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The third politician within Mexico to be murdered in the past week met his fate on Friday when Jose Remedios Aguirre was killed by gunmen in the town of Apaseo El Alto. He had been running for mayor for the leftist Morena party in Guanajuato state. Aguirre’s murder followed the Tuesday killing of a state assembly candidate for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico’s western Guerrero state, and took place 4 days after Morena’s mayoral candidate in the city of Tenango del Aire was murdered. Authorities have confirmed that at least 30 candidates have been killed in Mexico since September 2017, when campaigning for the country’s July 1 elections. More than a dozen of the candidates killed have been in the drug cartel-plagued southern state of Guerrero, far from the Mexican capital.
“It’s very unfortunate what we are living through, particularly in Guanajuato, which is the state this year with more violence than anywhere else in Mexico. Our governor sticks his head in the ground like an ostrich and ignores what is happening; people are being killed every single day.” Ricardo Sheffield, a Morena candidate for governor in Guanajuato state, told Al Jazeera.
The ballot will see voters elect a president for a six-year term, 500 members of the lower house Chamber of Deputies, 128 members of the upper house Senate, along with selecting local representatives. In all, over 3,000 offices are up for grabs, the most ever to be voted on in a single day.
The murdered candidates come from a range of political affiliations, suggesting that the killings are more about local power grabs and gang rivalries and less about national conflicts among parties. The majority of victims lacked the security and public recognition that offer little protection for high-profile office-seekers. The killings have garnered little attention from national news outlets, as they are heavily focused on the presidential contenders appearing daily on television.
“It’s an average of one murder of a candidate every four or five days,” Erubiel Tirado, a political scientist at Iberoamerican University, said last month. “We are very worried.”
Although motives have not been fully figured out, many suspect that political disputes and gangs’ determination that are trying to assert political control are at the source of it. There were no assassinations of mayors during the 1980s to 1990s, according to “Justice” in Mexico, a joint research project at the University of San Diego. But today, being a mayor or other regional lawmaker may be one of the country’s most dangerous jobs. Mexico’s National Association of Mayors reported that over 100 mayors, mayors-elect, and ex-mayors had been killed since 2006.
2006 was the year that ex-President Felipe Calderon launched a new chapter on Mexico’s war on drugs. He used the kingpin strategy, targeting cartel leaders, which resulted in battles for trafficking empires. Since then, Mexico has seen more intra-cartel clashes shootouts between traffickers and government forces, and a surge in the killings and disappearances of citizens. By 2016, mayors were 12 times as likely to be murdered than the general population, according to the “Justice” in Mexico. We need to encourage the abandonment of the kingpin strategy in order to ease the tension created between cartels, because as long as violence remains between these groups of criminals, it will cause collateral damage to the rest of society not involved.
Authorities have attempted to investigate, but most cases remain unsolved. The situation has become so bad that Roman Catholic Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza held a Good Friday summit with cartel leaders pleading for an end to the targeting of political aspirants. However, we cannot solve this issue by begging for an end to it to some of the world’s most ruthless criminals. By doing so, we undermine their motives and power and could anger them beyond the point they are at now. We need to set out harsh punishments for those who choose to engage in this behavior, and not give them the satisfaction of hearing us beg. By knowing that authorities will do everything in their power to track down and punish these murderers, we will create an incentive to not participate in such behavior.
Being a mayor or regional lawmaker is claimed to be one of the nation’s most dangerous jobs nowadays. But the victims often lacked public recognition that could have offered them protection, along with the crimes getting little attention from news sources. If the media could spend time reporting these murders and garnering recognition for those alive who could be in danger, they could help prevent some of the occurrences by ensuring that the general public is informed. By doing so, the staggering statistic that over 100 mayors, mayor-elect, and ex-mayors have been slain in the past 12 years could stop growing.
At the source of all of this violence is the issue of drug cartel violence. Certain towns in Mexico suffer from it because of many factors, including: a large poor population with little education leads to small tax revenue to provide social services, low police salaries lead to the cartels having more money and resources than the police force, and weak civil society and rule of law that leads to a cycle of poverty nearly impossible to break. Solving these issues is not simple, or else it would have been done already. But if outside organizations could raise money to provide education in these towns riddled by drug cartel violence, the economic tax base would expand leading to a larger tax revenue that could provide social services for the towns. This would lower the supply of police officers who would prefer to gain an education, and then the demand would increase and their salary would also increase. More incentivized police officers would be able to hold power over the cartels. With more education, the civil society and rule of law would be strengthened, helping break the cycle of poverty. Education could solve all of these issues, reducing drug cartel violence which would lead to less incentive to murder politicians as a power move.