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As Election Day Nears, Mexico Faces Grim Reality As At Least 88 Candidates Have Been Killed

Shocking stories of political violence have long impacted Mexican society and the lead up to the 2021 elections are, unfortunately, no different. Since September last year, at least 88 candidates for political office have been murdered. They’re part of a group of at least 565 politicians or candidates that have been targeted by some sort of crime, according to Mexican consulting firm Etellekt Consultores.

There’s no doubt that the campaign season ahead of this weekend’s midterm elections have been particularly violent. And it’s happening at the midpoint of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s presidency, when the country is set to vote candidates for the 500-seat lower house of congress, pick governors in 15 of its 32 states and elect hundreds of mayors and local legislators. Many consider the election a referendum on President AMLO’s time in office and his party is expected to do well. But the widespread political violence is casting a dark shadow on the campaign season.

Mexico is seeing record political violence in lead up to this weekend’s midterm elections.

On many fronts, political campaigns don’t look too different in Mexico from the United States. TVs are flooded with campaign ads, billboards pop up all over the country, there are debates, rallies, and catchy slogans. But Mexico also faces a severe crisis rooted in political violence that threatens to derail the country’s march towards a healthy democracy.

Since September 2020, at least 88 politicians for candidates for office have been murdered. That makes it the second bloodiest election on record, after the presidential vote in 2018.

According to Etellekt, most of the victims were candidates for mayor from parties in opposition to the incumbents in those states. Their deaths have laid bare the deep-rooted ties between organized crime groups and the local officials who protect them.

“If you confront them, you get harassed or killed,” said Rubén Salazar, Etellekt director. “This is Mexican democracy at the local level. No one can run for office without the permission of the mayor and the local crime boss.”

The surge in violence comes at the midpoint in AMLO’s presidency.

Although violence has been spiraling out of control since former president Felipe Calderón launched a catastrophic war on drugs in 2006, AMLO’s new strategy of “abrazos no balazos” (hugs not bullets) is being tested. And violence is voter’s number one concern. A survey by El Financiero this month found two-thirds of people disagreed with AMLO’s handling of the problem, with just 18% approving.

President AMLO says he is addressing the root causes of crime, offering young people jobs and scholarships instead of confronting cartels directly. But critics say he, like past governments, has relied on the military instead of reforming state and local police forces in a country where officers earn around US $600 a month, and have to buy their own boots.

As far as the current wave of violence, AMLO says his government is providing protection for candidates. But he also accused the media of sensationalizing the murders to make his government look bad.

The violence is more pronounced at the local level – where cartels have more influence.

For cartels, local politics deliver better returns on their investments. Control of local mayors or police chiefs lead to more money in cartel pockets and buys them greater influence with the candidates they ‘support.’ Some gangs bankroll candidates outright, while ordering hit men to deal with the competition.

“Municipalities are the easiest point for organized crime to penetrate, but the consequences go way beyond the local orbit,” wrote columnist Sergio Sarmiento in the daily Reforma.

The politicians killed during the current electoral cycle constitute “the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote. “We don’t know how many more have been pressured or have had to accept demands from organized crime to keep on competing.”

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