November 30, 2022

Political candidates in Mexico risk assassination

Her campaign rally was already heating up, with a live band singing ranchera beats in the street, when Rosa Alma Barragán uploaded a hastily-made video to Facebook in hopes of drawing an even larger crowd.

“Come listen,” she said from the town of Moroleón, where she was running for mayor. “Come share a moment. Together we can make things better. … I’ll wait here for you. “

It wasn’t just his admirers who took note.

About an hour after his cry, armed men in a convoy of sedans and motorcycles crashed into the festivities, dispersing the crowd with a barrage of bullets that left four injured and Barragán dead on the ground.

Tuesday afternoon’s assassination stunned Mexico. But he was remarkable only for his daring.

Election season in Mexico is a whirlwind of heated debate and confetti-strewn rallies – and a constant stream of intimidation, threats and deadly attacks on candidates.

A woman attends the vigil for mayoral candidate Rosa Alma Barragán in Moroleón, Mexico.

(Armando Solis / Associated Press)

Barragán was the 34th bureau claimant killed in the run-up to the national midterm poll on June 6, according to Etellekt Consultants, a risk analysis firm. A candidate for city council in the southern state of Chiapas was found murdered on Friday, police said, bringing the total to 35.

Hundreds of other candidates were threatened, leading some to give up. Violence struck across party lines, but the most frequent targets were opponents of ruling parties.

Campaigning and killing have long been linked in an obscure embrace in Mexico. The best-known case in recent history is the 1994 assassination of presidential contender Luis Donaldo Colosio at a rally in Tijuana – a murder still surrounded by conspiracy theories and doubts about the official story that it was the work of a sniper.

But most of the attacks target applicants in small towns lacking extensive protection details.

In many ways, organized crime is more interested in local politics than national politics. Control of city halls swells gang coffers and opens the door to wider influence as “bought” office holders move up the political ranks.

A man puts on a bulletproof vest

Mayoral candidate Guillermo Valencia of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, dons his bulletproof vest at a relative’s home before campaigning in Morelia, in the Mexican state of Michoacan.

(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)

“Municipalities are the easiest point for organized crime to enter, but the consequences go far beyond the local orbit,” columnist Sergio Sarmiento wrote in the Reforma daily.

The politicians killed in the current electoral cycle are “the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote. “We do not know how many others have been pressured or had to accept the demands of organized crime in order to continue to compete.”

Criminal syndicates seek to infiltrate police forces, seize contraband routes, grab public funds and patronage jobs, launder illicit proceeds, and expand opportunities to extort money from businesses. local. Some gangs fund candidates outright, while also ordering contract killers to compete.

Ultimately, the perpetual electoral cycle of violence raises a profound question: Have thugs hijacked Mexican democracy?

“The specter of criminal violence and its targets are, unfortunately, far more important than candidates of any party,” said Javier Oliva Posada, security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

A bodyguard watches over a campaign event

A government-assigned bodyguard watches for mayoral candidate Guillermo Valencia, center-back, as he campaigns.

(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)

This year’s midterms are believed to be the biggest elections in Mexican history. At stake, more than 20,000 seats across the country, including 15 governors, 500 congressional positions, 30 of the 32 state legislatures and thousands of town halls, city council positions and other local positions.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is not on the June 6 ballot, which began a six-year term in 2018 and has been widely criticized since then for curtailing law enforcement operations against cartels, even so that homicides have reached record levels.

“Imagine if what we were going through here happened during elections in Germany or the United States – without an overwhelming response from the federal government,” said Oliva Posada, the security expert.

In comments to reporters last week, López Obrador said the cartels were trying to scare voters.

A driver holds an assault rifle

A government-assigned bodyguard in Guillermo Valencia holds his assault rifle in his vehicle during one of the candidate’s campaign stops.

(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)

“We shouldn’t be terrified, we have to participate and go out and vote,” he said. “When there is abstention, the mafias dominate the elections.”

His aides said authorities provided security for at least 148 applicants – a small percentage of the thousands of applicants.

In the town of Xochitepec, in the state of Morelos, mayoral candidate Alejandra Lagunas only received police protection after announcing last month that she had no choice but to go. withdraw from the race.

Someone had tried to get her car off the road and death threats surfaced on social media and on her cell phone, she said.

She said her 8 year old son begged her, “Mum, please don’t continue because they are going to kill you.

With a patrol car parked in front of his house, Lagunas joined the race. But she said she did not plan to campaign publicly.

“The truth is, if I had known this would have happened, I would never have become a candidate,” said Lagunas, 26, a mother of three. “I am so worried that I put the lives of my family in danger.”

Campaign supporters march down the street with flags

Independent mayoral candidate Julio Gonzalez, second from left, holds a Mexican flag as he marches with supporters during a campaign rally in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato state.

(Alfredo Estrella / Getty Images)

May was a particularly dark month for the Mexican candidates.

Among the victims was Omar Plancarte Hernández, 57, who hoped to be mayor of the municipality of Uruapan in the state of Michoacán. His political party said he was kidnapped and is still missing.

Plancarte, an avocado farmer, denounced the presence of organized crime in Uruapan. Her two adult sons were kidnapped in 2012 and are never seen again, a fate shared by tens of thousands of other “missing” Mexican citizens.

A local journalist asked Plancarte last month if he feared for his own life.

“Why should I be afraid if they already hit me where it hurts the most?” ” he has answered.

José Alberto Alonso, 35, a candidate for mayor of Acapulco on the Pacific coast, was driving an SUV when a pair of motorcycle attackers sprayed the vehicle with more than a dozen 9-millimeter shells. No one was hit.

“We threw ourselves to the ground and [the bullets] gone five centimeters from our heads, ”he told Radio Formula.

Zudikey Rodríguez, a former Olympic sprinter and reality TV candidate running for mayor of Valle de Bravo, a resort outside Mexico City, has been kidnapped and ordered to drop out of the race, according to her party.

“In my whole life, I have never let fear hold me back,” said Rodríguez, 34, who is also a sergeant in the Mexican army, after relaunching his campaign, albeit in limited and covered locations. .

In the southern state of Chiapas, angry residents grabbed Juan Salvador Camacho, 39, candidate for mayor of San Cristóbal de las Casas. They pushed him into a playground and placed a noose around his neck in a scene that was captured on cellphones and went viral on social media.

Residents were furious at what they called Camacho’s failure to complete public works projects during his tenure as a local elected official.

Camacho – a descendant of a politically prominent and wealthy family – was released unharmed after agreeing to pay the equivalent of around $ 15,000, according to press accounts. He later denied any deal to buy his freedom.

Also in May, Abel Murrieta, 58, a candidate for mayor of the town of Cajeme, in the northern state of Sonora, was shot dead while distributing campaign materials on a street. Photos showed her bloodied body amid scattered leaflets.

Murrieta was a former state attorney general and was an attorney for the LeBaron family, which lost nine members in a 2019 cartel ambush on a remote desert road about 70 miles south of Arizona.

Murrieta ran under the banner of the small party of the Citizens’ Movement – also Barragán’s party.

Barragán, 60, grandmother and store owner, was serving his first term in public office.

Moroleón, a city of 50,000 people, is in the state of Guanajuato, which has seen some of Mexico’s deadliest violence in recent years. Rival groups fight for control drug trafficking, black market gasoline, extortion and other racketeering.

Barragán was committed to fighting crime and corruption and described herself as a “social warrior” who, if elected, would donate her salary to build a shelter for needy children.

Writing on Facebook less than two months before her death, Barragán said she was the victim of a “dirty war” in which anonymous opponents called her “mafia. “Behind the slander,” she said, “were crooked city bosses, terrified that her rise would end their ‘gold mine’ of ill-gotten gains.

“I’m not afraid,” Barragán wrote. “They don’t intimidate me. They make me stronger. Because it confirms that we are moving in the right direction.

Special Envoy Cecilia Sánchez contributed to this report.