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April 12, 2021

Elections and Violence

Campaigns for Mexico’s June 6 election officially kicked off just over a week ago. The elections are the largest in the country’s history, and they are occurring in the shadow of a wave of political violence. In 2018, during the last electoral cycle, there were 774 incidents involving politicians, with 152 murders—48 of those victims were precandidates or candidates. A good deal of this violence occurs outside of the official campaign cycle, as documented by Justice in Mexico, which found that the murder rate for mayors was 13 times greater than that of the general population. Since last fall, there have been at least 205 attacks on politicians, with 55 victims. There are three important factors to consider when looking at this situation:

  • First, political violence is a complex phenomenon—there are multiple violences at play, with violence related to organized crime overshadowing or obscuring violence connected to social movements or other local disputes.


  • Second, the role of organized crime is also complicated. While groups do use violence to influence electoral outcomes, by threatening or killing certain candidates while financially supporting others, this does not occur indiscriminately. As Amalia Pulido notes in this essay for Nexos, the risk of attacks are elevated in areas where both electoral competition is high, and multiple criminal groups are present.


  • Third, local contexts matter. Historical conflicts between regional elites, especially when mixed with criminal activity, have led to violence targeting journalists and other activists such as Maria Elena Ferral. While this might not be readily classified as political violence, it suggests that the risks faced by candidates often reflect tensions that exist outside of electoral cycles and insecurity that affects a greater number of actors.

Over the next two months, we will be monitoring trends in political violence and publishing a handful of essays exploring these themes in greater depth.

In case you missed it: Forty-five years after Operation Condor, memories of the brutal drug eradication campaign are still raw in the mountains of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. The 1976 military invasion of opium and marijuana growing regions led to a great deal of suffering, but did little to disrupt narcotrafficking—and investments in alternatives for the region’s peasants remain an unfulfilled promise. As part of the Mexican Opium Project, Revista Espejo produced this comic revisiting the legacy of Condor.

What We're Reading:

  • As the analysis above suggests, attacks on journalists are a component of political violence that is rarely recognized as such. More tragically, following the murder of a of journalist, the Mexican state fails to appropriately support the victim’s family despite numerous institutions that are designed to do so. In this report for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Griselda Triana writes that despite their normative obligations, institutions such as the Special Commission for Attention to Victims (CEAV), the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) and the Protection Mechanism for at risk journalists, all fail in real-world tests.

  • Long-term effects of Mexico’s “war on drugs” are increasingly more tangible and visible.  Using the latest census, Data Cívica estimates how many children are now without their mother or their father. According to their estimates, between 78,000 and 315,000 minors are orphans as a result of the “war on drugs”. Losing a parent, or both, creates additional vulnerabilities for minors that can further exacerbate risk factors for suffering and/or perpetrating violence.

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