Violence hit a record peak in Mexico last year with over 30,000 murders — and it is not slowing down. More than 100 politicians alone have been killed in the lead-up to the country’s election this Sunday.
Public officials and activists in Mexico face deadly threats even in broad daylight. Fernando Puron, a congressional candidate in the border city of Piedras Negras, was taking a selfie with a supporter when a gunman shot him in the head from behind. He was the 112th political hopeful to be killed since September.
The deaths reveal the depth of a crisis Mexico has failed to control: organized crime and criminal infiltration of local governments and law enforcement. And ahead of this weekend’s presidential and congressional elections, no candidate has been able to offer a credible plan to fight it.
May was the deadliest month in Mexico since the government first published homicide data 20 years ago, the latest record in what’s been three straight years of increasing crime rates. According to the national registry, 2,890 people were killed in one month — roughly 93 victims per day, or four per hour. Since January, the figure is 13,298: a 21 percent increase on the same period last year.
The wave of murders, kidnappings and gang-related violence began during the administration of former president Felipe Calderon (2006-2012), who launched the government’s war against drug cartels. Organized crime, predominantly drug trafficking, exploded into broader criminal activities including theft, extortion, murder and state-level corruption, and despite billions spent and massive cash injections from the U.S., Mexico has become only more dangerous.
“Politicians are particularly vulnerable targets of organized crimes, particularly when they do not show support (for) — or choose not to turn a blind eye to — illegal activities in the municipalities or territories that they govern or are running to govern,” said Rafael Elias, analyst at emerging markets bank Exotix Capital.
Security, and the failure of the state to adequately provide it, will be a major concern for voters as they head to the polls. And the candidate slated as most likely to win, the left-wing Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador or AMLO, as he is commonly referred to, has presented a plan of amnesty.
Some 20 or so percent of voters remain undecided, and security is expected to be a major factor in how they choose to vote. “In theory, amnesty should be the least palatable,” Elias said, implying that those undecided will be more likely to vote for one of AMLO’s competitors, either Ricardo Anaya of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) or Jose Antonio Meade of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
An AMLO victory would be consequential in many ways — besides security, his aim to increase public spending and impose more regulations on businesses pose downside risks to Mexican equities, analysts say, and could even hurt Mexico’s ratings. AMLO is also expected to take a much harder line on NAFTA negotiations, potentially derailing the whole process.
On security, the frontrunners have only vague plans with scant detail. “AMLO has proposed an amnesty, which is consistent with the ‘hugs, not guns’ characterization of his security agenda,” said Christopher McKee, CEO of emerging markets risk forecaster PRS Group.
Anaya has proposed a continuation of the ongoing military campaign against drug cartels, which has so far shown no evidence of solving the problem. Meade has focused on targeting the cartels’ financing, a strategy McKee said could produce results over time, but would likely provoke even greater violence in the immediate term.
“Whomever governs next will still have to deal with a situation that Mexicans feel has gotten out of control,” Elias said.
Activists and ordinary citizens have expressed their frustrations at a government that has failed to keep them safe, despite more than 11 years of the war on drugs and tens of billions invested in security services. Even among the security personnel, rights groups allege vast human rights violations.
Alongside economic growth and closing the income gap between the poor and the rest of Mexico’s population, security will remain a paramount voter concern. The question, at this point, may be whether citizens believe there is any credible hope for a solution at all anymore.
Among the hundreds of politicians running for congress and local office, many remain vocal in their defiance of organized crime groups, despite being aware of the potential consequences.
During the debate he took part in just before his murder, Puron had said, “You take on crime head-on – you don’t fear it, you call it for what it is.”