Mexican elections see record number of assassinations

Mexico

The results are in from Mexico’s June 2 presidential election and Claudia Sheinbaum of the ruling left-populist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) has won by some 60%, handily defeating a rival backed by an alliance of the country’s more traditional political parties. The former mayor of Mexico City as well as an environmental scientist with a PhD in energy engineering from UC Berkeley, Sheinbaum was a researcher with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) when it earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Despite this prestigious and somewhat technocratic background, her status as the chosen hier of incumbent populist Andr√©s Manuel L√≥pez Obrador has caused her victory to be viewed with suspicion if not panic in elite quarters. Both the peso and Mexican stock exchange slided on the news.

Sheinbaum indeed has her own populist creds, having taken a leading role in the campaign against privatization of Mexico’s oil resources when the conservative National Action Party (PAN) was in power 15 years ago. And she pledges to continue with L√≥pez Obrador’s basic policies.

Sheinbaum’s win represents two firsts in Mexico’s two-century history as an independent country. She will be the first woman president, and (although she has chosen not to emphasize this) the first¬†president of¬†Jewish heritage.

Despite the ongoing plague of femicides, recent years have seen significant advances for women in Mexico, at least in the sphere of formal politics. A 2019 constitutional reform mandates gender parity in government-appointed positions and requires that political parties present equal numbers of male and female candidates for all offices. The reform was approved by a unanimous vote of Mexico’s Congress. Some 50% of lawmakers in Mexico’s lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, are women, and women lead close to a third (10) of Mexico’s 32 states. In 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court voted to decriminalize abortion.

Sheinbaum’s chief rival in the election was also a woman. This was X√≥chitl G√°lvez, candidate of an unlikely coalition of the PAN, center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and¬†the country’s former entrenched machine, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). G√°lvez, of indigenous Otom√≠¬†background,¬†served as¬†indigenous affairs adviser to President Vicente Fox¬†of the PAN, but stepped down in protest of budget cuts to the office under the subsequent PAN president¬†Felipe Calder√≥n. Another candidate,¬†Jorge √Ālvarez M√°ynez of the center-left¬†Citizens’ Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano), placed a distant third. (NewsHour, Al Jazeera, PRI, FastCompany, CarbonBrief, ClimateChangeNews, NYT, AP, AFP, LatinoUSA)

Wave of assassinations
The ongoing human rights crisis in Mexico that will obviously pose a grave challenge for Sheinbaum was dramatically exemplified by the record number of political assassinations that marred the elections.¬†On May 31,¬†just days before the polls opened,¬†Jorge Huerta Cabrera, a municipal council candidate with the Mexican Green Ecological Party (PVEM, a MORENA coalition partner)¬†in Iz√ļcar de Matamoros,¬†Puebla state, was gunned down in an attack near his home, in which his¬†wife was wounded.

This marked the 37th assassination of a candidate or campaign worker over the course of this year’s political season.¬†On May 29, Alfredo Cabrera Barrientos, PRI-PAN-PRD candidate for mayor in the municipality of Coyuca de Ben√≠tez, Guerrero state, was shot in the head as he took the stage at his final campaign event. The assailant was shot dead by the National Guard, which had been deployed to protect the candidate, who had survived previous attempts on his life.

Mexican consulting firm Integralia provided an updated political violence report in early May revealing that most candidates who were assassinated were running at the municipal level. Although candidates from all parties were targeted, the greatest number of victims were from MORENA. The most impacted states were Guerrero, Michoacán and Chiapas.

Chiapas continues to be plagued by paramilitary violence. On May 16, Lucero López Maza, a young woman running for mayor in the village of La Concordia with the local Popular Chiapaneco Party (PPCH), was killed along with five people accompanying her in a street attack by a group of armed assailants, who all got away.

And on March 14, the Tzotzil indigenous mayoral candidate with the PRI in the Chiapas village of San Juan Cancuc was killed in an attack near his home, in which his wife and son were wounded. (Jurist, BBC News, MexicoNewsDaily, Aristegui, Aristegui, Aristegui, Aristegui)

Finally, on the same day that Sheinbaum’s victory was announced, June 3, the PAN mayor of Cotija, Michoac√°n, Yolanda S√°nchez Figueroa, was killed in a hail of bullets, struck 19 times, just outside the municipal palace. She had survived a three-day abduction last September, and was waging a campaign against attempts by local narco gangs to co-opt the police in her municipality, especially naming the notorious Jalisco New Generation Cartel. (AlD√≠aDallas, VozMedia, InfoBae)

These political assassinations come along with ongoing violence related to drug cartel turf wars throughout Mexico. Five people were killed and another wounded on May 23 in an armed attack in Acapulco, the once fashionable tourist resort city in Guerrero state. The deaths came when gunmen shot up a handicrafts market on a main tourism strip. This came just three days after 10 bodies were found in the streets of famous Pacific coastal city. (CBS)

Constitutional reform pending
Human rights activists and civil society voices have also been critical of President L√≥pez Obrador, or AMLO as he is popuarly known by his initials. In February, AMLO sent a package of 20 legislative proposals to Mexico’s Congress, including 18 proposed constitutional reforms. These incude some seemingly progressive measures, such as increasing the autonomous powers of indigenous and Afro-Mexican communities. But the package also contains some worrisome measures.

One would define the National Guard, a new enforcement body created by AMLO, as a branch of the armed forces, attaching it to the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA). This is AMLO’s second attempt to bring the National Guard under SEDENA, after Mexico‚Äôs Supreme Court struck down a similar legislative reform in 2023. Currently, Article 129 of the Constitution restricts SEDENA’s power to engage in internal law enforcement. AMLO’s proposed reform would now weaken this restriction. And AMLO created the National Guard in 2019 in the first place after the Supreme Court ruled against a proposed measure to formally bring SEDENA into drug enforcement.

The National Guard, currently under¬†AMLO‚Äôs newly created Public Security & Citizen Protection Secretariat,¬†has been heavily deployed to intercept undocumented migrants headed north, leading to accusations that it was serving¬†as proxy force for Trump (and Biden). It was also seen by critics as ironic that AMLO, who took office in 2018 declaring the “war on drugs” to be over, appeared to be moving back toward the militarized drug enforcement policies of his predecessors. It was the PAN’s¬†Felipe Calder√≥n¬†(AMLO’s bitter rival, who he accused of stealing the 2006 elections from him) who first unleashed the army on the cartels‚ÄĒa move which was constitutionally dubious and only escalated the endemic violence. AMLO’s¬†sexenio, or six-year term, has seen a further¬†militarization¬†of previously civilian government functions.

The current proposed reform package¬†follows AMLO’s “Plan B” reform of the electoral system‚ÄĒso called because it, in turn, followed congressional rejection of an earlier, more wide-ranging reform package in 2022.¬†Plan B was rushed through Congress but struck down by Mexico’s Supreme Court before it could take effect in May 2023, due to irregularities in its passage.

But the new¬†package calls for all¬†judicial authorities, including Supreme Court justices, to be elected by popular vote. This is portrayed as a measure against corruption and unethical practices. However, as the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) independent rights group states: “There is no reason to believe that electing judges would achieve these ends. On the contrary, the reform would weaken the judiciary as a democratic counterweight and encourage penal populism.” (Reuters, WOLA)

This could begin to reverse the progress represented by the 2006 constitutional reform in which Mexico switched from its old “written inquisitorial” legal system to the new “oral adversarial” system.

WOLA expresses hope that Sheinbaum will reconsider provisions of the pending constitutional reform that would weaken the judiciary and accelerate the militarizaton of society.

Sheinbaum is to take office Oct. 1.

Map: PCL