Presidential Elections and Violence in Mexico: Chiapas as a Mirror

Zapatista Subcomandante Moisés in one of his speeches at an event in a Zapatista community. Photo: Radio Zapatista
The Zapatista movement not only faces the usual groups, but also the drug cartels, much more dangerous and with connections to the major political parties.

In the midst of the maelstrom of violence in Chiapas, these days we are also experiencing a period of electoral campaigns. On June 2, in addition to the Presidency of the Republic, all the mayors’ offices in the state, the local Congress, the Federal Congress and also the State Government will be renewed.

Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar, who was a member of the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM) for more than a decade, is the candidate of the ruling party Morena, which today governs the state and will surely retain power. Ramírez Aguilar was municipal president of Comitán de Domínguez from 2008 to 2010; he was federal deputy between 2012 and 2013, and local deputy between 2015 and 2018. In 2015, at PVEM rallies, Eduardo Ramírez shouted, “López Obrador is a liar!” Already by 2018, affiliated to Morena, he won a senatorship with that party and nothing remained of his phobia towards López Obrador. The Green Party was allied with the PAN in the 2000 and 2006 elections; by 2012 it made an alliance with the PRI and in 2018 it allied with Morena, with which it now co-governs at both federal and state levels in Chiapas.

When Eduardo Ramirez Aguilar, who is now a candidate for the state government of Chiapas, was mayor of Comitan, he was linked to Gilberto Rivera Amarillas, alias “El Tio Gil.” In fact, it was during this period that Rivera Amarillas managed to establish himself in this municipality on the border with Guatemala and in the entire border area. Chiapas journalists frequently questioned Ramírez Águilar about his relationship with Ismael Zambada’s boss, to which he always responded that it was “completely false. He is a visible character in Chiapas, but from that to me having a relationship…”

In the midst of all this the EZLN warned those who wanted to accompany them to their 30th anniversary that would take place between December 30, 2023 and January 2, 2024, that the situation in the area was not the most ideal. Subcomandante Moises signed a communiqué in which he assured that “the main cities of the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas are in complete chaos”, and said that the municipal presidencies are occupied by “legal hitmen or disorganized crime.”

The Zapatista leader spoke of what today has become part of everyday life in the state: blockades, assaults, a wave of kidnappings, extortion, forced recruitment and shootings. And he accused the government of the “sponsorship” it had with the criminal organizations, when the first candidacies for the June 2024 elections were already being disputed. The subcomandante maintained that “it is not political proposals that are being contested, but criminal societies.” 

In Chiapas, the big caciques have always had armed groups at their disposal; they have used them to displace indigenous people from their communities and to take possession of their lands. In addition to this, since July 2021 and after the murder of Simón Pedro Pérez of Las Abejas de Acteal, residents of Pantelhó formed a “self-defense” group to confront criminal groups from other states, the cartels, and defend themselves from these paramilitary groups formed by the caciques.

Mario Ortega, of the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba), explains it as follows:

“Organized crime is eating the power groups that exist in the territory, it is like a transnational that is incorporating the local shops.”

In such a way that the onslaught suffered by the communities is increasingly lethal and more difficult to eradicate. It was precisely for this reason that the Zapatistas announced in a series of communiqués last year that they would reorganize their structure. They now face not only the usual groups, but now the cartels, much more dangerous, are the most visible enemy.

Gustavo Castro, coordinator of the civil association Otros Mundos, explains that “The cartels target the weakest controllable structure in the territories, which are the ejidos and municipalities: from there they can control everything in political , economic, financial terms, from roads to public security forces.” He considers that the main objective of these actions is to take over each territory, control it and finally put their own people in each municipal presidency.

Elections and Organized Crime

Electoral processes in Mexico, especially in the last three six-year periods, are always carried out under the suspicion of the intervention of organized crime, especially at the municipal level, but unfortunately this influence has escalated in the government hierarchy and today it is not strange that candidates for governors of the states are linked to the different cartels throughout the country. As an example of this collusion between candidates and governments with organized crime, it is worth remembering the terrible case of Ayotzinapa and the federal and state elections of 2021.

In 2014, when the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero occurred, the first investigations reached the then mayor of the municipality of Iguala – where the disappearance of the students occurred – José Luis Abarca, who was linked to the Beltrán Leyva Cartel, and it was known that he had been working for them for years. It was in fact this cartel that supported his political project and carried him to the mayor’s office. His wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, along with her brothers, were allies of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the leader of the criminal organization.

More recently, in 2021, votes were cast to renew the Federal Congress (deputies and senators), as well as 15 state governorships. In Sinaloa, mayors’ offices, local deputies and the state government were up for renewal. Today it is known that the current governor for the ruling Morena party was financed and supported throughout the campaign, until he became governor, by the different factions of the Sinaloa Cartel: Los Chapitos (sons of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, “El Chapo”, now sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States) and Ismael “El Mayo Zambada.”

But these are not the only cases, they are just examples. In recent weeks, an investigation conducted by the digital media Código Magenta, based on sources from US authorities, revealed that in that same 2021 election, there was not only support for Morena candidates in Sinaloa, but this also occurred at least in Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Campeche and Tamaulipas. In other words, elections in Mexico, at all levels, cannot be analyzed today without having the context that there will always be a cartel that is willing to support candidates of any party or even all candidates.

Knowing this and observing the geographic location of Chiapas, which is key to the illicit business of criminal organizations, it is not difficult to deduce that criminals will seek to co-opt candidates from the different parties and different contested positions in any election. How could a municipal or state authority act against the Sinaloa Cartel or the CJNG if the mayors, deputies or even the state government received money from them during the campaigns and with that money they reached the position they aspired to? The 124 municipalities of the state of Chiapas, but especially those that border Guatemala, are coveted by criminals, because they are the gateway for illegal substances, such as chemical precursors or already processed drugs, but it is also through them that thousands of migrants seeking to reach the United States enter. Human trafficking and drug trafficking are multi-million dollar businesses that cannot be allowed to go to waste.

The Zapatistas know this, they know it first hand, and in the excitement of the recent campaigns they sensed that the situation could get out of control, as it has. Many of the territories are shared by Zapatistas and people not related to Zapatismo, so the defense of their peoples was urgent in the face of the current circumstances. The territorial control of the EZLN has served for decades as a containment barrier that prevented criminal groups from settling in them, but over the years the wear and tear has been noticeable and the Zapatistas had to propose a reorganization in order to be able to continue being that barrier. Although so far there have been no direct attacks by the cartels on the Zapatista communities, this is not far from happening. The EZLN prohibits the planting and sale of narcotics in its communities, which is in direct conflict with the criminal organizations’ plans for territorial expansion.

Marta Durán De Huerta, sociologist, journalist and university professor, believes that the decades of putting Zapatista autonomy into practice, may be the basis for their new autonomy to succeed. “They took up arms to call attention to themselves and they created their own institutions for the administration of justice, for health, it is something very simple, I would say, even homemade, but they have done it,” says the author of the book , recently published in January 2024. And although she admits that the current situation is new and very different, due to the crisis of violence that is being experienced throughout Chiapas, she highlights that the coherence and firmness with which Zapatismo has handled itself, would act to its benefit in this new scenario:

“EZLN was a stabilizing movement in some regions, because they never made pacts with the narco nor allowed financing through illicit actions, despite always being plagued by paramilitary groups.”

Violence increases in the electoral campaigns

On May 28, during López Obrador’s morning conference, the Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, released official data on the number of candidates murdered during this electoral period. According to the government, the figures registered by the electoral authorities, counted 22 people who were candidates, pre-candidates or aspiring to some position of popular election assassinated throughout the country. It emphasized that “to date there have been eight homicides of candidates officially registered before the INE or the local electoral institutes. This is the official number of candidates. Also, as has already been reported here, there were four unfortunate homicides of pre-candidates, that is, people who were officially registered with their parties, but did not achieve official enrollment.”

The most shocking part of this way of minimizing political assassinations was what López Obrador said during the same morning conference when responding to journalist Helena Lozano, from NTN24, who, quoting Integralia Consulting, questioned the assassination of 34 candidates for elected office. The President assured that this is largely due to the fact that “the manipulation media” disseminate these figures which do not correspond to the official data. And when questioned about whether there was a possibility that some of the murders had not been recorded, López Obrador assured that no and that “there is no hidden number.” “They would like there to be many homicides, it seems a lie, but they are administering human pain for political reasons,” he concluded.

Depending on the source and the dates from which this count is taken, the number of assassinations of aspirants, pre-candidates, candidates or their relatives could rise to 70 or more. In Chiapas, no less, the last case was that of the young 26 year old candidate of the Popular Party of Chiapas, Lucero López, who aspired to the mayoralty of La Concordia. The candidate was riddled with bullets last Thursday, May 16, when she was moving from one campaign event to another. Along with her, five other people were killed, including a minor. This is undoubtedly the most violent election in the history of Mexico. Since April, the number of aggressions, kidnappings and murders of participants in the electoral contest, which was already enormous in 2021, has been surpassed. We remain vigilant and with our eyes on Chiapas, attentive to denounce and make visible the unprecedented violence that is taking place in the south of the country. We believe that the Zapatistas will come out ahead, that they will be able to overcome this and that they will show us once again that “Another world is possible.”

Original article published by @Ar1zZ17 in El Salto on May 30th, 2024.
Translation by Schools for Chiapas.

Want to receive our weekly blog digest in your inbox?

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top