~ This article was first published by SinEmbargo on June 2, 2015 ~
By Isaí Lara, Rosario Mosso Castro, Inés García Ramos (All of Zeta, Special to SinEmbargo)
The electoral process underway in the country has been marked by violence and homicides linked to organized crime. Politicians are the targets of narco executions and these carry a message: “Whoever wins has to fall into line.” Beheadings, eight violent deaths of candidates (the latest was today) and ten suspicious deaths of public officials. The threats, attacks and areas of high risk mark the 2015 elections as some of the most violent. One activist reflects: the problem worsened when Enrique Peña Nieto’s government tried publicly to avoid the security issue…
Mexico City, June 2, 2015 (SinEmbargo/Zeta).- The murder of officials or candidates is nothing new for organized crime in Mexico. Yet, without a doubt things have worsened under Mexico’s present government in the current elections. At least eight candidates have been shot, within signs of excessive brutality in some cases, including beheadings and burnings.
In most of the cases the types of attacks suggest methods used by armed drug trafficking groups and organized crime. Messages signed by the drug cartels are left on the bodies.
Just today there was another murder: Miguel Ángel Luna Munguía, the Democratic Revolutionary Party’s candidate for federal deputy in District 32 in the Valle de Chalco in Mexico State was executed at his campaign offices located in the Xico neighborhood.
A month after campaigning began, on March 7, 2015, when the political parties were fighting over their internal selection processes, in Ahuacotzingo township in Guerrero, Aidé Nava González was kidnapped, a PRD contender for mayor.
Reports speak of at least six armed men who forcibly abducted the PRD candidate in one of her pre-campaign meetings with residents of a community close to the municipality’s main town.
Five days later Nava González’s body was found with signs of torture and gunshots. She had been decapitated. The crime scene on an unpaved road included a message written on a white sheet: “This is going to happen to all those prick politicians who won’t get into line and to the fucking turncoats, too. Yours, Puro Rojo ZNS.”
Eight months before her death her husband Francisco Quiñones died in a high-impact attack. He was the city’s former mayor. Their youngest son was disappeared in 2012. At the time he appeared blindfolded in an internet video asking for the ransom of 300,000 pesos.
A youth from San Luis Potosí may be added to this orgy of violence. He disappeared in the early hours when the campaigns had just begun. The National Action Party (PAN) recognized him as one of its activists. He was found decapitated. That day, the PAN in the state reported that Alfredo Ordaz was found in the Moctezuma River. He had disappeared after distributing election propaganda in Matlapa.
The tally of violence includes firing on campaign teams, damage to private property, death threats that resulted in candidates’ withdrawing from races, among other forms of aggression.
Given these violent events, counsellors from the National Elections Commissions (INE) interviewed by Zeta show no signs of worry: “Murders of candidates are lamentable. But I trust Mexicans to be mature as they freely exercise their right to vote,” declared the INE’s Marco Antonio Baños with some optimism.
But Lizbeth Rosas Montero, the PRD’s federal deputy states: “We believe is necessary to raise the alert level to its maximum. In this electoral process we believe that it is necessary to involve Congress through its Permanent Committee for Citizen Safety.”
THE TRAGIC TALLY
Between 18 February and 18 May, seven candidates or contenders for their party’s nominations have been killed, according to a study undertaken by the lower house’s Executive vice-presidency. It has also documented 43 victims of attacks related to the campaigning.
The latest case occurred yesterday.
Enrique Hernández Saucedo, was executed on May 14 in Yurécuaro, Michoacán just as he was finishing up at a political event. He was running as the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) candidate. He was shot several times by a group of men riding in a truck. They wounded three other people, including a girl. Hernández Saucedo was a leader of the self-defense forces in this municipality.
On Wednesday, May 27 the state prosecutor announced arrests of three police commanders responsible for the attack, among them the director and sub-director of the Municipal Police.
According to the state prosecutor, the intellectual authors of the murder were two criminal gang leaders, Alfonzo Guerrero Covarrubias and Heraclio Guerrero Martínez, both of whom ran a nearby sand mine.
Hours later, in another part of the country, in Tabasco, Héctor López Cruz, a candidate for town council was murdered by sixteen shots from an assault rifle. He had just finished distributing propaganda and making house calls.
López, who was a member of the PRI (Mexico’s ruling party, Partido de la Revolución Institucional PRI), lay face down and lifeless at the door of his house in Mecatepec in Huimanguillo township, where the PRD is in control.
Ten days after the murder of this council candidate — which remains unpunished — and looking now at Puebla, José Salvador Méndez, campaign coordinator for Lorenzo Rivera Sosa was murdered in public after talking with a man outside his party offices.
THE NARCOS LEAVE THEIR MARK
On May 1 armed men intercepted the campaign bus of Ulises Fabián Quiroz, PRI candidate for mayor of Chilapa.
Witnesses say, and the magazine Proceso has documented, that the attackers ordered the candidate and fifteen people from his team to get into different vehicles, at gunpoint.
After sitting several down beside the highway — ten kilometers from the municipal seat between Atzacoaloya and Chilapa — with others sat back-to-back in the vehicles, one of the attackers asked if they knew “El Chaparro,” the purported leader of organized crime in the area. Replying no, the men went to the candidate and taking him from behind one man shot him. On the ground, he shot him again and again until his head was practically destroyed.
According to eyewitness testimony, the hit man was wearing a bulletproof vest, military boots and half his face was covered. He told the rest of the team to leave “if you don’t want to die.” The witnesses said that the armed group left going towards Atzacoaloya, an indigenous community the home base of a group of criminals known as Los Ardidos [The Angry Bunch] led by Celso and Antonio Ortega, brothers of the PRD’s Bernardo Ortega, president of the local congress.
Chilapa is living through a cruel fight between rival drug trafficking groups. In Chilapa at least sixteen youth have disappeared, most of them between May 9 and 14.
The map of murdered candidates also includes Oaxaca, Jalisco and Tamaulipas, among other states. In some cases, the attacks are against officials who have already been elected.
For example, there’s the kidnapping and murder of the Federal Deputy for Jalisco, Gabriel Gómez Michel, together with his assistant on September 22, 2014. The bodies were found burned together with the PRI-ista’s car.
So far this year at least ten public officials have been murdered in Puebla, Tamaulipas, Tabasco, Guerrero, Coahuila and Oaxaca.
In Oaxaca’s Triqui indigenous area, the PRD contender for Federal Deputy, Carlos Martínez Villavicencio lost his life when he was ambushed with two other people last February 18.
SEGOB: “IT IS DIFFICULT TO BE IN EVERY CORNER”OF THE COUNTRY
Until May 21, twenty candidates standing for positions in various elections have asked the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) to provide them with security so they can campaign. All have received a response and twenty candidates now have protection.
Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said, “When it’s for federal office, in practically every case the Federation has provided protection. When it is for mayor, local deputy or member of a town council, the state government from each one of the states has offered protection.”
He also explained that the candidates will have security until June 8, but the period can be extended, if it is considered necessary. Two are candidates for governorships.
“There are hundreds of campaigns, in [indigenous] communities and that is very complex, very difficult to be in each and every corner,” he added.
According to Osorio Chong, the states with particularly difficult electoral processes are Tamaulipas, Guerrero and Jalisco.
Mauricio Juárez, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said that for security reasons names of the candidates and their electoral districts would not be disclosed. He stated that in twenty cases protection has been provided because of “the current electoral conjuncture,” he told Zeta.
AND WHAT DOES THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION SAY?
The electoral authorities in the country seem optimistic and reassure that the climate of violence will not impede citizens’ participation. We asked Marco Baños Martínez, chief legal counsel for the INE.
–Does the INE think that the levels of violence in the country provide optimal conditions for conducting a democratic process like elections?
“Candidates’ murders are lamentable but I trust Mexicans to be mature so that they can freely exercise their right to vote and so that electoral authorities can take in those votes, count them for the candidate of the party chosen by the citizens and that next June 7, we will have installed all the polling stations and be ready for a tranquil election. That’s what INE’s betting on and that’s what we are working towards.”
Baños says that since April 5, INE has received fourteen requests for protection for candidates for federal deputies and five requests from local candidates, all of which they have passed to the Interior Ministry (SEGOB).
Baños describes the reasons for which candidates can request security while they are campaigning: “they are concerns specific to the candidate, not because there are specific threats but because, according to the conditions of the district, the candidate has thought it pertinent to ask for this consideration.”
Given the armed confrontations in states like Jalisco, Tamaulipas and Michoacán that have paralyzed cities, Baños maintains that the INE has not developed a specific patrol or surveillance plan, since “the electoral process has not been affected. We keep on working normally in organizing the elections… but the competent authorities are alert to what could happen.”
Baños pointed out that concerning the murders and attacks on candidates, the INE has not received information about the investigations or their results.
For fellow INE lawyer José Roberto Ruiz Saldaña, “in comparative terms, 2010 was the high point regarding candidate safety so much so that at one point that year a gubernatorial candidate was killed. That seemed more dramatic to me at a national level.”
Although he admits that “we did not expect to have this type of violence” and considers the murder of candidates lamentable, he insists that the competent authorities in the administration and prosecution of justice will determine if the facts might be related, or not, with political issues.
About the possibility of using the Army or the police to participate in providing security for the elections, Ruiz Saldaña commented, “we could not in legal terms, nor should we in institutional terms, militarize or use the police in the elections.”
YOU GET INTO LINE OR YOU GET INTO LINE… THE MESSAGE
“When you see that this type of criminality can reach people who are in positions of power, of decision making, the worry is different. Not because the murder of a Deputy is more important than that of a regular citizen, not at all, but a Deputy’s murder can be read differently, like a direct attack on the state,” notes Francisco Rivas Rodríguez of the National Citizens Observatory [Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano].
The message from the criminals is very clear: “Whoever wins has to get into line, let the criminals keep on operating,” said José Antonio Ortega Sánchez from the Citizen’s Council of Public Safety and Penal Justice [Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Pública y Justicia Penal].
The public safety activists think the worsening conditions in part began when President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government tried publicly to avoid the issue of insecurity: “If the problem is not admitted then there’s a weak response, an incorrect diagnosis and the actions are then insufficient actions. That brings us to these wanting results,” said Francisco Rivas Rodríguez.
“That’s what is happening right now in the country, what happened to the issue of kidnappings, of extortion, with Tamaulipas, Mexico State, with Jalisco.”
“Unfortunately it seems that the Mexican state does not want to learn from its history, this is not new, the levels of violence — against candidates and officials — these are not new, they repeat themselves. We had this in the last elections.”
They recall Michoacán in the elections six years ago when Luis María Calderón (PAN) and Silvano Aureoles (PRD) filed a complaint that there were organized criminal groups passing by polling stations with automatic rifles and what they were doing was threatening those who were not wearing certain colors.”
“The effect of the Knights Templar ensured that Fausto Vallejo would become governor, and then because they thought this vote had been decisive in Vallejo’s victory they began to engage in excessive criminal activities. The population got tired of these activities and so, in good faith, the self-defense movement sprung up. At the same time others weren’t acting in good faith but were working for the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and other groups to confront the Knight Templar. Obviously this is going to have a direct effect on the election and those who will win the vote on June 7,” added Ortega Sánchez.
Both of the activists warn of the urgency of June 7 and that all of the state’s forces pay special attention to states like Guerrero, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Morelos, Veracruz, Mexico State and Tabasco where organized crime has demonstrated an unimpeded capacity to mobilize.
SO, WHO IS IN CONTROL?
“This situation shows that once again organized crime is influencing the election campaigns. I don’t know if it is through resources or only through threatening candidates. This should worry us a lot,” warned the head of the National Citizen’s Observatory.
“Because in the way they exercise this power, in the ways they commit these crimes, well, they are sending specific messages, about the dead candidate and to the other candidates,” said Rivas Rodríguez.
“If I were a candidate in Chilapa, Guerrero, obviously there would be greater considerations in my declarations, or I would have more fear about knowing how to implement these security operations for another candidate, where these type of things are not happening.”
Concerning the criminals’ message, Rivas said:
1.- “It’s that they are there. To show that they can be recognized, that they are present and that they can exercise power.”
2.- “They are saying that they are in charge, not just that they have a great interest in who is going to win the elections but that they are controlling the elections. They also want to threaten all possible candidates. Clearly they are saying, this is on the table, that afterwards they are going to control public policy, it’s going to be them, organized crime.”
“That is the signal that we have to understand and that we have to solve. That’s where the vulnerability is in these elections. We already know which states: Tamaulipas, Michoacán, Guerrero, Tabasco, Veracruz, Mexico State, that’s where we know organized crime is, that we ought to pay greater attention to checking who our candidates are. What type of alliances do they have? How much security can we guarantee them and their families.
“What we should be seeing is a response from the Mexican state to protect the candidates, not putting them in the position that they take the brunt of organized crime’s decisions.”
THE CASE OF JALISCO
“We warned about the Jalisco problem more than eighteen months ago when there were murders of state secretaries, the Mayor,” said Francisco Rivas of the Observatory.
“Before the attacks of May 1 by the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) on the Army, I delivered a report about Jalisco to business organizations, to Governor Aristóteles Sandoval, to State Prosecutor Luis Carlos Nájera and to the Army. We spoke about the violence by this criminal group. It is first trying to challenge the state authorities because after the Governor had been in office for nine days they killed his Tourism Secretary, after that they kidnapped and murdered a federal deputy, then last May they executed four soldiers, and this year in Ocotlán they murdered five Gendarmes leaving several wounded. Then there are the events of the Mascota ambush of fifteen state police officers and now the May 1 attack. So these are direct affronts against state authorities, against political authorities,” said José Antonio Ortega Sánchez of the Citizens’ Council for Public Safety and Penal Justice [Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Pública y Justicia Penal].
“… and if we look nationally at the candidates from various parties who have been kidnapped and murdered, they are feeling the violence that’s permanently throughout the country. We have not documented any of that.”
About the new profile of the organized crime groups that are perpetrating these attacks, Ortega has concluded: “They have created private militias that are operating. They understand that their power is in violence — the bloodier the stronger — and they manage to affect the group opposing them, the authorities and society. And that works for their control of plazas [territory] and how to take more of them. Once they have the plaza they can smuggle drugs, kidnap, extort, steal gasoline, everything that they came to do.”
Attacks on campaigns, according to a study by the Chamber of Deputies published May 27: 18 against the PAN, 8 against the PRI, 6 against the PRD, 6 against MORENA, 2 against the Movimiento Ciudadano, and one attack each against the Social Democrats, the Humanist Party and the Greens.
Since February 18 until May 18, 43 people have been the victims of murder, kidnapping, armed attacks, physical attacks, thefts, arson of homes and vehicles — all of this during the run up to the elections.
According to a study by the PRD Deputy Lizbeth Rosas Montero, along with seven dead contenders and candidates, thirty-six people have been attacked “from death threats to attacks on their person and property.”
For the legislator, “the current electoral process is the most violent in the country’s recent history.” You only have to compare figures from previous elections. In 2009 there were six murders, three in 2010, in 2012 five more and in 2013 the number was three.
Meanwhile, in 2015, the states with the highest incidence of attacks were Guerrero, Michoacán, Tabasco, Oaxaca and San Luis Potosí. Of all the political parties, the PAN has borne the brunt of attacks on its members.
The legislator pointed out the climate of insecurity for the contenders, candidates, campaign staff and citizens that have been involved in the elections. In one example, death threats forced seven candidates out of the race. That’s why she asked the Interior Ministry to apply “actions with a greater reach before, during and after the elections.” She asked Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong to stop looking at the facts as “isolated cases.”
She urged the Interior Minister to present the Chamber of Deputies’ Permanent Committee with a diagnosis of the security conditions in the country’s thirty-two jurisdictions. The Legislator also wants details about the mechanisms, programs and actions to guarantee “a climate of security and trust that will eradicate the fear that could be felt by citizens as they go to vote on June 7.”
CHALCO: THE LATEST CASE
Just today, Miguel Ángel Luna Munguía, PRD candidate for federal deputy in the Thirty-Second District in the Valle de Chalco in Mexico State was executed in his campaign offices located in the Xico neighborhood.
According to the first reports, three armed men entered his campaign offices and shot the aspiring PRD politician several times. The candidate was taken immediately to a hospital where he died. His death was confirmed on Twitter by Javier Salinas Narváez, International Relations Secretary for the PRD’s National Executive Committee.
“We condemn Miguel Ángel Luna’s murder and we demand an investigation into the murder of the candidate for federal deputy for the Valle de Chalco @PRDMexico. We confirm the death of Miguel Ángel Luna at the hospital and we send condolences to his family. We want swift justice.”
Meanwhile the PRD, also from its Twitter account, condemned the events and demanded clarification of this “deplorable event.”
The PRD also demanded security for everybody during the elections.
ZETA is a newspaper published in Tijuana, Baja California. SinEmbargo is an investigative news portal based in Mexico City. This article was first published under the title, “La violencia empaña elección: 8 candidatos son asesinados y muchos más sufren acoso,” available at: http://www.sinembargo.mx/02-06-2015/1364471.
TBI Translator Patrick Timmons (@patricktimmons) is a freelance journalist, independent human rights investigator, and adjunct professor of Political Science and faculty affiliate at the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.