MEXICAN ELECTION PLAGUED BY VIOLENCE
By Alex Pollock
Voters are casting their ballots across Mexico, where thousands of posts at the local, state and national levels are up for grabs in what is the biggest vote in the country’s history. Sunday’s [6 June] midterm elections will determine the makeup of the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, as well as 15 governorships and thousands of mayoral and local councillor positions. Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) said more than 20,000 positions are being contested, while nearly 95 million people are eligible to vote. The lead-up to Sunday’s elections was marked by widespread violence, with security consulting firm Etellekt reporting that at least 89 politicians, including 35 candidates, were killed in more than 200 days of campaigning. (Al Jazeera)
While President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was not on the ballot, his MORENA party and its allies were hoping to resecure the two-thirds majority needed to control the lower house of Congress. However, early projected results show that Mr Obrador has lost some support. According to the National Electoral Institute (INE), Mr Obrador’s party is expected to secure only 265-292 of the 500 lower house seats. Losing the majority in the lower house will make it much more difficult for Mr Obrador to make the changes to the constitution that he was hoping to make during his final three years in office. Mr Obrador has campaigned to bring the country’s energy sector under state control, as well as make substantial changes to economic policies. The early election results are so far in line with a recent opinion poll taken earlier in the race that showed Mr Obrador losing popularity following a deadly metro accident and several sexual assault allegations against some of his party’s top candidates. The pro-business National Action Party is projected to win 106-117 lower house seats, making it the most prominent opposition party in the chamber. Despite losses in the lower house, Mr Obrador’s party and its allies are expected to win a majority of the 15 open governor positions, as well as hundreds of state and local electoral office positions.
“One of the bloodiest election seasons in recent history”
In the 200 days leading up to the election, Etellekt, a security consultancy firm, reported at least 89 politicians killed, including 35 running for office. There were an additional 782 attacks against politicians and candidates, including verbal threats, intimidation, beatings, property damage, kidnappings, and attacks on family members in what has been called “one of the bloodiest election seasons in recent history.” Over 75% of the officials attacked belonged to opposition parties.
“What will mark this election is the violence that arose mainly against opponents of state governments or the municipalities,” said Etellekt Director Ruben Salazar. “It must also be said that 44 per cent of the 89 fatalities were part of the opposition coalition against the federal government. In sum, what we are witnessing here is political violence, where being part of the opposition implies [you will be] at greater risk in this country.”
This kind of “barbaric” violence in the months leading up to an election is not new in Mexico. During the 2018 federal election cycle, Etellekt documented 152 political killings and 774 acts of violence. Over a nine-month period leading up to the 2015 midterm elections, 61 political killings were reported. Despite the violence, voters continue to go to the polls to cast their ballots, and courageous Mexicans continue to run for office.
A voter in Mexico City told Al Jazeera: “By exercising our right to vote, it is the best way in which we can also protect ourselves. We cannot live in a country with fear and let both violence or organised crime take away our rights. Voting is our right and exercising it is the way to combat this violence.”
Mr Obrador and his government have blamed the violence on cartels and organised crime. “These groups seek to influence local politics at the municipal and state level to benefit from pacts of criminal political immunity, which allows them to continue operating under the protection of local governments,” said Gerardo Rodriguez, the director of the department of international relations and political science at the University of the Americas Puebla, in Cholula, Mexico.
There are approximately 450 criminal groups that operate in Mexico, according to the International Crisis Group think-tank. Crimes committed by organised crime groups, including political assassinations, are very seldomly prosecuted. A 2020 special report released by Justice in Mexico found that mayors and local politicians are 13% more likely to be murdered than an average citizen. Just under 24,000 murders were linked to organised crime in Mexico in 2019 alone, according to the same report.
“The problem is structural in Mexico,” Rodriguez went on to say. “[In current times] it is more dangerous to be a politician in election times than to be a journalist in times of war. The murders are not investigated as they should be, there are not enough experts, there is not enough capacity in the state public ministries or enough judges to lead these investigations. So, we are facing that structural impunity that facilitates, that promotes, this political violence.”
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Abraham Barberi, an INcontext contact, is a former Mexican cartel member-turned Baptist pastor who now spends his time leading a church of other former cartel members in the border town of Matamoros, running an asylum shelter out of his Bible institute, and caring for the needs of the Mexican and immigrant communities. Mr Barberi grew up in a family involved in cartel operations. After involvement in a smuggling operation, he had an encounter with the Church and came to know Christ. He has since dedicated his time to helping others who have lived a similar life to his, to find the same hope. Part of the reason Mr Barberi is trusted and effective in sharing the Gospel in communities plagued by gang and cartel violence in Mexico because he understands the environment the people are living in – one plagued by crime, violence, and cartel control.
Mexico, like most other Latin American countries, has been dominated by Catholicism. However, for the first time in history, the Protestant population has grown to over 10% of the overall population. Local Protestant church leaders have attributed the growth to a variety of factors, including the influence of foreigners and increasingly effective evangelism activities in indigenous communities. While just under 90% of Mexicans profess some type of religious belief, there has been a distinct separation of Church and State since the 19th Century, when former President Benito Juarez was in power (1858-72). Mr Obrador has expressed his intention to maintain some form of separation between Church and State.
In 2019, Mexican senator Maria Soledad Luevano Cantu, a member of Mr Obrador’s MORENA party, proposed a bill that would lessen the separation of Church and State, but Mr Obrador opposed the bill saying in a press conference: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s…I think it’s a subject that shouldn’t be touched.”
Barberi agrees that in Mexico, it is better for the Church to be separated from the government. “In Mexico, politics is corrupt. Politicians are corrupt. If you’re a Christian or a pastor in politics in Mexico you’re looked down upon because it’s assumed you’re getting something out of it,” Barberi said. “However, politicians know that the evangelical church has a level of power, so they will try to get the church to vote for them.”
Each church congregation is different, and you will find some evangelical pastors who are interested in getting involved in the political scene, despite the constitution having an article prohibiting pastors from being involved in politics.
“We [evangelicals] are still a minority, but we are a majority within this minority, and this gives us some force and the government is starting to look at us to see what we think about certain issues,” said Cirilo Cruz, president of CONEMEX, the National Evangelical Fellowship of Mexico. However, Cruz also cautioned the evangelical church, adding that it is important for the focus to remain on being biblical examples, not on gaining political power.
Barberi attributes the desire for greater political power to the high number of political assassinations. He also commented on how he thinks the Church can best combat the cartel members behind the killings. “In Matamoros, the Gulf Cartel runs the politics, so we haven’t seen or heard of any political assassinations here. In some other states, where different cartels are battling for power and those cartels have preferred political parties, that’s where you’re seeing the political assassinations.”
He says the best way for the Church to fulfil its role is to stay out of politics and focus on being bearers of the Gospel. “We’re called to be the Lord’s witnesses,” he added. “The Church should not and could not do anything to combat cartel violence by speaking against it. The cartel will kill you, your mom, your dad, your sister, your grandma if you do anything against them. Most churches are afraid to do that. That’s not how you combat the cartel. What you do is you preach the gospel and hopefully one of the cartel members will come to Christ. That’s how you do it. I don’t combat the cartel in any other way. I just pray that the Holy Spirit will change their hearts.”
Pray with us for the following
- For the safety of all government and public officials and a peaceful end to the current election cycle
- For the evangelical church in Mexico to continue to share the gospel with those in cartels and for the Holy Spirit to do a redemptive work in their hearts
- For Mexican believers to remain steadfast in their efforts to share the Gospel despite the risk of violence and persecution from cartels and organised crime groups
Image: REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez