Mexico held elections on 6 June. A range of political offices were up for election, including governorships, mayorships, local seats, and all the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Mexico’s Congress of the Union. Leading up to these elections, violence has been a prominent issue. Between 7 September 2020 and 30 May 2021, 234 people associated with these elections were killed. This toll includes politicians, candidates, political collaborators, family members, and public servants. 89 of the casualties are politicians and candidates.
A recent report by consulting firm Etellekt found there were 782 acts of politically motivated aggression over the aforementioned period. This includes a range of incidents, including threats, homicides, attempted murders, assaults, and kidnappings. These acts occurred in 460 municipalities across all of Mexico’s 32 states, and resulted in 737 victims. Seeking municipal office was the most dangerous type of political campaigning, as 75% of the victims of aggression were those seeking local office, including the position of mayor. 75 of the politicians and candidates who were murdered were opponents of the state government in their locality.
May, the final month before the June 6 elections, saw a considerable increase in aggressive acts, with 306- about 39% of the total. Rubén Salazar, Etellekt director, said “[T]his increase is normal because it occurs when we’re in the most intense period of the campaigns.”
The state of Veracruz had the highest number of recorded acts of political violence, with 117 total acts of aggression, and 16 political homicides. Among the 89 politicians and candidates who were killed, 25 were members of the party ruling Mexico, Morena. 39 were members of parties that are part of the Va por México coalition, which includes the National Action Party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and the Democratic Revolution Party.
The political violence also extended beyond party members and their families. The Etellekt report stated that 99 public servants were also murdered during this election period. These officials were working across the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known by his initials as AMLO, played down the levels of political violence in the country. He said in a news conference, “[T]here is governability, there are no risks of instability. We’re fighting the scourge of violence every day and peace and tranquility can be spoken about throughout the country.”
AMLO added that political violence is exaggerated by political rivals, also saying “[I]n Mexico, there isn’t political violence. We have achieved this together.” He continued, saying that “[A]s much as they want to exaggerate [the violence], it doesn’t match the reality. As the song of [Cuban singer-songwriter] Pablo [Milanés] says: we don’t live in a perfect society, but there is peace and tranquility in the country.”
Ruben Aguilar, a university professor and consultant, remarked on the increased violence against electoral candidates, observing “a new high, with 85,000 deaths in the past three years. This shows that the security strategy has failed.”
Alejandro Hope, a security expert, explained the rationale behind organized crime groups targeting mayoral candidates more frequently. He said, “[F]irst, control of the municipal police is strategically important. Then, mayor’s offices are sources of information about the economic situation of local residents, which in turn is important for protection rackets. Third, there’s the issue of extorting money from the municipality or getting public contracts.”
He also said, “[T]he protective mechanisms that politicians — like journalists and human rights activists who are threatened — can request are purely reactive rather than preventive.” Speaking to the problem of organized crime’s role in campaign financing, he said the control mechanisms established by electoral authorities “are not adequate,” and that “an ocean of dirty money continues to flow into the campaigns.” He added, “[T]here is a 98% impunity rate for murders,” and that “any perpetrator can therefore assume that he will not be prosecuted.”
Ana Maria Salazar, a Mexican security expert, observed intimidation tactics, “[I]t has to do with these organizations wanting to have a person [in office] that will clearly abide by their needs and that will allow them to control the territory.” “[T]hese criminal organizations finally understood that having control over either the political parties or the political structures in your region actually allows you to use it to traffic and exercise territorial control much easier in the last three years since Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected.”
López Obrador has taken a different approach to organized crime in Mexico compared to his predecessors, emphasizing the importance of addressing poverty to provide people an alternative to criminal activities. This approach, popularized as “hugs, not bullets,” has been widely lambasted by his critics as enabling organized crime to continue.
Politicians need adequate preventative protections that can prevent the onset of violence, instead of trying to contain it. These issues reflect a range of deeper-rooted problems in Mexico, including corruption, poverty, and organized crime. In the face of the complex nature of the problem, it is incredibly challenging to propose or even contemplate definitive solutions. As many instances of violence are linked to organized crime, it is crucial to better address the issue.
This violence can not be viewed in isolation from other issues in the country, but can instead be considered one violent symptom of them. It is vitally important that the issue of political violence be taken seriously, so that onwards, considerable discussion can emerge on the steps to be taken, in the immediate and longer-term, to reduce it. Political participation is a vital part of the democratic process. Therefore, the safety and wellbeing of those involved is essential to ensuring robust participation and a healthy democratic process.