Death toll rises to 113 as Mexico engulfed in 'electoral fog' of violence
Last week, Mexican congressional candidate Fernando Purón was shot while posing for a selfie with his supporters; his murder was captured on video.
More than 113 political candidates, pre-candidates, and current and former politicians have been murdered in Mexico since September. In the same period, over 300 have faced some form of aggression, reported Etellekt, a public policy consultancy based in Mexico City.
Furthermore, the government record of 34 casualties, considering only candidates, results in a tally of nearly four deaths every month.
This has raised alarm bells all over the country which is bracing for elections on July 1.
Scores of candidates have backed out of their campaigns fearing their safety, while several others have dialed down their social activities - Mexico's young democracy is already riddled with widespread impunity and systemic corruption, reported Buzzfeed News.
“Violence is altering the profile of candidates,” Alejandro Hope, a security analyst, told BuzzFeed. “Who sticks around? The reckless and those who collude [with criminals].”
Last month, a large troop of commandos went around the town of Ignacio Zaragoza burning houses and cars belonging to several local candidates. The armed men murdered the town councilor hopeful Liliana Garcia. In one of the footages that surfaced recently, one can see smoke coming out of a burning building while a woman weeps in the backdrop.
Paula Gutiérrez Morales was shot inside a public bus in front of other passengers less than three weeks ago. She was was a local leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in a tiny community in Guerrero State.
A candidate for local congress, Fernando Purón, was shot on last Friday in Piedras Negras, just west of Eagle Pass, Texas, after an election debate while he was posing for a selfie with a supporter.
According to Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, head of human rights at Morena, over 600 people from different local parties have quit from their races in recent months. Some of the strongest candidates belonging to the two main political parties have walked away fearing for their lives, representatives confirmed to Buzzfeed News.
Ángel Ávila, a spokesperson for the “For Mexico to the Front” coalition, said, “We’ve had to register comrades that are perhaps less well-known.” The said party's presidential candidate, Ricardo Anaya is currently placed second in most of the major polls.
Although the Interior Ministry announced in April that it would provide presidential candidates with secret service and federal police agents, politicians feel more vulnerable than ever. Last month, it was announced that the government is providing security to more than 30 candidates.
Reportedly, volunteers could not enter some neighborhoods in Durango State to hand out campaign flyers as it was too dangerous.
“This is evidence of Mexico’s decay,” said Figueroa.
According to Ávila, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which is a part of the coalition, could not appoint candidates in at least three municipalities in Sinaloa State because “the necessary security conditions” were not arranged.
“One cannot carry out a normal campaign,” he said.
César Castillejos, PRI's spokesperson, said that their candidates are “visiting every house, every street, every neighborhood of the country." They are currently in third place, according to the polls.
Rubén Salazar, the director of Etellekt, said that election season in Mexico is usually a violent affair, but this year, the numbers are off the charts. According to him, one of the primary reasons for the surge in crime is that so many positions have never been up for grabs during one election in Mexico's history - 3,408, to be precise, including mayors, the federal congress, and local lawmakers.
Due to the state's longstanding war against cartels, several tiny local offshoots have been formed after their fragmentation, thus adding to the chaos. Previously, the cartels operated on the sidelines with the federal government's acceptance. Now, the smaller groups are aspiring to gain official power in the state.
“Many years ago, crime used to be controlled, or administered, by the state,” Supreme Court Judge José Ramón Cossío told BuzzFeed News. Now, “in some cases, it seems like crime is beginning to gain territory in the governing bodies.”
In a characteristic incident strengthening the rising trend was when the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, kidnapped 43 students through municipal police agents in 2014, never to be seen again. He was arrested shortly after on organized crime-related charges along with murder and kidnapping.
Some candidates have also been asked to back down by Morena staffers after it was found that they had potential links to organized crime, according to Figueroa.
“We cannot see a line between organized crime and legal politics,” he said.
According to the latest report by Etellekt, almost every political party has had a member or an affiliated politician murdered. The ruling party tops the list with a toll of 40 homicides.
Analysts have warned that the crime wave plaguing the country will have effects that will be felt for a long time. Post the election, if the chosen officials are found to have links with organized crime, they will have to be stripped of their office and tried in a criminal court, something that seems rather far-fetched considering the situation of the embattled nation.
That being said, people are still focused on election day as if “the entire country will end on July 1 and the entire country will be reborn on July 1,” said a Supreme Court judge named Cossío.
“I’m worried about July 2," he said, calling the situation in Mexico an "electoral fog."