06/29/2021 (written by rramos) – Against the backdrop of a relatively high voter turnout and a mixed result for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ruling leftist bloc, Mexico’s 2021 midterm elections were marred by widespread political violence throughout the country. On the polling day of June 6, various high-profile incidents, such as the tossing of a severed human head at a voting booth in Tijuana and the theft of ballot boxes by an armed group in San Luis Potosí, illustrated the climate of insecurity in which the election campaign took place. Indeed, the months leading up to June 6 had been characterized by heightened levels of violence aimed at various political actors, including elected officials, candidates, campaign aides, political party workers, and others.
According to a report released by Etellekt, a risk analysis firm based in Mexico City, a total of 910 politically-related acts of aggression occurred between September 2020 and early June 2021, which roughly corresponds with the official campaigning period. This included 91 homicides, 48 attempted homicides, 45 kidnappings, and 321 threats of violence perpetrated against political targets, such as candidates, party members, and campaign activists. When compared to all other Mexican elections since 2000, the 2020-2021 campaign cycle saw the second-highest number of politically-linked homicides ever, with this latest election only falling behind the 2018 electoral process in which 152 politically-active individuals were murdered. The total number of 910 acts of political violence compiled by Etellekt, however, represented a 17.5% increase over the 774 incidents recorded in the 2018 election.
The pervasive insecurity surrounding the 2021 elections, as well as authorities’ apparent inability to prevent it, drew condemnation both domestically and internationally. Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) decried the threat posed by violence to citizens’ right to democracy and urged the federal government to fully investigate reported assaults against candidates. On June 8, two days after the election, a group of human rights experts from the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS) put out a press release condemning attacks against candidates and calling on authorities to ensure that future elections will be able to take place under more secure conditions.
Local-Level Candidates Disproportionately Impacted
Throughout the 2020-2021 election cycle, candidates for municipal offices appeared to be disproportionately affected by political violence. On June 2, CNN Español published a list of candidates and aspiring candidates who were murdered during the campaign using data compiled by DataInt security consulting firm. Of the 32 murdered candidates and aspiring candidates identified by CNN Español, 24 were reported to be running for local-level offices, such as mayor or city council. The high proportion of municipal-level candidates in the CNN Español list was roughly consistent with the Etellekt report, which had found that 77% of candidates murdered in the 2021 election were pursuing offices at the local level.
Furthermore, Observatoria Todas MX, a grouping of various feminist and human rights organizations, held a press conference in which they stated that 80% of female candidates that had been victims of political violence in the 2020-2021 electoral process were running for municipal offices, compared to 15% for state-level positions and only 5% for federal offices. This suggests that gender-based political violence, which has drawn increased attention, tends to occur primarily at the local level.
Electoral Violence Concentrated in Certain States, Tied to Organized Crime
According to Animal Político, murders of candidates and aspiring candidates that had been reported by the end of May were most heavily concentrated in Veracruz, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Jalisco, Quintana Roo, and Baja California, with nearly three-fourths of all candidate assassinations in Mexico taking place in these seven states. In March, a number of these states had been identified by the federal Security and Citizen Protection Secretariat (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, SSPC) as facing the greatest risk of political violence. SSPC Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez specifically attributed the heightened possibility of electoral violence to criminal organizations seeking to influence political outcomes through murders and other acts. In the specific case of Veracruz, which led the country in reported cases of political violence in the 2021 election, many incidents of electorally-motivated aggression have indeed been linked to the heavy presence of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) throughout the state.
In an interview with Milenio, security analyst David Saucedo argued that organized crime groups carry out attacks against politicians and authorities in order to create a generalized sense of fear and intimidation. This enables criminal groups to then exert a level of control over political decision-making in the territories in which they operate. Moreover, Saucedo added that criminal attacks against elected officials and political candidates tend to take place in two general contexts. Firstly, criminal organizations may launch violent or intimidatory acts against politicians that they believe will attempt to crack down on existing institutional corruption that favors their operations. Secondly, criminal groups may target candidates and officials that are tied to rival organizations, in an attempt to reduce adversaries’ control over certain territories.
Most Cases in 2021 Remain Unsolved
Although President López Obrador has publicly committed to ensuring that there will be no impunity in any case of political violence, the vast majority of candidate murders during the 2021 election have seen little progress towards being solved. Out of the 35 homicides of candidates identified in the Etellekt report, only nine cases have seen at least one arrest. Unless authorities demonstrate a serious and sustained willingness to prevent, investigate, and sanction attacks on candidates and other politically active persons, the use of violence as a political tool may continue to be a regular feature of elections in Mexico.