Dozens of Mexican politicians have been murdered this campaign season

Killings by organized crime have left democracy in a “delicate” position there.

By Michael MarksMay 2, 2024 11:49 am,

Election day in Mexico is just one month away. Voters are choosing candidates at all levels of government – from the presidency down to mayorships. Running for office in Mexico has been extremely dangerous, however.

More than 30 political candidates in Mexico have been murdered during this campaign season, according to Laboratorio Electoral, a think tank that focuses on Latin American politics. Some have dropped out of their races because of death threats or attempted assaults. Family members of candidates and political activists have also been killed by organized crime.

Elías Camhaji, a political reporter based in Mexico City for the Spanish newspaper El País, spoke to the Texas Standard about the murders and their impact. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Well, I know it can be difficult to know exactly who is behind the violence, but what can you tell us about the murders and the motivation behind the killings?

Elías Camhaji: Well, we’re looking at a byproduct, the war on drugs here in Mexico, mostly.

We’re looking at organized crime organizations who are looking to exercise control, political control. In some regions, they are establishing who is allowed to run and who isn’t. And that’s very worrying because after many electoral processes, the lines between the state, the authorities and the criminal organizations are very blurry. You know, you don’t get to see the difference anymore.

Well, I’ve covered these candidate killings before. Are there candidates of a particular party this time targeted more often than others? And if so, why?

All the parties have been affected, actually.

Morena, which is the ruling party, is the political organization that has faced the most killings during this election. 11 candidates have been killed from the ruling party of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president. Second is the most powerful opposition party, Partido Acción Nacional.

You cannot blame this on one party or the other. In reality, what we’re seeing is that in some regions, political parties that are rivals actually are sharing tips about where it’s safe to do a campaign to do a rally, even though they are competing against each other.

Well, how does all this affect Mexico’s ability to maintain a functional democracy?

Well, this affects both the parties and the citizens on the borders, because there are increasingly more people afraid of running for public office. But also, it is a difficult time for voters to go out and vote.

So the democracy, the conditions of democracy in some regions are very delicate – are very frail. You have to imagine what this would mean in other countries with elections like the U.S. Imagine having 30 candidates murdered during this process. I mean, it’s very critical here.

Well, it sounds like you’re saying that some of these organized crime groups are actually determining who runs and forcing others to leave the race, so they really have a say so in some of these regions.

Let me ask you this: This has become a campaign issue for the presidential candidates. Are there any proposed policy changes to try and make this campaign season – or probably future campaign seasons, as it is – safer for candidates?

Well, on one side, we have the government who is very reluctant to recognize this reality because that makes them look bad. But on the other extreme, we have the opposition who is weaponizing this problem and trying to put the government under pressure and to say that the situation is no longer sustainable.

There are many proposals on the presidential side, but actually what we’re seeing is that this is a local phenomenon. We had the second presidential debate last Sunday and violence and insecurity was a huge issue. But far from that reality, far from the lights of the media, we’re seeing candidates facing very difficult conditions and great dangers.

We haven’t reached a place in the debate where we can discuss actual solutions for this. We’re contaminated, so to say, by the political campaign. We see everything affected by that battle, so to say.

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