Mexico’s 2021 Elections Rocked By Political Violence

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.

Photo: Revista Semana, AFP.

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. 

Sources

Domínguez, Pedro. “Detectan intromisión del crimen en elecciones en 7 estados.” Milenio. March 4, 2021. 

Cortez, Steven. “Mayoral Candidate Assassinated in Oaxaca.” Justice in Mexico. April 20, 2021.

Ángel, Arturo. “Veracruz, Guanajuato y Guerrero, los más peligrosos para candidatos en las elecciones 2021.” Animal Político. May 27, 2021. 

Domínguez, Pedro. “AMLO acusa amarillismo en violencia durante campañas.” Milenio. May 27, 2021. 

San Martín, Neldy. “Violencia política afecta más a las mujeres: van 21 asesinadas en este proceso electoral.” Proceso. June 1, 2021. 

“Elecciones 2021: CNDH condena violencia política en México.” La Razón. June 2, 2021.

Blanco, Uriel. “Elecciones teñidas de sangre: ellos son los candidatos y aspirantes asesinados de cara a los comicios de México en 2021.” CNN Español. June 2, 2021. 

Ramos, Rolando. “Persiste la impunidad en homicidios de aspirantes y candidatos a cargos.” El Economista. June 2, 2021. 

Radwin, Max & Dalby, Chris. “Why is Veracruz Mexico’s Most Dangerous State for Political Murders?” InSight Crime. June 3, 2021. 

Kahn, Carrie. “Mexico Is Holding Its Largest Elections Ever. They’re Also One Of Its Deadliest.” National Public Radio. June 4, 2021. 

“Sexto Informe de Violencia Política en México.” Etellekt Consultores. June 5, 2021. 

Arista, Lidia. “Con 90 políticos asesinados, en 2021, las campañas más violentas desde 2000.” Expansión Política. June 5, 2021. 

Rivas, Axel. “No se descartan ataques del crimen en elecciones: David Saucedo.” Milenio. June 5, 2021. 

“Veracruz: El foco de la violencia política en elecciones 2021.” El Heraldo de México. June 6, 2021. 

Nolasco, Santiago. “Violencia irrumpe en distintas casillas durante jornada electoral.” El Economista. June 6, 2021. 

Rodríguez, Juan Carlos. “Arrojan cabeza humana en una caja en casilla de Tijuana.” El Universal. June 6, 2021. 

Vázquez, Ivette. “Grupos armados disparan contra casilla ubicada en una escuela y roban urnas en San Luis Potosí.” Debate. June 6, 2021. 

Webber, Jude. “Mexico’s president loses congressional supermajority in elections.” Financial Times. June 7, 2021. 

“Expertos en derechos humanos llaman a México a poner fin a la polarización de la vida pública.” United Nations. June 8, 2021. 

Pérez Correa, Catalina. “La violencia electoral.” El Universal. June 8, 2021. 

Vallejo, Guadalupe. “La participación electoral cierra en 52.67%, cinco puntos más que en 2015.” Expansión Política. June 8, 2021.

INE denies México Libre’s application to form political party

Margarita Zavala and former President Felipe Calderón. Photo: Mexico Daily News.

09/15/20 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral, INE) made waves in early September when it denied the formation of a new political party. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and his wife, Margarita Zavala, had applied to the INE to launch México Libre (or Free Mexico). The INE rejected the application four votes in favor and seven against.  

México Libre

The timing of the INE’s ruling is part of the reason this story has made headlines, not just because of the party’s high-profile leaders. With Mexico’s 2021 mid-term elections less than one year away, the ruling could jeopardize México Libre’s ability to participate. As such, Zavala and Calderón said that they would immediately contest the INE’s decision, elevating their case to the Federal Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación, TEPJF).

Reactions to the INE’s Decision

INE President Lorenzo Córdova explained the decision, saying that there were concerns about México Libre’s funding. He specifically pointed to 8.2% of the proposed party’s reported resources, calling it “opaque money.” The INE had previously fined México Libre 2.7 million pesos for what they found to be financial irregularities pertaining to donations received.

Former President Calderón and his partner, Zavala, however, immediately rejected the INE’s decision “You’re lying, Lorenzo Córdova,” tweeted Calderón. “Each and every one of our donors is perfectly identified. You know it, you hid it. It’s a day of shame for you, for INE and for the memory of Arnaldo, who would be ashamed of your decision,” he wrote (translation by Mexico Daily News). Arnaldo is a reference to Córdova’s late father, a well-known academic and former politician. Calderón and Zavala, the latter of whom is actually the leader of México Libre and is also a politician, also clarified that all of México Libre’s donors were identified. This included the individuals in question who collectively donated just over one million pesos to México Libre through the internet platform Clip.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is seen here at his ranch in Chiapas responding through social media to the INE’s decision. Photo: Mexico Daily News.

Still, current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024) applauded the decision, saying it was a “win” for the Mexican people. He also took a jab at Calderón, with whom he has publicly quarreled since being rival presidential candidates in 2006. López Obrador suggested the former president should appeal the INE’s ruling to “his friends” in Washington D.C., a reference to the Organization of American States. He continued, saying that Calderón should lean on those who helped him “steal” the presidency if he wants to do it again. Zavala fired back, saying “With you [as president], democracy loses [and] Mexico loses.”

The Beginnings of México Libre

Zavala initially proposed México Libre’s creation back in January 2019 with the intent of it being a centrist right party. She stressed that it would not be a rebranding of the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN), the party under which former President Calderón was elected. Rather, México Libre would be a party for the people, for the everyday Mexican – a party that is not an “extreme.” Writes Mexico News Daily, partially quoting Zavala’s explanation, “México Libre is intended to generate political participation and provide an alternative for like-minded individuals to organize, deliberate, and give themselves heart and soul to the reconstruction of Mexico.”

Mexico’s Political System

Mexico’s democracy has quite a few political parties, though it is largely dominated by four: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional , PRI), the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN), the Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD), and the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA). Adding another party, México Libre, to the mix would seemingly add another option to represent the political will of Mexicans. However, democracies are built on far more than just the number of parties in the system. Considering other factors and variables that make up democratic systems, like rule of law, judicial systems, and elections, Mexico is a “flawed democracy,” according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

A “Flawed Democracy”

The EIU’s annual Democracy Index that was released in January 2020 looked at the state of democracies worldwide in 2019. The report focused on 165 independent states and two territories, categorizing them on their electoral process and pluralism, functioning of the government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. The EIU determined that Mexico ranked 73rd on the list of 167 countries with an overall score of 6.09 out of 10.00 (with 10.00 being the ideal democracy). Only three countries – Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, and Singapore – separated Mexico from being deemed a “hybrid regime.” Mexico’s overall score has steadily declined year after year since 2010, dropping from 6.93 in 2010 to 6.09 in 2019.

The INE hosted a vote on September 4, 2020, on México Libre.

The report defined “flawed democracies” as countries that “have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems…, basic liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.” This aligns with the results of the indicators, which showed Mexico scoring the highest on electoral process and pluralism (7.83 out of 10.00) and the lowest on political culture (3.13 out of 10.00).

Democracy in Latin America

Latin America as a whole did not fare much better than Mexico in 2019.  “Latin America was the worst-performing region in 2019,” the EIU reports, “recording a fall of 0.11 points in its average regional score compared with 2018, to 6.13.” Mexico ranked 16th lowest out of 23 countries in the region, scoring only higher than Honduras (5.42 overall score), Guatemala (5.26), Bolivia (4.84), Haiti (4.57), Nicaragua (3.55), Venezuela (2.88), and Cuba (2.84). Only three nations in the region were considered “full democracies” (Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Chile), whereas the majority of the region’s 23 countries are considered “flawed democracies.”

For more information on the Democracy Index, check out the report here.

Sources:

“Zavala descarta que ‘México Libre’ sea el nuevo Morena,” Milenio, January 21, 2019.

“Former candidate, ex-president’s wife unveils new political party,” Mexico News Daily, January 22, 2019.

“Democracy Index 2019: A year of democratic setbacks and popular protests.” The Economist. January 2020.

Web page, “México Libre,” Facebook, Posted August 21, 2020.

Ariadna García, “Revés a Calderón y Zavala: INE niega registro a México Libre,” El Universal, September 4, 2020.

“México Libre: ¿Por qué el INE le negó el registro como partido?” El Financiero, September 5, 2020.

Pedro Villa y Caña and Horacio Jiménez, “Así ha sido el enfrentamiento de AMLO con Zavala y Calderón por México Libre,” El Universal, September 6, 2020.

“Electoral institute rejects new political party over ‘unidentified’ funding,” Mexico News Daily, September 7, 2020.

Governor elect in BC seeks to extend his term

Jaime Bonilla Valdez, governor elect of Baja California

Jaime Bonilla was elected Governor of Baja California on June 2nd, 2019. Source: El Tamaulipeco

08/06/19 (written by lcalderon) — Jaime Bonilla Valdez was elected governor for Baja California on June 2, 2019, along with five mayors and 25 state Congress representatives. He was initially elected for an extraordinary term of two years, from November 1, 2019 to October 31, 2021. This extraordinary period of governorship was set forth by a Constitutional reform in 2014 that established that the governor elected in 2019 would serve a term of two years (instead of six) in order for the federal midterm elections and state governor elections to coincide, exactly three years after the presidential election.

However, on July 8, 2019, Baja California Congressman Víctor Moran (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, Morena) called for a secret, unscheduled session, which was held in Playas de Rosarito –about two and a half hours from the state’s capital, Mexicali. At said session, Congressman Moran passed a motion to extend governor-elect Bonilla’s term from two to five years, ending in October 31, 2024 instead of 2021. Mr. Moran’s argument was that having another election in two years would impose a grave economic burden on Baja California’s economy, which is already facing a serious public spending deficit, thus making it more desirable to postpone it until 2024. He also emphasized the importance of giving the government-elect enough time to complete their long-term projects, specifically those designed to address public security concerns at the state level. The motion passed with 21 out of the 25 votes in favor, only three of which were affiliates of the Morena Party. Congressional representatives voted through concealed voting slips and only one National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) Congressman expressed his disagreement with the procedure and the motion. Congressional representatives from the local party, Baja California’s Party (Partido de Baja California, PBC) were not present at the session; allegedly, PBC representatives were not even summoned.

During that same session, State Congress also approved to create two important positions: Counselor for the Instituto de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública (Institute for Transparency and Access to Public Information, ITAIP) and Superior Auditor for the State. Sources such as El Economista and Sin Embargo allege these positions were Morena’s negotiating assets to convince PAN and PRI’s Congressional representatives to vote for the initiative. Allegations grew stronger when the appointment of Carlos Montejo Oceguera, a longtime PAN member and collaborator of current Baja Calfornia Governor Francisco Vega de Lamadrid, as Superior Auditor was deemed official immediately after the confidential session. Montejo’s appointment became notably suspicious when he was declared to be in charge of auditing the state government’s performance during the last three years. This came just weeks after the Federal Superior Auditor declared that Governor Vega’s government was involved in the embezzlement of over $4.5 billion Mexican pesos (roughly $240 million USD).

Initial reactions

Citizens' protests

Citizens protest against “Bonilla Law.”
Source: Diario de Mexico

Public opposition to what is now being called “Bonilla Law” manifested soon thereafter. Citizens throughout Baja California called for protests at the local office for the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), demanding that the national Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) evaluate the reform. They also requested that Congressmen who voted in favor of what they perceive as an unconstitutional action be politically tried. Additionally, they argued that the opinion expressed on June 2nd must prevail, which is when citizens elected Bonilla for a term of just two years – not the expanded five years.

Bonilla’s decision to extend his term made it to the national headlines almost immediately, and the reactions came from all political levels. One of the first institutions to show its discontent was the National Action Party (PAN). The PAN’s national management expressed its condemnation of the term extension, highlighting its discontent with the state Congressman representing their party who voted in favor of extending Bonilla’s governorship. A few weeks later, the PAN started removing its state Congressmen from Baja California.

For his part, Bonilla argued that the term’s extension eliminates the need to have another round of elections in two years. Regardless of the vote on the governorship, Baja Californians still have to vote in five mayors and 25 Congressmen in 2021. The Morena Party also threw its support behind Bonilla’s term extension, noting that the two-year term represents a violation of Bonilla’s political-electoral rights, a claim that Bonilla already submitted to the Electoral Court. This challenge was successful at the state court, but not at the federal court.

Government Response

When concerns began to be raised, President Andres Manuel López Obrador during his morning address to the media and public said, “If [Jaime Bonilla] would have asked, I would have not approved it” (Jimenez, 2). According to López Obrador, Bonilla’s policy does not does not align with his political ideology;. It is important to note, however, that such topics are often not the types of issues brought before the president. Still, President López Obrador did weigh in given the gravity of the situation. For one, the president clarified that extending the governor’s term did not mean that Bonilla would seek reelection, as  he was not looking to violate the Constitution. Similarly, he stressed, this was certainly not implying that he would seek presidential reelection when his sexenio expires (2018-2024). López Obrador finished by saying that he would not intervene in the matter. It is up to the Judiciary’s Electoral Court to decide whether the term extension is valid in an impartial process that is not deserving of presidential influence, he said.

In response, the federal Congress approved a resolution asking state Congressmen to revert the approval

Congress of Baja California confirms term extension

State Congress confirms “Bonilla Law” after being called to a session to re-consider it.

of the “Bonilla Law.” Doing so would  respect the two-year term that citizens chose for governor-elect Bonilla. In return, the Congress of Baja California decided to have an extraordinary, closed-door session in Playas de Rosarito with only 14 Congressmen present. Instead of revesting their decision during this session; state Congressional representatives instead confirmed Bonilla’s term extension from two years to five years. They justified their decision by arguing that the economy of the state had to be preserved and that it was of outmost importance to prioritize state sovereignty in this matter.

After reconfirming “Bonilla Law,” federal legislators started a movement to take the matter to the national Supreme Court arguing that this extension is an act against the Constitution.

State Status

In the meantime, outgoing Governor Vega de Lamadrid announced that he would not declare the new reform in the State’s Official Newspaper out of respect for the citizen’s decision to vote for a two-year term. This statement is Governor Vega’s declaration of support for public opposition to the “Bonila Law” since the State’s Official Newspaper is the medium to publish State legislation.

The President of the PAN in Baja California also noted that it would have been possible for Bonilla to challenge the 2014 two-year term reform within the state legal frameworks if he followed the proper procedure 90 days before the election. Bonilla failed to meet the dates and conditions to submit his disagreement, however, thus removing that possible course of action.

Sources

“AMLO se habría pronunciado en contra de ampliación de mandato de Bonilla,” El Sol de México, July 12, 2019.

“Ciudadanos protestan contra ‘Ley Bonilla’ en BC; piden la intervención de la CNDH,” Milenio, July 15, 2019.

“El ‘agandalle’ de Bonilla en BC es parte de un pacto de protección al Gobierno de ‘Kiko’ Vega, acusan,” Sin Embargo, July 18, 2019.

“El pacto: ampliación de mandato a cambio del auditor,” El Economista, July 21, 2019.

“En 2021, BC elegirá a cinco alcaldes y 25 diputados,” La Jornada, July 9, 2019.

“Impunidad a ‘Kiko’ Vega, entrega de cargos públicos y ‘sobornos’ millonarios, a cambio de la ‘Ley Bonilla’,” Proceso, July 16, 2019.

“Jaime Bonilla gobernará cinco años en Baja California en medio de controversia,” San Diego Union Tribune, July 23, 2019.

“‘Kiko’ desvió 4 mil 600 mdp, ocultó 802 en deuda y pagó intereses sin razón,” Zeta Tijuana, March 4, 2019.

“Kiko Vega no publicará en Diario Oficial ampliación a periodo de Jaime Bonilla en BC,” Proceso, July 9, 2019.

“Mexico border state extends governor’s term amid criticism,” Washington Post, July 24, 2019.

“PAN inicia expulsión de diputados que ampliaron la gubernatura de Jaime Bonilla en Baja California,” Aristegui Noticias, July 11, 2019.

“Panistas regalan gubernatura de cinco años a Bonilla,” Zeta Tijuana, July 8, 2019.