Mexico City (CNN) – Some things about the election campaign in Mexico are like anywhere else: rallies, bumper stickers, candidates making big promises. Other things – threats, attacks, murders – are more unique.
Political violence stains every election season in Mexico and the run up to the June 6 midterm elections has been no different. But this year has been a particularly horrible one, even for a country more used than most.
At least 88 politicians or candidates for public office have been assassinated since September, according to Mexican consultancy Etellekt Consultores.
They are part of a group of at least 565 politicians or candidates who have been the target of some type of crime, according to the firm.
The Mexican government says this year’s midterm elections will be the largest in history. By the time the polls close on June 6, they could also be the bloodiest.
The murders of candidates in Mexico do not stop
Abel Murrieta was handing out campaign flyers in broad daylight two weeks ago, on a busy street in Cajeme, the municipality where he was running for local office. The former prosecutor in the state of Sonora, in the north of the country, was with his supporters when, according to police, two men who were traveling in a vehicle killed him with 10 shots.
As a candidate, he routinely said that fighting crime was his main theme.
“It is enough that drugs rob us of our young people and destroy our families. I am a man of law and I am going to put order. My hand does not tremble. I’m not afraid, ”Murrieta said in his last campaign ad, recorded just one day before his murder.
Social media images showed Murrieta motionless after the shooting in a bloody white button-down shirt as a supporter waved his party flag nearby, one hand on his heaving chest. A second video shot later showed him being lifted onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.
Authorities say he was deliberately targeted, although they do not know who did it. An investigation is ongoing.
Murietta was a high-profile figure, known for her outspoken views on crime. As a private attorney, he also represented the LeBaron family, a family with dual US and Mexican citizenship that lost nine of its members when they were killed by suspected cartel members in late 2019.
On Tuesday of last week, another candidate was shot and killed during a campaign event. Alma Rosa Barragan he was running for mayor of the city of Moroleón, in the state of Guanajuato, one of the most violent regions in the country.
«If you want to accompany me, come so that you can listen to my proposals, come so that we can live together for a moment. Together we can do better, “said a cheerful Barragán during a Facebook Live broadcast moments before his death.
The Guanajuato Attorney General’s Office condemned the murder and an investigation is underway.
What is behind the violence?
The motives for the killings of so many candidates across the country are unclear, but the alleged factors are organized crime and the fight for territorial control.
Mexican security expert Ana María Salazar believes that in many cases smaller criminal groups or larger drug cartels are targeting candidates they don’t like to boost the promotion of their preferred candidate for office. And for these groups and cartels, territorial control is key.
“There is a lot of intimidation. It has to do with these organizations wanting to have a person [en el cargo] that clearly sticks to their needs and allows them to control the territory, “Salazar told CNN. “It has to do with territorial control.”
It is also not unusual for the politicians or candidates involved to be linked to organized crime.
These groups are funding or promoting candidates, or threatening, intimidating and killing those they want out of the game, Salazar added.
“These criminal organizations finally understood that having control of political parties or political structures in their region actually allows them to use it to traffic and exercise territorial control much more easily in the last three years since Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected. Salazar said.
López Obrador has taken a different tack in the fight against organized crime since taking office, avoiding previous strategies of going to war with the cartels. He is in favor of addressing the root causes of long-term poverty as a way of offering alternatives to being a cartel, a strategy commonly known as “hugs, not bullets.”
Salazar argues that the strategy is partly to blame for the killings, since, he says, this allows criminal groups to reign de facto freely and gives them a “right to exist.”
The López Obrador administration has consistently said that its strategy takes more time for results to truly be seen.
The government’s response … or the lack of it
Critics have said for decades that the federal government is not doing enough to protect candidates, and the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is no different.
“This is a difficult time for these campaigns,” President López Obrador said recently during his daily press conference. “We will continue to protect them.”
The words “continue to protect them” would imply that the government is already effectively protecting the candidates, which is obviously not the case.
Critics say the government’s ineffective response is due in part to its failure to recognize the scope of the problem.
The government’s own tally of how many politicians or candidates have been assassinated, currently at 14, is much lower than other estimates, including that from consultancy Etellekt.
When asked why his administration’s figures were so different, the president declined to reveal how his administration calculated those figures.
It doesn’t help that Mexico is a country where impunity reigns. More than 90 percent of all crimes are never solved.
With a week after voters head to the polls, concerns about more candidate killings will only grow.