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Narco, the player to beat in Mexican elections

The polls on presidential voting intentions in Mexico are probably 90% focused on who is ahead: Claudia Sheinbaum, the virtual candidate of the coalition Juntos Hacemos Historia, or Xóchitl Gálvez, who flies the flags of the parties united around the coalition Frente Amplio por México. And in that logic, both seek every day to gain sympathy and settle themselves in the imagination as the virtual winner of a contest that will take place next spring, that is, in nine months, which is a long time. And democratic politics, as we already know, is fickle, especially in regions captured by organized crime. And it is precisely this actor who is emerging as the enemy to be defeated.

Organized crime, although it is not a conventional actor in the electoral struggle, is campaigning as only it knows how, through violence in its various manifestations. The fact is that the outright capture of large segments of the national territory by these organizations allows us to see that it could have an outcome in electoral terms. As it happened in 2021 and many times before, this capture could be repeated by controlling the voters and, therefore, provoke results with their winners and losers. So far, there is no reason to assume that it will not intervene when the incentives to do so are increasing. 

It must be remembered that organized crime goes beyond the image of hired killings that we are used to seeing on television, and is something more complex that reaches economies of scale in most of the states of the federation. The actions of organized crime are aimed at generating greater power for the cartels and safeguarding the underground economy, the laundering of money that filters daily into the formal economy. 

The underlying problem is that the economy generates political interests. It is when the cartels’ representatives seek to infiltrate the electoral processes from the phase of defining the candidates until they become the winners of the contests for votes.  

Then, they are investing part of their capacity for violence seeking to obtain a greater benefit in political representation and in the integration of the cabinets of the three levels of government. Thus, whoever controls this armed economy has the capacity to influence institutional politics. 

Subsequently, what we have is that the dispute between Sheinbaum and Gálvez is mediated by this third party in discord that has powerful (illegitimate) reasons to seek to influence federal and local elections. And they are in it. 

That is the distinctive feature of the so-called narcocracies, which have in organized crime figures leading actors who try to be decisive on the political and bureaucratic scale for their own interest or for the simple provision of direct services. When this happens in Mexico, or in any other country, electoral routines are at the expense of the actions that this actor in the shadows imposes on the political class and civil society.

In the states of the federation, when the political parties carry out their internal processes, their campaigns, and the electoral operation on Election Day, that which should be part of democratic normality, is brutally undermined with murder, beatings, chasing away or kidnapping those who aspire to office and are not looked upon favorably by the cartel of the state or region. 

This, which is an anomaly in a democracy, is behind this Dantesque spectacle that we see every day in any part of the country — with greater or lesser brutality — and that not few people look at with the simplicity that it is “narco stuff”, which does not allow us to see the background of its ramifications in politics. 

And, when we see its dimension, which in terms of numbers in this six-year period has already reached close to 170,000 intentional homicides and 35,000 forced disappearances, it dwarfs the figure of the two, or more, aspirants to the presidency of the Republic. 

These groups have greater visibility and the gift of ubiquity. They have been allowed to grow when under normal conditions it would be rational for the public space to be the scene of the democratic game. But no, those who achieve the greatest visibility, the best times in the media, are unfortunately the actors of anti-politics who move freely in militarily equipped vehicles through avenues, streets, and roads flaunting all their power. 

Therefore, the citizen’s attention is kept on that side, while the declarations of the presidential candidates do not have any impact because they are absolutely absent from this reality that everyone is watching out of the corner of their eyes. 

In Mexico, we are on the eve of the most risky presidential elections, since it is not only the presidency of the Republic or the Congress of the Union at stake, but also who will end up winning the race between the conventional candidates or those of organized crime. 

In short, the airs blowing are not those of democratic improvement, but of a sui generis authoritarianism of the crime that is already devastating a good part of the country and that is provoking as never before population displacements toward urban areas or the northern border seeking shelter from danger. 

Someone should warn that what is not done today in terms of containment will end up having an impact on the outcome of the so-called biggest elections in the history of our country. 

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.


Professor of Law at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law, Chapman University. He has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Minority Groups and Section on Food and Agriculture.


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