As Mexico neared the beginning of its gubernatorial midterm election season, eighty-nine politicians had been murdered with many more wounded or threatened, making this election Mexico’s deadliest to date. Most of those killed belonged to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party and a smaller portion were associated with other political parties and organizations. A series of political assassinations were one part of the violence, the presence of criminal groups also resulted in the forced displacement of thousands. The midterm elections which took place on June 6th determined the lower house of Mexico’s forming democracy. The deadly nature of the election process is exacerbated by federal security forces colluding with and at times supporting individual criminal groups.
Crime organizations across Mexico use violence and fear tactics to place pressure on Mexico’s forming democracy. The violence is widespread and targeted toward those trying to oust the local governing party and those campaigning for government posts. In previous years dozens of candidates were attacked when they ignored threats or made public appearances. Now many candidates respond to threats by dropping out and abandoning their bids for office until they feel they are in a safe enough position to continue campaigning. However, many are also willing to risk their lives for a chance at changing the political environment of their state. In a high-profile case, Zudikey Rodriguez, a candidate for the municipal president of Valle de Bravo, a town just outside of Mexico City, briefly gave up campaigning after she was kidnapped and threatened. Falko Ernst, a senior analyst in Mexico for the International Crisis Group, described how some political parties took advantage of the money and brute force of the organized gangs, stating, “Really what we’re seeing is a very dynamic type of power negotiation between both sides.” Gangs with ties to political parties or candidates through funding assassinate leaders of their opposition to ensure their influence over decisions on police, the distribution of local budgets, and control of illicit activities.
According to the Federal prosecutor’s office, the majority of attacks occurred in towns with small populations that could be influenced or swayed to vote differently and were far away from urban centres. They also outlined that electoral violence was predominant in seven states. In those states, 150 candidates were assigned bodyguards and the government continued to urge citizens to vote. The states of Veracruz, Jalisco and Oaxaca had the highest number of attacks against active officials. In the western state of Michoacan, where the Jalisco New Generation cartel has continued its conflict with the United Cartels, an alliance of local groups, thousands of residents have fled the area, many migrating to the United States to seek asylum. Gregorio Lopez, a priest who sheltered Michoacan refugees, stated, “They are leaving because they get caught in the crossfire because their homes have been destroyed, [and] because the main roads into [the area] have been carved up to stop the advance of the Jaliscos.”
Gasoline, fresh food and other basic goods have also become more expensive in areas concentrated with conflict as trading and economic growth becomes difficult. The Jalisco cartel, Mexico’s fastest-expanding cartel, considers Michoacan, rife with international trafficking routes and markets, designed for extortion. The group’s ability to gain control over the state has been prevented by their opponents’ connections to local politics. The fighting between the two criminal groups is directly correlated to a desire for political power. By providing illicit funding for campaigns in the short term, criminal organizations can tap into state finances and influence the actions of state security in the long term.
The attacks on candidates reflect a broader effort by crime groups to exert control in Mexico. Over recent years, deliberate attacks have been made by organized crime groups on reporters, activists, priests and journalists. Throughout the campaign, the state and federal authorities have done little to protect the civilian population. During the election, many Mexican voters made it clear that they intended to use the midterms to maintain democratic constraints on the presidency of Lopez Obrador. To ensure the safety of civilians and the maintenance of their voting rights the elected government should put pressure on political parties to not accept support from criminal organizations. To put the safety of both civilians and those campaigning first.