Alan Ortego / Reuters

Violence grips Mexico ahead of midterm elections

Gunmen have killed four candidates and kidnapped dozens of people in country's latest wave of violence

A wave of violence and intimidation has engulfed Mexico in recent weeks as the country prepares for midterm elections on June 7, with gunmen killing four candidates and kidnapping dozens of residents in Guerrero state — reviving fears that the still-unsolved disappearance of 43 students last September was not an isolated incident.

Enrique Hernández, who was running for mayor of Yurécuaro in the western state of Michoacán for the left-leaning Movement for National Regeneration Party, was killed on May 14 when gunmen opened fire on his campaign rally. Hernández was a leader of the town’s self-defense group formed in 2013 to curb the power of the Knights Templar cartel.

The state’s attorney general, José Martín Godoy Castro, said Wednesday that the Yurécuaro’s police chief and two of his aids knew about plans to kill Hernández, and left town ahead of the murder. Godoy said he would file charges — of participation through omission in a homicide — against the three officers.

Less than an hour after Hernández's murder, gunmen shot Héctor López Cruz 16 times as he returned from campaigning in Huimanguillo, in the southeastern state of Tabasco. López was running for city council of Huimanguillo on the ticket of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Erubiel Alonso, head of the PRI in Tabasco, said Huimanguillo was “one of the most violent, most dangerous townships in Tabasco,” as it faces drug gang violence, immigrant trafficking and assaults. Alonso said that, following López’s death, PRI candidates would only campaign during daylight hours.

In March, Aide Nava González was killed after announcing plans to run as the Democratic Revolution Party’s candidate for mayor of Ahuacuotzingo, in Guerrero state. A note left by her decapitated body was signed Los Rojos, or The Reds, a local gang. It threatened the same fate for any politician that did not “fall in line.” Nava’s son was kidnapped a year earlier and remains missing, and her husband — the former mayor of Ahuacuotzingo — was murdered in 2014.

Nava’s death was followed by the killing of the PRI’s Ulises Fabián Quiróz, who was running for mayor of Chilapa, in the troubled southwestern state of Guerrero — the same state where 43 students went missing eight months ago and site of a new mas kidnapping case that has gripped Mexico.

On May 9 a 300-strong group of heavily armed men stormed into Chilapa, claiming to be a self-defense group. The group disarmed the local police and forced out the police chief, arguing they were connected to Los Rojos, who are engaged in a turf war with Los Ardillos, or The Squirrels, in a region dotted by fields of poppy, heroin's raw ingredient.

Residents said the men were from Los Ardillos and had set up checkpoints, and had carried out arrests and raids in Chilapa with the complicity of the army and federal and state police, Mexican news website Proceso reported.

Ramón Navarrete, head of Guerrero’s human rights commission, said 13 people had been officially reported missing between May 9 and May 14, when the group left. He said that more people were likely missing, but that their families were afraid to report it officially. Most of the missing person reports were filed after the armed men withdrew, he said.

“There appear to be a number that have gone unreported because some people are afraid to file complaints … that is something we can understand,” Navarrete said.

Residents said more than 13 people were missing.

“There are a lot of disappeared people, but very few complaints are filed,” said local resident José Díaz Navarro, whose own family suffered disappearances. In the five days the so-called vigilantes were in Chilapa, at least 16 — but possibly up to 30 —people disappeared, Díaz added.

Díaz said most people believed the group was a gang, not a self-defense group.

“We call them gang members because they never really appeared like community police. They did not show any documents, they had high-powered rifles, so we cannot accept that they were community police,” Díaz said.

Since 2008, 24 political candidates were assassinated, mostly in Guerrero state, and 9 have been kidnapped ahead of elections, the Integralia consulting firm told the LA Times.

José Antonio Crespo, a political analyst for Mexico’s Center for Economic Research and Instruction, said, “That’s the way Mexican elections are nowadays,” referring to the targeting of candidates.

“In the majority of cases it is connected to drug cartels, organized crime,” Crespo said. “That just reveals what we already knew, that this problem has gotten beyond the control of the Mexican government.” 

The Chilapa abductions come in the wake of a Mexican government announcement estimating that 23,000 people have disappeared since the previous government of Felipe Calderón launched an aggressive assault on criminal syndicates in 2006.

With wire services

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