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2 mayoral candidates of a Mexican city are shot dead

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A municipal police officer stands guard in Maravatio, Michoacan state, Mexico. Two mayoral hopefuls in this city were gunned down the previous day within hours of each other, ahead of the June 2 national elections.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A municipal police officer stands guard in Maravatio, Michoacan state, Mexico. Two mayoral hopefuls in this city were gunned down the previous day within hours of each other, ahead of the June 2 national elections.

MEXICO CITY >> Two mayoral hopefuls in the Mexican city of Maravatío have been gunned down within hours of each other, as experts warn the June 2 national elections could be the country’s most violent on record.

The widening control of drug cartels in Mexico has been described as a threat. During the last nationwide election in 2021, about three dozen candidates were killed.

The campaigns haven’t even started yet. They formally begin on Friday.

On Tuesday, this farming town, where most of the men wear boots and big belt buckles, was in a state of wary shock following the previous day’s killings. Dozens of state police were visible around city hall.

Talking about gynecologist Miguel Ángel Zavala, one of the murdered aspiring candidates, Maravatío resident and homemaker Carmen Luna said the crime was shocking and incomprehensible. “The way I see it, there’s no explanation for killing a person … it might have been a power struggle between them.”

Luna was one of Zavala’s patients, and she ruled out any potential personal motive in his killing. “He was one of the best” doctors in town, she said. “He took care of me and was very good. He was very friendly.”

While she hasn’t voted in years — “whether it’s one or the other, everything stays the same” — Luna said the killings left people “angry and feeling powerless, because if the government doesn’t do anything, you can’t do anything.”

Maravatío Mayor Jaime Hinojosa Campa said he had not been told about threats against the mayoral hopefuls, but that “everything points toward” organized crime being behind the killings. He said authorities were working on security protocols for the remaining candidates who were understandably frightened.

“What happened yesterday scared all of us,” he said.

State prosecutors said Tuesday that Armando Pérez Luna was found shot to death in his car in Maravatío just before midnight. He was the mayoral candidate for the conservative National Action Party.

“This illustrates the extremely serious level of violence and lack of safety that prevails ahead of the most important elections in Mexican history,” National Action’s leader, Marko Cortés, wrote on social media.

Hours earlier, officials with the ruling Morena party confirmed their mayoral hopeful, Zavala, was found shot to death Monday in his car.

The Morena party state committee said in a statement that the killing of Zavala was “a cowardly and reprehensible act.” The head of the Morena party in Michoacan, Juan Pablo Celis, said Zavala had announced his intention to run but had not yet been designated as the party’s candidate.

Another Morena mayoral hopeful was killed last year.

Retiree Catalina Padilla was busy packing charity packages at the local Catholic Church’s food bank. She said the city had started getting violent around 2019.

“Before, we would go out at night, but now if there isn’t a reason to go out, you don’t,” Padilla said. She said Dagoberto García, the local Morena leader, was the other hopeful who initially disappeared last October until his shot and decomposed body was found in a rural area in November.

“It could be that they don’t want anyone from Morena,” she said, suggesting that killing Pérez, of the conservative PAN, was maybe a way to make it appear that the killings were not directed at one party.

The western state of Michoacan has been particularly hard hit by gang turf wars, with the Jalisco New Generation cartel fighting a local gang, the Viagras, for control.

The watchdog group Civic Data said in a January report on political violence that “2023 was the most violent year in our database. And everything suggests that 2024 will be worse.”

Mayoral, state and federal elections are increasingly synchronized on one election day. “It is likely that the biggest elections in history will also suffer the biggest attacks from organized crime,” Civic Data said.

Michoacan had the fifth-highest number of attacks on politicians and government officials in 2023, behind Guerrero state to the south and Guanajuato to the north. Zacatecas and Veracruz also had a higher number of attacks.

Civic Data said five people intending to run for office were killed in Mexico in January.

In a report published earlier this month, Integralia Consultants wrote that “organized crime will intervene like never before in local elections in 2024” because more mayor’s offices are at stake, more cartels are engaged in turf wars and cartels have expanded their business model far beyond drugs.

Cartels make much of their money extorting protection payments from local businesses and even local governments. That’s why mayoral races are more important to them than national elections and often become violent.

The violence has a chilling effect on democracy at the most local level.

Maravatío resident Marcos Bautista said Zavala and Pérez were political newcomers, respected local figures making their first foray into politics in a country tired of career politicians.

“They didn’t hold positions before, they were just starting out and they’re finishing them off,” Bautista said, noting that the only politicians left would be those willing to support the criminals. “Who is going to govern us?”

“I feel like voting isn’t going to solve anything,” said Miguel Ángel Negrete, another resident, adding that the killings “take away your rights … make you afraid these people could come to the voting booths.”

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