connected to the narco, it is much more localized and the violence isn't always due to drug trafficking," Correa-Cabrera said.

Correa-Cabrera cites other factors, such as communal land disputes, hydrocarbons and militarism in places where there is an uptick in political violence.

"The violence is related to territory. Places where the military is deployed are the most rich in hydrocarbons. What we have are vicious cycles of violence playing out. Violence occurs, people defend their land, the military is deployed, then organized crime takes advantage, then more violence," she added.

According to government data, the military has committed numerous human rights abuses, and between 2007 and April 1, 2024, have been responsible for 5,832 recorded civilian deaths, all of which largely go uninvestigated.

"The Army doesn't have to be subjected to any kind of scrutiny," said Raúl Diego Rivera Hernández, an associate professor and director of the Latin American Studies Program at Villanova University.

"We've seen this with the Ayotzinapa case, we've seen this in the country's history many times before. The Army is like running into a wall that you can't move past," he said, referring to the 2014 disappearance of 43 teachers’ college students in the southern state of Guerrero.

A May 29 report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project cites organized crime as a large driver of crime in Chiapas and also addresses other factors at play in the region, such as land conflicts and border disputes between local authorities for "control over the administration of resources."

"The intervention of nonlocal actors — such as federal authorities or the private sector — fuels tensions as these parties seek to use the land and resources in Indigenous territories for mining and agriculture," the project said. These conflicts can turn violent and "in other cases, have led to targeted violence against leaders and politicians who stand against the exploitation of natural resources."

On May 25, 500 inhabitants of Pantelhó in the Los Altos region of Chiapas abandoned their town from fear of violence surrounding the election and are refusing to vote unless the security situation improves.

Categories / Criminal, Elections, International

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