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Why were so many Mexican candidates killed?

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One candidate was shot multiple times while working out at a gym. Another candidate was shot dead during a campaign rally. A third candidate was shot while walking down the street with supporters.

Mexico is set to hold a general election next month, with dozens of candidates, their relatives and party members facing violent attacks ahead of the polls. The country’s largest election ever In terms of voters and seats, at least 36 people running for office have been killed since last June, a New York Times analysis found.

Even for Mexico, it was a scary milestone, as violence has been a part of the country’s election campaigns for decades.

Security analysts and law enforcement officials say a surge in violence in Mexico can be largely blamed on local criminal gangs.

The fragmentation of Mexico’s large criminal organizations has led to a fierce struggle for power and territory among rival gangs. In their quest for dominance, these gangs are willing to co-opt and intimidate authorities in order to control communities – gaining protection, obtaining valuable information and expanding their operations.

It is not uncommon in Mexico for violence to increase dramatically during elections. In the last round of elections in 2021, when voters across the country cast ballots for more than 19,900 local positions, at least 32 candidates were killed, according to a survey. study Published by the Instituto de México, University of Mexico City.

“It’s a warning to other candidates to keep their heads down, you know? A reminder that they’re not in charge,” said Manuel Pérez Aguirre, a political scientist and co-author of the study. “It’s also a warning to citizens that they’re being watched. This is a democracy. But it’s a democracy that’s being watched.”

The escalating violence is also partly due to the scale of the election and the large number of candidates: this year’s election is the largest in Mexican history, with more than 20,000 local positions at stake and more than 600 federal positions.

It is difficult to pinpoint why certain candidates were targeted. Many political assassinations from last year and previous elections remain unsolved.

Officials said several of the killings were more criminal or personal in nature. One was a car theft and another was an argument with a family member that ended tragically.

But according to local law enforcement, party leaders and local news reports, The New York Times found that at least 28 of the 36 candidate murders this campaign season involved suspected involvement of organized crime groups. What is terrifying is that not only candidates but also their families have become targets, with at least 14 relatives of candidates killed in recent months.

For cartels, the most effective way to influence politics is at the local level.

“Structurally, it is the most fragile, the smallest, with the fewest resources and the weakest institutional strength,” said Arturo Espinosa, director of the Electoral Laboratory, a Mexican research organization focused on democracy. So far, the lab has documented 272 incidents of electoral violence across Mexico, including killings, threats, kidnappings and attacks.

This trend suggests that organized crime groups aim to become the de facto rulers of Mexican towns, primarily for economic reasons.

“This is about being able to infiltrate city governments, seize government resources, obtain information that is critical to their operations, seize control of security forces,” said Sandra Ley, a security analyst at Mexico Evaluates, a public policy group.

In response to the killings, the country’s electoral body has coordinated with federal security forces, including the army and the National Guard, to provide protection to candidates who request it. explain Security forces are providing protection to 487 candidates.

State governments have also deployed state and municipal police to protect the safety of dozens of local candidates. But a lack of resources, bureaucratic hurdles and weak local police forces have made it difficult to curb organized crime. “Many authorities are weak,” said Ms. Ley.

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