- Politically motivated killings are nothing new in Mexico, but 2017 saw the most in the past decade.
- Those killings come as criminal groups fragment and as the country gears up for nationwide elections in summer 2018.
- The killings and the election renew focus on the complex links between criminal and political power in Mexico.
2017 is set to be Mexico’s most violent year on record, with 23,101 homicide cases opened during the first 11 months of the year. These homicide cases can contain more than one victim.
A number of categories of crime saw increases in 2017, but the year also proved to be the deadliest in the past decade for Mexico’s politicians — with the final days of December seeing a spate of attacks against current, former, and prospective officials.
On December 24, an activist from the center-left party Citizens’ Movement was found shot dead in western Jalisco. On December 28, Saul Galindo, a state congressman and mayoral candidate from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, was shot and killed in the same region.
On December 29, Arturo Gomez, the PRD mayor of the town of Petatlan on Guerrero’s Pacific coast, was shot three times through a window of a restaurant where he was dining with friends, dying later at a hospital.
December 30 saw three killings. Juan Jose Castro Crespo, a former state congressional candidate from the center-right Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was killed in Baja California. Gabriel Hernandez, a town-council member from the PRD in Jalapa in Tabasco, was found stabbed to death in his home. Mariano Catalan Ocampo, a PRD member who was municipal director of general services and was expected to run for mayor, was shot in the downtown of tourist city of Zihuatanejo on Guerrero Pacific coast.
On December 31, Adolfo Serna, a PRI mayoral candidate, was shot dead in his hometown of Atoyac de Alvarez, also on Guerrero’s Pacific coast, just hours after posting a Facebook message urging locals to unite to improve society.
Political killings have long plagued Mexico
Mexico has seen such killings in quick succession before. In the weeks leading up to national and legislative elections in June 2015, three candidates for mayor or council positions were killed in different parts of the country.
President Felipe Calderon of the right-wing National Action Party, who was in office from 2006 to 2012 and intensified the crackdown on drug trafficking, had 49 elected official killed during his tenure. Eighteen of those killings, the most in a year under Calderon, came in 2010. 2011, one of the most violent years on record in Mexico, had nine political killings.
Sixty-three of those deaths have come under President Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, who took office in December 2012. His first two years in office saw the second- and third-most killings of his tenure, despite homicides nationwide falling considerably during both years. 2017 was the deadliest of those five years, with 21 mayors or former mayors killed.
Ninety of the 112 killings over the past decade have taken place in municipalities with less than 10,000 residents and with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents. These localities are often characterized by limited institutional development, a lack of public-security resources, and the presence of organized crime, according to the National Association of Mayors.
Links to organized crime
In states where organized-crime groups are active or influential, politicians and officials are often threatened in order to secure their cooperation. In some cases, they develop ties to those groups. (Numerous PRI governors have been accused of corruption or of having ties to organized crime.)
According to judicial complaints, many of those officials killed have been threatened by drug traffickers who wanted protection for their illicit operations.
The National Association of Mayor’s president, Enrique Vargas del Villar, said the principal reason for the killing of most municipal leaders was refusing to collaborate with organized-crime groups
“This shows the breakdown of institutions due to the penetration of organized-crime groups that apparently try to influence the electoral process,” Miguel Arroyo Ramírez, a lawyer and founding member of an anti-crime civil-society group, told The Washington Post.
“When someone appears who doesn’t share their interests or has different interests, these groups don’t have the slightest hesitation in eliminating those who are inconvenient,” Ramírez said.
Politically motivated violence against elected officials and civilians alike is nothing new in Mexico, but the killings at the end of 2017 come just months before July 1 elections for president, more than 600 lawmakers, and thousands of positions in states around the country. They have also taken place amid the fragmentation of criminal groups around the country, which are breaking down in to smaller, usually more volatile groups.
“Organized crime has become more politicized because it’s become more local,” Alejandro Hope, a security consultant and former official for CISEN, Mexico’s civilian intelligence agency, told Bloomberg. “They’re more concerned about who wins and who loses elections.”
Since 2006, 49 officials from the PRI have been killed, while the PRD has seen 27 killed and 16 from the PAN have been slain. Twenty elected officials from other parties have also been killed.
Four of the five political figures killed during the final days of 2017 were affiliated with the PRD, prompting the party’s leadership to denounce the violence and demand the government address the country’s rampant insecurity.
“It’s indignant that these events are happening during an electoral process,” party chief Manuel Granados said in a statement. “We call on all three branches of government to find a path to peace and security.”
PRD secretary general Angel Avila Romero called on authorities to cooperate with the national electoral council to establish a violence-prevention strategy, “because we are six months from the presidential election and of course these attacks against our members are taken as a warning against participating.”