04/20/21 (written by scortez) – On March 20, Ivonne Gallegos Carreños, a candidate running for mayor of Ocoltán de Morelos, Oaxaca under the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), was murdered. According to the initial investigation, Gallegos was traveling in a white van on a highway south of Oaxaca City with another individual when her vehicle was attacked by armed men. Her husband, José Luis Méndez Lara, was also assassinated back in 2015. Although prosecutors never released a concrete motive for his killing, they noted that he could have been targeted as a revenge killing and did not rule out that it may have been to send a message to Gallegos.
The day before she was murdered, Gallegos submitted a request with the State’s Institute for Elections and Voter Participation (Instituto Estatal Electoral y de Participación Ciudadana de Oaxaca, IEEPCO) for more protection. She believed that her life was in imminent danger. She is the 18th pre-candidate to be assassinated since the campaigns to elect 153 municipal presidents began in September 2020.
Gallegos had spent the last six years involved in social justice movements as her political career developed. This included combating violence against indigenous women while serving as president of the Gender Equity Commission (Comisión de Equidad de Género) in the local legislature, and as a former official of the Secretary of Indigenous Affairs (Secretaría de Asuntos Indígenas) of the state government of Oaxaca.
The Attorney General’s Office of Oaxaca (Fiscalía del Estado de Oaxaca) announced that they were investigating her killing as a femicide. Arturo Peimbert Calvo, the newly appointed State Attorney General, said that he would use the full force of his office to bring justice in the case. He added that they have several viable theories and that warrants for individuals involved are imminent. The assassination of Gallegos is the second to occur within a two-month span. Leobardo Ramos Lázaro, the mayor of Chahuites, Oaxaca, was fatally shot on February 1while he was traveling in his vehicle.
Political Violence Against Candidates
Assassinations against female candidates and mayors continue to be a salient issue. Most recently in November 2020, Florisel Ríos Delfín, the mayor of Jamapa, Veracruz, was kidnapped and killed by a group of armed men. In two other instances of intimidation in Oaxaca, female candidates faced serious threats against their safety. On March 12, the home of Aime Rodríguez Vásquez, a candidate in Zamaltán de Álvarez, Oaxaca, was targeted with gunfire as an intimidation tactic to prevent her from running for office. On March 17, Aurelia Benítez, a pre-candidate for mayor of El Espinal, Oaxaca, denounced threats she received on social media and direct actions put out against her. Rosa Icela Rodríguez, the Secretary for Security and Citizen Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana) reported in March that Oaxaca is among seven states that collectively experience half of all political violence in the country. Consequently, candidates in these states are more susceptible to be co-opted by criminal organizations.
Organization Calls for Stronger Protections for Women
Local leaders are already calling for the government to enact stronger measures against violence towards pre-candidates and elected officials. Intimidation of pre-candidates is frequently seen across Mexico. In the wake of Gallegos’ death, organizations such as UN Women Mexico have condemned the killing and urged the federal government to create and implement measures to prevent any act of violence against women in politics. Mexico’s National Women’s Institute (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres) released a statement highlighting that violence has no place in the country’s democratic process.
Recent Trend in Political Assassinations in Mexico
Gallegos’ assassination also underscores the danger that mayoral candidates and mayors alike experience in Mexico. It is estimated that Mexican mayors were 13 times more likely to be killed than the general public in 2019. According to the Memoria dataset by Justice in Mexico, from 2019 to 2020, the homicide rates of elected mayors, candidates, and former mayors have decreased by 62.5 percent. Although the homicide rates have steadily declined in recent years, local elected issues continue to be targeted victims of extortion by armed groups. As of 2020, the homicide rate of mayoral officials is 1.25 per 1,000 people. The gender-based violence that female candidates continue to face adds a new layer of risk. The 2020 Justice in Mexico Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico special report highlights the fact that the dangerous environment for these public officials becomes more threatening during election cycles. At a local level, the targeting of local elected officials demonstrates an obstruction of the democratic process in municipalities of Mexico.