Tuesday, September 21

‘Huge incentives to kill’: Mexican criminal groups target electoral candidates | Global development

TThis Tuesday began like any other day in the electoral campaign of José Alberto Alonso, a union leader who is running for mayor in the Mexican resort of Acapulco: he said goodbye to his family with a kiss, boarded his Nissan Extreme SUV and went to knock on doors .

But just 200 meters from his home, a motorcycle approached and the passenger passenger pulled out a pistol, riddling the car with bullets. Alonso’s bodyguard responded to the fire and the attackers fled. The candidate had escaped injuries, but was later sent to hospital for stress.

“When you get into politics, you know there can be repercussions, but never to that point,” Alonso, 36, said from his sickbed.

The Force for Mexico candidate for mayor of Acapulco, José Alberto Alonso Gutiérrez, speaks from the hospital where he is recovering, about the attack against him.
The Force for Mexico candidate for mayor of Acapulco, José Alberto Alonso Gutiérrez, speaks from the hospital where he is recovering from the attack. Photograph: David Guzmán / EPA

Mexico has endured an especially bloody and violent campaign season ahead of the June 6 midterm elections, when the country will renew its 500-seat lower house of Congress, elect governors in 15 of its 32 states, and elect hundreds of mayors and local legislators.

At least 34 candidates have been assassinated since the campaign began on April 6, while dozens more have been attacked and attacked. The Mexican authorities have registered 398 threats or attacks on candidates.

Much of the violence occurs in states like Guerrero, south of Mexico City, where numerous criminal factions fight for the opium poppy trade and carry out extortion and kidnapping rings in Acapulco. Few cases are ever resolved, although the federal government has provided protection to candidates in the toughest corners of the country.

Forensic investigators work in a place where assailants left a package and a threatening message stuck on the door of the house of Leticia Castillo, candidate of the Social Encounter party (PES) to the local congress, in Ciudad Juárez last week.
Forensic investigators are working on a scene where assailants left a package and a threatening message taped to the door of the home of Leticia Castillo, a candidate for the Social Encounter (PES) party in Ciudad Juárez earlier this month. Photograph: José Luis González / Reuters

“Criminal groups have learned the lesson in recent years that no matter what they do, including the murder of candidates or the attack on public institutions, there are no consequences,” said Falko Ernst, senior analyst for Mexico for the International Crisis Group.

“If we look at the performance of Mexican judicial institutions in solving the murders of politicians, it is practically zero. That creates huge incentives to kill candidates and get away with it. “

Many of the attacks target local government candidates, as criminal groups seek to increase their territorial control.

“The objective of gaining control over the next mayor is to ensure that this mayor guarantees access to two resources of the award: public money and the police,” said Gema Kloppe-Santamaría, a Mexican criminal investigator at Loyola University in Chicago.

The campaign has been suspended in dozens of municipalities across the country due to violence. The ruling Morena party stopped campaigning in the southern part of Mexico state, the country’s most populous region, surrounding Mexico City, after an ambush in March killed 13 state and federal police officers.

The president of Morena’s party, Mario Delgado tweeted on friday that he and two other politicians were intercepted by men armed with assault weapons in the state of Tamaulipas, a hotbed of organized crime, but released unharmed.

“There are some municipalities where you campaign, but you cannot talk about municipal issues, others where you can bring a campaign team, but you cannot hold rallies,” said Isaac Monroy, Morena’s delegate in the state of Mexico.

The attacks have been blatant. In early May, a former state prosecutor was shot dead on a street while campaigning for mayor in northern Sonora. On Tuesday, Alma Barragán was killed while holding a demonstration in the conflict-ravaged state of Guanajuato.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says his government is providing protection to the candidates. But he also accused the media of sensationalizing the killings to make his government look bad.

Criminal groups often offer public officials the “silver or lead” option: take their bribes or face death.

“There’s a lot of blackmail and those who say they don’t end up like this,” said Ramón Bernal García, a former detective who participates in the small Fuerza por México party near Mexico City. Some of the violence and intimidation is also due to rival political parties, Bernal said.

A bodyguard from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, mayoral candidate Guillermo Valencia, pulls his assault rifle from the back of the armored truck in which they travel, during one of Valencia's campaign stops in Morelia, Michoacán state .
A bodyguard of the candidate for mayor of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Guillermo Valencia, removes his assault rifle from the back of the armored truck in which they travel, during one of the stops of the Valencia campaign in Morelia, Michoacán state. Photography: Marco Ugarte / AP

Alonso never received threats, although he says that in hindsight there were signs of trouble. Campaign posters with his youthful face were stolen and vandalized. Some members of the campaign staff received veiled warnings to stop their work.

He still couldn’t say what motivated the assassination attempt, especially since Fuerza por México, the party he helped found, is contesting its first election and voting in single digits nationwide. But he said he was determined to stay in the race.

“I have received many kind messages from people who are fed up with crime,” he said. “It hit me today because I am a candidate, but I will be the spokesperson for all those who suffer violence here in Acapulco.”


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