A mayoral candidate has been killed in Mexico, bringing to 34 the total number of candidates murdered nationwide ahead of June 6 legislative elections that will fill thousands of local seats and nearly half of the country’s governors.
Alma Barragan was shot dead on Tuesday, local media reported, while campaigning for the mayorship of the city of Moroleon in the violence-plagued state of Guanajuato in central Mexico. Two other people were reportedly injured.
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On Wednesday, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the killing was “without doubt” the work of organised criminal gangs who were killing candidates to scare voters away from the polls.
“When there is a lot of abstentionism, the mafias dominate the elections,” Lopez Obrador said during his daily news conference.
Experts say drug gangs want to place sympathetic candidates in town halls and city governments, so they can operate without interference from police and extort money from local businesses and government budgets.
They also say violence during elections is not new.
“There’s always been violence with elections and electoral cycles especially at the mayoral level where you really see things get heated, but this time it feels like it’s way more than ordinary,” said Gladys McCormick, a history professor at Syracuse University and expert on security.
“It’s a testament of the influence of organised crime with these local elections trying to sway the institutions,” McCormick told Al Jazeera, “organised crime has infiltrated municipalities, law enforcement at the municipal levels,” she said. “This is working its way up.”
Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute, said the June 6 election is particularly crucial for organised criminal groups, as it will select hundreds of mayorship positions across the country.
“This election is being perceived by organised crime as a way to consolidate their gains and then advance their control of territories, cities, towns, and neighbourhoods,” Payan told Al Jazeera.
“Organised crime is fully engaged in this election,” Payan said, “they are killing and kidnapping candidates and extorting money from candidates, even asking certain candidates to step down because they understand who can be their ally and who can be controlled once they get into local government.”
The Etellekt consulting firm said the overwhelming majority of the 34 slain candidates were vying for nominations or running for local posts. The group says in total 88 politicians have been assassinated since the start of the election season last year.
Con el asesinato de la candidata de Movimiento Ciudadano a la alcaldía de #Moroleón, Guanajuato, Alma Barragán, suman 88 los políticos asesinados en #Elecciones2021MX (34 de ellos aspirantes y candidatos a puestos de elección). pic.twitter.com/JuuGPFxoGv
— Etellekt Consultores (@etellekt_) May 26, 2021
Translation: With the assassination of the Citizens’ Movement candidate for mayor of #Moroleon, Guanajuato, Alma Barragan, 88 politicians have been assassinated during #Elecciones2021MX (34 of them aspiring or current candidates for elected positions).
Barragan was running on the ticket of the small Citizens’ Movement party.
“It is unthinkable that participating in political life means putting one’s life at risk,” the party said in a statement.
“This is the most violent election in Mexican history, and in Citizens’ Movement we are not willing to act as if that is normal,” according to the statement.
In a video, Clemente Castaneda, the national coordinator for the party, condemned the killing which he said was done with “complete impunity”. He called on authorities to hold those responsible to account.
“Alma Barragan joins the long list of politicians and candidates who have been assassinated during this electoral process,” Castaneda said. “And like we’ve said on multiple occasions, the Mexican nation is responsible,” he said.
Moroleon is located near the border with Michoacan state, also hit by drug cartel violence. The armed Jalisco cartel has been fighting local gangs backed by the Sinaloa cartel for control of Guanajuato.