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  • Policemen guard a crime scene where mayoral candidate Santana Cruz Bahena was gunned down at his home in the municipality of Hidalgotitlan, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico November 20, 2017.

    Policemen guard a crime scene where mayoral candidate Santana Cruz Bahena was gunned down at his home in the municipality of Hidalgotitlan, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico November 20, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 May 2018

Public safety is one of the biggest issues of the campaign, after Mexico registered a record 25,000 murders last year.

About 80 candidates for Mexico's upcoming elections have withdrawn from their respective campaigns in the northern state of Chihuahua because of the high levels of violence during the election campaign, reported the executive secretary of the State Electoral Institute, Guillermo Sierra.

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A candidate for the state legislature was shot dead, authorities announced Tuesday, at least the sixth politician murdered in the past 10 days in what has become a blood-soaked campaign.

Abel Montufar Mendoza, a mayor who was running for a legislative seat in the violent state of Guerrero, was found dead inside his car in the city of Ciudad Altamirano, said Roberto Alvarez Heredia, the state's security spokesman.

"We have confirmed that it is the state legislature candidate Abel Montufar Mendoza," who was running for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Alvarez said.

The candidate's body was riddled with bullets and naked from the waist down, said a police source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An explosion of political assassinations in Mexico has cast a pall over nationwide elections slated for July 1, when voters will choose their next president and fill a slew of down-ballot posts.

At least 88 candidates and officeholders have been killed since the electoral season kicked off in September, making this the bloodiest presidential race in recent history, according to a tally by Etellekt, a security consultancy based in Mexico City, and Reuters research.

The victims hail from a variety of political parties, large and small, and most were running for local offices far removed from the national spotlight. The vast majority were shot. Most cases remain unsolved, the killers’ motives unclear.

But security experts suspect drug gangs are driving much of the bloodshed. With a record of about 3,400 mostly local offices up for grabs in July, Mexico’s warring cartels appear to be jostling for influence in city halls nationwide, according to Vicente Sanchez, a professor of public administration at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana.

He said crime bosses are looking to install friendly lawmakers, eliminate those of rivals and scare off would-be reformers who might be bad for business. Local governments are a lucrative source of contracts and kickbacks, while their police forces can be pressed into service of the cartels.

“Criminal gangs want to be sure that in the next government, they can maintain their power networks, which is why they are increasing attacks,” Sanchez said.

Electoral authorities have warned that the bloodshed could affect voter turnout in some areas. The killing spree has stunned even veteran observers who see it as an assault on Mexico’s democracy and the rule of law.

“State and local authorities are outgunned and outmaneuvered and the federal forces cannot be everywhere,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “There is an urgent need...to provide greater protection and insulation against organized crime.”

Pre-election violence has hit particularly hard in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero, where at least eight candidates for local office have been slain in the past six months. Cartels with names like Los Ardillos (The Squirrels) and Los Tequileros (The Tequila Drinkers) are fighting there over extortion rackets and control of heroin and cocaine smuggling.

Since the government deployed the military to fight drug trafficking in 2006, the country has registered more than 200,000 homicides, though the statistics do not track how many were linked to organized crime.


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