It was a sunny afternoon in Ciudad Obregón, a city in northwestern Mexico. Abel Murrieta, mayor candidate of Cajeme Municipality, where the city is located, stood at a busy intersection near a shopping center, clutching pamphlets to vote in the June 6 elections.
A man in a gray shirt and jeans walked up to him, pulled out a gun and pumped 10 bullets into the former prosecutor, including two to his head, before crossing the street again and escaping in a waiting car while Murrieta got on the sidewalk. . Images from official security cameras broadcast on television showed scattered flyers and blood soaking his white shirt.
Murrieta was the 32nd candidate to be assassinated leading up to Election Day, when Mexicans across the country will elect 500 federal lawmakers, 15 governors, and thousands of mayors and local officials.
Since the election process began last September, 85 politicians have been murdered, including the 32 who ran for office, according to Etellekt Consultores, which follows campaign violence. That makes it the second bloodiest election ever, after the 2018 presidential election.
According to Etellekt, most of the victims were candidates for mayorship of parties as opposed to the incumbent operators in those states. Their deaths exposed the deep-seated links between the organized crime groups and the local officials who protect them.
“If you confront them, you will be harassed or murdered,” says Rubén Salazar, director of Etellekt. “This is Mexican democracy at the local level. . . No one can run without the consent of the mayor and the local crime boss. “
Murrieta seems to have been no exception. In a posthumously released election spot, he stated that he “took the crime seriously. . . I’m not afraid. ”Hours later, he was shot, the apparent aggressor captured with an official street security camera in the state where López Obrador’s former security minister is running for governor.
The political killings have underscored the challenges President Andrés Manuel López Obrador faces with his ‘hugs not bullets’ strategy against organized crime, his newly militarized federal police and his repeated pledges to bring peace to a country where violence has already suffered 15 year and there are nearly 100 murders a day.
Violence, which has been booming in Mexico since former President Felipe Calderón launched a catastrophic war on drugs in 2006, is the main concern of Mexicans in elections and dominates many races. A poll by the El Financiero newspaper this month found that two-thirds of people disagreed with López Obrador’s approach to the problem, and only 18 percent agreed.
The number of murders has more than tripled since 2006. The government claims it has now limited the rise and reports a 4 percent drop in homicides in the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year.
But in April there were 2,857 murders, 4 percent more than in April 2020, as well as 77 femicides – the murders of women because of their gender – a 13 percent jump from the same month last year.
The murders in Mexico hit a record high in 2019, with 34,682 murders and 970 femicides. Last year it was slightly better: 34,554 murders and 977 female murders. So far this year there have been 11,277 murders and 318 femicides.
Ricardo Márquez Blas, a former security officer, said on a dozen occasions since the beginning of López Obrador’s tenure that the murder rate had exceeded 3,000 per month, including femicides, compared to just three in the previous government from 2012-18.
López Obrador, who took office in 2018, says he has taken a different path by tackling the root causes of crime by offering young people jobs and scholarships rather than directly tackling cartels.
But critics say he, like previous governments, has relied on the military rather than reforming state and local police forces in a country where officers earn about $ 600 a month and half have to buy their own boots.
In a sharp criticism of Mexico’s strategy, former US Ambassador Christopher Landau said López Obrador had taken a “pretty laissez-faire stance” towards drug cartels, despite estimates that they “controlled anywhere from 35 to 40 percent of the country. “.
He sees the cartels. . . as its Vietnam, which it has been for some of its predecessors, and I think so too. . . he sees that as a distraction from focusing on his agenda, ”he told an online seminar.
That was a reminder of the “pax narca” – a tolerance for cartel activities provided they remain under control – that ruled while the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled Mexico from most of the 20th century.
“The president does not want to take on El Narco,” Salazar said, using the Mexican term for drug cartels.
He said López Obrador, widely regarded as an attempt to replicate the PRI’s centralized power, “does not understand” that the old coexistence was broken when new parties disrupted cozy criminal partnerships and fueled new ones.
“The president does not want to acknowledge that there is a very big problem with narcopolitics in the country, which is moving forward with giant strides,” said Salazar, as politics and crime converge at the local level.
Analysts say the climate of polarization is further fueled by the president’s daily press conferences, where he provides a barrage of criticism against his political opponents and electoral authorities he believes are biased.
“With all this polarization, far from delivering on his promises of peace, he is giving us a more convulsive country,” said Gema Kloppe-Santamaría, an expert on crime and violence at Loyola University in Chicago. .
“López Obrador has polarized these elections to the point that she practically declares war on the electoral institutions. My big concern is that what we’re seeing now won’t stop after June 6, ”she said.