Across two electoral cycles, in 2018 and 2021, politicians and candidates in Mexico have been killed at alarming rates. As of one month prior to the election, more than 476 crimes have occurred, with more than 30 candidates assassinated according to data from Etellekt. Combined with an existing pattern of assassinations of mayors and other local officials, this wave of political violence threatens to disrupt the consolidation of democracy across much of the country.
Yet in many ways, the magnitude of the phenomenon tends to obscure its complexity. This violence is shaped by historical processes and local dynamics that often muddle attempts at explanation: single cases rarely illuminate a complete picture. The murder of a mayor in Michoacán will have different factors than killing of a candidate in Chihuahua.
Even the concept of political violence itself is less straightforward than often assumed. While participants in formal politics have become victims in ways that are fundamentally new, neither are they the only political actors who experience violence.
This collection features essays authored by scholars and journalists that challenge assumptions, raise questions, and provide local perspectives on violence and its relationship with democratic politics. Lettieri and Osten provide a historical perspective showing that violence has been a feature rather than an aberration of the postrevolutionary Mexican political system targeting more than just dissidents. Pulido argues that the relevant question is not whether organize crime seeks to influence and manipulate politics, but how and explains two main strategies: violence and capture of candidates. Ibarra, León, Mayorga, Pigeonutt and Vizcarra provide local perspectives focusing on cases in the State of Mexico, the poorest municipality of Veracruz, the Tarahumara region in Chihuahua, Guerrero, and drug producing and trafficking areas in Sinaloa respectively.
Together, these essays reinforce the complexity of political violence in Mexico. The tapestry of stories presented here shows how local power struggles entangle political outsiders, such as Francisca Morales, or critical journalists, such as Nevith Cóndes Jaramillo. Criminal groups, so often portrayed as the principal perpetrators of this violence, are hardly absent here. Their behavior is, however, shown to have a high degree of variation. In Sinaloa, it is an open secret that candidates make agreements with the Sinaloa “Cartel”, and while candidates are imposed or coopted, violence is the awareness of vulnerability more than the crash of gunfire. Chihuahua’s narcopolitics have had a deadlier toll, for both citizens of the Sierra Tarahumara whose criminally controlled governments fail to stop abuses, and for journalists who expose the collusion. But neither does the violence of organized crime occur without a social and political context, and in Guerrero the tragedy of Ayotzinapa remains an indelible reference point even as the state’s armed groups continue to mutate.
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Voting Amid Violence is a project of the Mexico Violence Resource Project. It has received support from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at UC San Diego. To download a PDF mini-book of the essays, click here. For more information about the Mexico Violence Resource Project, visit our About page by clicking here.