Mexico’s drug cartels and gangs are playing a larger role in Sunday’s elections than ever before

Drug cartels and gangs in Mexico are seemingly exerting a more significant influence in the upcoming elections, which will decide the presidency, as well as nine governorships and approximately 19,000 mayorships and other local positions.

In Mexico, drug cartels have a history of carrying out deliberate assassinations of mayoral and other local candidates who pose a threat to their dominance. These criminal organizations rely on controlling local police chiefs and extorting money from municipal budgets, while showing less interest in national politics.

However, leading up to Sunday’s election, there has been a disturbing trend of gangs resorting to violent tactics. These groups have been indiscriminately firing shots at campaign rallies, destroying ballots, obstructing the establishment of polling stations, and even attempting to sway voters with persuasive banners.

According to security analyst David Saucedo, it is highly probable that certain drug gangs will attempt to coerce voters into voting for their preferred candidates.

According to Saucedo, it is a reasonable assumption that the cartels will activate their support networks in the upcoming elections. These networks consist of loyal voters who have been won over through the distribution of various incentives such as food packages, cash, medicine, and infrastructure projects. The cartels are likely to leverage these networks to back their preferred candidates, commonly known as narco-candidates.

Some areas seem to have gangs promoting voting in their territory while discouraging voting in areas controlled by rival gangs.

On Friday, electoral authorities reported that a house where ballots were being stored ahead of Sunday was burned by assailants in the violence-wracked town of Chicomuselo, located in the southern state of Chiapas. Although the authorities did not disclose the identity of the attackers, it is worth mentioning that the town is under the complete control of two rival drug cartels, Jalisco and Sinaloa.

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Gunmen believed to be connected to a cartel carried out a deadly attack in Chicomuselo on May 14, resulting in the tragic loss of 11 lives. Similarly, in the town of La Concordia, Chiapas, just 45 miles (75 kilometers) away from Chicomuselo, five individuals, including a mayoral candidate, were fatally shot by gunmen on May 17. These incidents have brought shock and sorrow to the communities affected.

Mass attacks on campaign rallies, which were once extremely rare in Mexico, are now becoming increasingly common. Tragically, these attacks have resulted in the deaths of numerous supporters, far outnumbering the casualties among the candidates themselves. As a result, the atmosphere surrounding these rallies has become highly intimidating for all involved.

On Wednesday, during the final day of campaigning, a disturbing incident occurred in the western state of Michoacan. Unidentified gunmen unleashed gunfire just a few blocks away from a mayoral candidate’s concluding campaign rally. The sudden outbreak of violence caused panic and chaos among the hundreds of attendees, who hastily sought shelter to ensure their safety.

“It felt like any ordinary evening, much like the campaign finales of other candidates,” recalled Angélica Chávez, a homemaker who attended the rally in Cotija. “Suddenly, the air was pierced by the sound of gunshots, multiple rounds being fired in close proximity. Panic ensued as people began sprinting and taking cover, ducking down to the ground.”

Chávez sustained injuries during the chaotic rush and sought shelter in a nearby church.

In April, tragedy struck in Celaya, a city located in Guanajuato, when armed individuals unleashed a hail of bullets at a campaign event. This horrifying incident resulted in the loss of a mayoral candidate’s life and left three of her loyal supporters wounded. The devastating act of violence sent shockwaves through the community, highlighting the dangers and risks associated with political campaigns.

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According to Saucedo, the analyst, the shootings indicate that narco gangs have become unwilling to accept the defeat of their chosen candidates.

According to Saucedo, some groups of drug traffickers resort to desperate tactics in order to prevent a candidate who is not aligned with their criminal interests or connected to a rival drug gang from winning. He explains, “Rather than allow the victory of such a candidate, they employ this tactic.” It is clear that these drug traffickers are becoming increasingly desperate as the election approaches.

According to Saucedo, the phenomenon of narco-control in local politics has previously been observed in highly violent states like Tamaulipas. However, he warns that this issue is no longer limited to certain areas, but is now spreading throughout the entire country.

The National Electoral Institute has been forced to cancel its plans for 170 polling places, primarily in Chiapas and Michoacan, due to security issues. In Chiapas, there are areas that electoral authorities are unable to access. Although this accounts for a small percentage of the country’s total of 170,858 polling places, it is still deeply concerning.

A different banner, believed to be connected to a gang, issued a warning that individuals attempting to purchase votes would face severe consequences. The banner was signed by the group known as “Those who have always called the shots here.”

It seems that recent events suggest that the cartels’ previous strategy of eliminating the strongest candidate they don’t favor, resulting in a default victory for the remaining major-party candidate, has become more intricate.

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