Mexico’s Blood-Soaked Ballots: The Intersection of Democracy and Cartel Power

By Divith Narendra Jun10,2024 #Mexico #USA

India is a relatively young democracy. With a 77-year-old history as a democracy, you could say we are finding our position in the broader world, with an emergent China and an established United States, our young self is navigating the possibility of a bi/multi-polar world while undergoing repeated changes in governance. Ah, the joy of democracy! 

The chaos of polling, and the anticipation of results made even more chaotic with exit polls, it’s a tradition now for the average Indian family to dedicate two days solely to witness the results. One day to see numbers flicker back and forth, and the second to analyse how either party failed or succeeded. Every household becomes a newsroom, the only disadvantage being that the debate doesn’t wrap up after primetime. However, as a country figuring out our position in the broader geopolitical world, let’s shift our lens to look at the world, not just India. 2024, is an election bonanza as most media houses quote

Let’s move across the Atlantic, what’s the first country that would come to your mind? The United States? Well, our focus is the country below. Mexico! Now, Mexico might not be the first country that might come to an Indian’s mind, but Indian exports are reportedly bound to increase annually by 15% to Mexico. Further, Mexico is our tenth-largest trading partner and of course, we share similar spice tolerances! 

Mexico as well has just concluded going to polls, however, in stark contrast to the peaceful, systematic and efficient elections in India, Mexico seems to keep spiralling into a trend of bloody, violent elections propelled by criminal involvement and gang violence. 

As reports find, between 2000 and 2022, 1,271 politicians have been murdered across Mexico, a host of them being in office, ex-official or aspiring candidates.

The significance of these elections is rather undersold, primarily due to the negative label of a criminal state attributed to the Mexican State for decades. With a historically negative label associated with Mexico, one seems to fail to acknowledge more than 21,000 vacant public official roles that are now being voted for across Mexico. From local mayorships to parliamentary elections electing the head of state and the entire membership of Congress (Senate and Chamber of Deputies), the scale of this election for a country like Mexico is unprecedented. 

However, there seems to be a direct correlation between violence and election season. As reports find, between 2000 and 2022, 1,271 politicians have been murdered across Mexico, a host of them being in office, ex-official or aspiring candidates. And by the time voters, elected for Claudia Sheinbaum as Mexico’s first-ever female president, over 129 political violence events were reported. This number also seems to be contested, with claims of this number being under-reported too. 

Now, an introspective reader might question, what about India? The polling violence in West Bengal seems to be an immediate afterthought, the riots in 2020 in Delhi all of them seem to flood in your mind. However, a large share of this violence seems to be riots, driven by party workers. Unlike Mexico, where the figure shows below-  ~45% of violent acts are driven by Armed Groups as a part of some street gang affiliated with a cartel. 

62% of these attacks as a report by ACLED finds are direct, which they label as acts that directly target the individual through kidnapping, murder, and targeting family members. Being a public official is not tough, it’s life-threatening in Mexico.

But why? How do these twisted dynamics seem to drive Mexican politics? To ask a question like this, would be contradictory primarily because you fail to consider all the stakeholders involved in this election. It’s not just the people and politicians who have a vested interest. It’s the cartels too. For the cartels, elections are not about change, they’re about prolongation. The cartels find themselves deeply desirous of maintaining the status quo or converting opportunities to entrench themselves deeper into local politics, and in a broader context to cement themselves as a part of the Mexcian Political System. 

The cartels find themselves deeply desirous of maintaining the status quo or converting opportunities to entrench themselves deeper into local politics, and in a broader context to cement themselves as a part of the Mexican Political System.

And no, you’re not going to see cartel leaders as senators seated in the Mexican Parliament, recreating a grotesque Mexican Pablo Escobar. Instead, as the criminal landscape grows increasingly fragmented and dispersed, cartels aspire to command large swathes of territory and demand influence in local politics. With public policy driving significant decisions towards development, local officials have intricate knowledge regarding their local municipality, with information regarding infrastructure projects, natural resources consequent operations and upcoming projects making them perfect targets to threaten. 

While one would accuse the government’s response and demand for increasing militarisation of the police, you would ask and rightly so. However, I’d like to ask you would spilling more blood payoff? While, militarization seems like an appropriate approach to counter-act cartels influence, in the context of the broader society, it seems to be diminishing results. With the increased militarization, society’s trust in institutions significantly erodes and there is a progressive increase in hostilities between the militarized institution and civilians, which leads to significant civilian deaths. 

The Mexican Government too seems to add to this narrative, with its distasteful comments on the reported 100,000 missing individuals and corresponding search attempts labelling those who undertake such dangerous search initiatives as suffering from a ‘delirium of necrophilia’. Horrific, insensitive and inhumane. Such is the state in which Mexico finds itself. Such is the fact that many Mexicans only say one response when asked, why?

 ‘Ya nos acostumbramos – We have become accustomed.’

The situation is bleak. Mexico has peaked with 42,000 homicides and over 100,000 missing individuals. Over 198 armed groups now operate across Mexico, with some possessing entire provinces across Mexico. It’s a significant puzzle as to what justifies such a high rate of crime across the land on the other side of the Rio Grande. Most of the blame can be associated with the bloody drug war of the early 2000s. The erstwhile President Felipe Calderon went on a bloody spree arresting all of the bigwigs of the drug underworld, and thus claiming victory deploying the military to undertake a huge effort, trying to break these cartels once and for all. But once the dust settled, you’d realize cartels are similar to Hydra. You cut one head off, and two come in replacement. 

Alas, Mexico found herself stuck with a dozen smaller cartels who resort to such grotesque methods of violence as an act of power, not just to establish power but also to retain it. How do you counter-act an environment ridden with poverty, unresponsive schools and corrupt social agencies? An environment that actively coerces school children towards taking up gang culture and later forces these children to gun down or be gunned down by security forces. What do you do? 

That is the question Claudia Sheinbaum finds herself asking as he takes the pulpit as Mexico’s first female president. Laying on her shoulders lies the opportunity to re-invent Mexico and usher in as her predecessor Andrés Manuel López Obrador called ‘The Fourth Transformation’ or allow the status quo of ‘plata o plomo’ [Silver or Lead, Money or Bullets]. 

(Divith Narendra is a student of data science, economics, and business with a passion for integrating data and statistics. He writes extensively on industry trends and geopolitics. His works were featured at the G20 and published by Cambridge Union Press. Views expressed are the author’s own)


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