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.

New Justice in Mexico Working Paper: Assassinations Target Local Candidates and Officials in Lead Up to 2018 Mexican Elections

01/07/18 (written by David A. Shirk) — Late on the afternoon of Saturday, December 9, 2017, Jose Santos Hernández, the mayor of the town of San Pedro el Alto, Oaxaca, was assassinated. The town is known for its internationally recognized forestry management program and recent damage from Mexico’s September 2017 earthquakes than as a place for drug trafficking. Santos Hernández’s murder took place on an unpaved road near the 175 highway, as the mayor and his family were returning from a religious festival celebrating the Virgen de Juquila in the town of Santa Catarina Juquila. Santos Hernández was forced from his car and fatally wounded by several gunshot wounds, including a close range shot to the head.

According to a new Justice in Mexico working paper entitled An Analysis of Mayoral Assassinations in Mexico, 2000-17″ by Laura Y. Calderón, Santos Hernández was among the nine mayors killed in 2017, including three in December 2017 alone. All told, Calderón found that at least 78 mayors have been assassinated since the year 2000 and taking into consideration candidates and former officials, more than 150 of Mexico’s mayors have been killed in the past fifteen years (See Figure 1). Using comparable data from 2016, Calderón finds that Mexico’s mayors are three times more likely to be killed than journalists in Mexico, and 12 times more likely to be killed than the average person in Mexico. Her findings raise serious concerns about the dangers facing the country’s local politicians, particularly as Mexico looks to an important election year in 2018.


According to Calderón, since 2000 there has been an unprecedented number of assassinations targeting current, former, and aspiring local elected officials in Mexico. Drawing on information from Memoria, a database of individual homicides in Mexico compiled and managed by the Justice in Mexico program at the University of San Diego, Calderón examined all 156 assassinations involving sitting mayors, former mayors, and candidates for mayoral office in Mexico’s 2,435 municipal governments. In total, the Memoria dataset identifies 79 mayors, 68 former-mayors, and 9 mayoral candidates that have been murdered under various circumstances.

Calderón’s study underscores Mexico’s alarming rate violence targeting local officials, and illuminates a number of interesting trends related to mayoral assassinations. Drawing on the Memoria dataset, Calderón identifies a former PRI mayor from the state of Tamaulipas, who was shot in 2002, as the first victim of violence targeting mayors, former-mayors, and mayoral candidates. In 2005, for the first time in decades, a sitting mayor was assassinated in the town of Buenavista Tomatlán, located in the state of Michoacán.

This was followed by a dramatic increase in the number of assassinations targeting mayors, mayoral candidates, and former mayors as Mexico experienced a major increase in drug-related and other criminal violence starting in 2008. Calderón points out that some mayoral killings appear to have patterns associated with drug production and trafficking activities. For example, mayors assassinated in smaller towns tend to be located in rural areas well suited to drug production and transit. Those assassinated in larger cities tend to be located closer to the U.S.-Mexico border, which serves as an important transshipment point for drugs headed to the U.S. market.

Indeed, Mayor Santos Hernández was killed the rural mountain town of San Pedro el Alto, located in a region—the “Costa Chica” located on the southwestern portion of the Oaxacan coast between the resort cities of Acapulco and Puerto Escondido—known as a trans-shipment point for drugs smuggled in small vessels. In recent years, farmers and fishermen in the Costa Chica region have been threatened or harmed by drug trafficking organizations, and there have been reports of criminal organizations engaged in public shootouts.

However, it is not clear that the motive of Santos Hernández’s murder was attributable to organized crime. On Thursday, January 11, authorities arrested the city treasurer of San Pedro El Alto, Francisco Javier, for being the alleged intellectual author of the murder. Local investigators arrested a man identified in newspaper reports as “Francisco Javier,” the treasurer of the local government, who authorities believe to have orchestrated the attack on Mayor Santos Hernández as a result of a feud over local financial matters. The matter remains under investigation.

Mayor Santos Hernández’s murder underscores that many factors can play into violence targeting local officials. For example, according to Calderón, the assassination of local politicians has affected all three of Mexico’s major parties, as well as a number of smaller parties. While mayors from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) head roughly 60% of Mexico’s local governments, they represented only 37% of those mayoral candidates and 39% of sitting mayors that have been assassinated in recent years. Although the number of mayoral candidates assassinated was fairly small (9 total), three were candidates from Mexico’s leftist fringe parties, including the Movement for National Renovation (Morena), the Social Democratic Alternative (ASD), and the Partido Único (PUP).

Assassinated Mayoral Candidates, Mayors and Former Mayors by Political Party from 2000 to 2017

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset.

Meanwhile, among the 71 sitting mayors killed, 21% were from the National Action Party (PAN), 17% were from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and the remaining 23% were from smaller third parties. Partly because of its historically dominant role in Mexican politics, a much greater share of assassinated former-mayors heralded from the PRI (52%), while the next largest shares came from the PRD (25%) and smaller third parties (14%); a relatively smaller share of former PAN mayors (9%) have been killed after leaving office. A 2016 article by Beatriz Magaloni and Zaira Razu suggests that PAN officials at the state and local level may have been insulated from violence through better coordination with the federal government as violence spiked during the government of President Felipe Calderón (2006-12), a member of the PAN.

What is clear is that local authorities have taken the brunt of violent attacks against public officials since the start of a decade-long, nationwide surge in homicides. A 2015 study by Guilermo Trejo and Sandra Ley analyzed roughly 500 violent threats and attacks against local politicians in Mexico and found that the vast majority involved local officials (83%) and that most occurred between 2007 and 2014 (90%).

As Santos Hernández’s case appears to illustrate, many local politicians are assassinated for complex reasons seemingly unrelated to organized crime, including political rivalries, inter-personal conflicts, and intra-familial violence. Also, as Calderón’s study reveals by including former-mayors in her analysis, a large number of former government officials are also targeted for violence, presumably well after they are of strategic value to criminal organizations. This raises important questions that require further investigation into the motives and incentives behind the murders of Mexico’s former mayors.

What is quite certain is that the recent wave of violence against local officials is unprecedented in Mexico, and has few parallels elsewhere. Recent trends also underscore the precarious situation for current aspirants to local elected office as Mexico gears up for the 2018 elections. One of the front runners in this year’s presidential election is Andres Manuel López Obrador, a former member of the PRD who defected to found Morena, a new leftist party that has gained ground rapidly in recent years. The prospect of a Lopez Obrador victory has heightened political tensions and could contribute to recent patterns of violence targeting local candidates and officials.

SOURCES:

Raul Laguna, “Lío de dinero motivó crimen de presidente municipal de San Pedro El Alto,” El Imparcial de Oaxaca, December 12, 2018. http://imparcialoaxaca.mx/policiaca/110247/lio-de-dinero-motivo-crimen-de-presidente/

“Asesinan a alcalde mexicano de San José Alto, Oaxaca,” Telesur, December 9, 2017, https://www.telesurtv.net/news/Asesinan-a-alcalde-mexicano-de-San-Jose-Alto-Oaxaca-20171209-0022.html

Darwin Sandoval, “Matan a president municipal de San Pedro El Alto, Pochutla, Oaxaca,” El Imparcial de la Costa, December 9, 2017. http://imparcialoaxaca.mx/policiaca/96409/matan-a-presidente-municipal-de-san-pedro-el-alto-pochutla-oaxaca/

Patricia Briseño, “Ejecutan a tiros al alcalde de San Pedro El Alto, Oaxaca,” Excelsior, December 8, 2017. http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2017/12/08/1206643

Juan Carlos Zavala, “Asesinan a presidente municipal de San Pedro El Alto, Oaxaca,” El Universal, December 8, 2017. http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/asesinan-presidente-municipal-de-san-pedro-el-alto-oaxaca

Archivaldo García, “Incomunicado San Pedro el Alto, Oaxaca; viviendas dañadas,” October 3, 2017, El Imparcial, http://imparcialoaxaca.mx/costa/65167/incomunicado-san-pedro-el-alto-oaxaca-viviendas-danadas

Beatriz Magaloni and Zaira Razu, “Mexico in the Grip of Violence,” Current History, February 2016, p. 57-62. http://www.currenthistory.com/MAGALONI_RAZU_CurrentHistory.pdf

Guillermo Trejo y Sandra Ley, “Municipios bajo fuego (1995-2014),” Nexos, February 1, 2015. https://www.nexos.com.mx/?p=24024

Ernesto Martínez Elorriaga, “Hallan el cuerpo de ex edil michoacano secuestrado la mañana del jueves,” La Jornada, May 10, 2008, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/05/10/index.php?section=estados&article=026n1est

PRD mayoral candidate decapitated in Guerrero

Mayoral candidate Aidé Nava González appears here in an advertisement for her candidacy before her death. Photo: Excelsior.

Mayoral candidate Aidé Nava González appears here in an advertisement for her candidacy before her death. Photo: Excelsior.

03/19/15 — Aidé Nava González, the 42-year-old Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) mayoral candidate for Ahuacuotzingo, Guerrero, was abducted by six armed men during a meeting she was having with her associates on March 9, 2015. She was found dead the next evening on the outskirts of the Ahuacuotzingo municipality on the road connecting Tlapa and Chilpancingo. According to the Guerrero State Attorney General’s Office’s (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) autopsy report, the cause of her death was due to shock caused by loss of blood from decapitation, which proves that Nava was alive at the time of her decapitation. Such a violent crime is often associated with the work of organized crime groups, which is also in line with the narcomensaje (“narco-message”) left with her body that was addressed to politicians that “do not want to align themselves.”

This is not the first time Nava González’ family was targeted by organized crime in recent years since her husband, Francisco Quiñónez Ramirez, became mayor of Ahuacoutzingo in 2009. On October 11, 2012, her son, Francisco Quiñónez Nava, was taken hostage on the condition that he would be released for the sum of $19,500 ($300,000 pesos). He is still missing to date. Nava González’ husband was then killed 18 months after their son went missing. Quiñónez Ramirez, who at one point was a migrant in the United States, was planning on running in the 2015 elections that his wife, Nava González, had since decided to run in his place. Quiñónez Ramirezwas the first mayor of Ahuacuotzingo to win from the PRD, and also the first mayor to hold office that did not belong to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI). Nava González denounced her son’s abduction and husband’s killing, claiming them as crimes committed by the current PRI mayor, Daniel Hernández.

Family and friends of slain mayoral candidate Aidé Nava González pay their respects at her funeral. Photo: El Universal.

Family and friends of slain mayoral candidate Aidé Nava González pay their respects at her funeral. Photo: El Universal.

Nava González’s daughter made statements to the community in response to the deaths and kidnapping of her family in the last three years. At her mother’s burial in her hometown of Pochutla, Vanessa Quiñónez Ramírez proclaimed, “We will continue forward, we’ll be courageous just as you all have been: We will give you justice! Justice mother!” Meanwhile, a representative of the United Nations (UN) Women in Mexico, Ana Güezmes, condemned the kidnapping and homicide. At an event in honor of International Women’s Day, she stated, “We urge a prompt and thorough investigation of these unfortunate events and call that during the electoral process safety and protection be guaranteed for those who contend for elected office, especially those of women.”

This recent event adds to the ongoing turmoil in Guerrero surrounding political corruption and alleged connections with organized crime. In September 2014, 43 students were kidnapped during a protest after protestors clashed with police. In November, Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, were arrested for ordering the local police force’s involvement in breaking up the protest, police that then turned the students over to criminal organization Guerreros Unidos, which is widely believed to have killed and incinerated the students’ bodies. Only one student’s remains have been found to date.

Sources:

Peralta, Eyder. “Mexico Charges Former Iguala Mayor In Missing Students Case.” NPR. January 14, 2015.

Aguilar, Rolando. “Hallan decapitada a precandidata de PRD.” Excelsior. March 12, 2015.

“Condena ONU asesinato de precandidata del PRD en Guerrero.” Proceso. March 12, 2015.

Flores Contreras, Ezequiel. “Aspirante perredista ‘fue decapitada aún con vida’: Fiscalía de Guerrero.” Proceso. March 12, 2015.

Pigenonutt, Vania. “Una familia política marcada por la tragedia.” El Universal. March 12, 2015.

“Sepultan a precandidata del PRD asesinada en Guerrero.” Pulso SLP. March 12, 2015.

Pigeonutt, Vania. “¿A poco la muerte de mi madre va a quedar así?” El Universal. March 13, 2015.