In Mexico, Local Authorities Walk a Fine Line with Criminal Groups

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Allegations that a former governor agreed a non-aggression pact with criminal elements combined with the continued targeting of local mayors underlines how Mexico’s fragmented political and criminal landscape has impacted interactions between criminal actors and local politicians.

César Duarte Jáquez, the former governor of the state of Chihuahua, struck deals with criminal groups, allowing them to operate with impunity in certain areas in exchange for maintaining low levels of violence, according to his successor. Ciudad Juarez, the once-embattled frontier town that continues to see drug-related violence, sits on Chihuahua’s border with the United States.

The accusations against Duarte, who is currently on the run and accused of embezzling 79 million pesos (around $4.2 million), were made by current Chihuahua governor, Javier Corral Jurado, on October 10, reported El Diario.

“Even law enforcement institutions, their very agents admit that these were no-go zones,” Corral Jurado, a member of the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional – PAN) said. He added that criminal groups had contacted him to maintain his predecessor’s non-aggression pact — a proposition he claims his administration rejected.

On the same day as Corral Jurado voiced these accusations, Proceso reported that a former Guerrero mayor, Francisco Tecuchillo Neri, was abducted from his home. And on October 6, a Michoacán mayor was also murdered, also according to Proceso. Stalin Sánchez González, mayor of Paracho, a municipality with an indigenous population located in the center-north of the state, was executed in front of his house by several men armed with AK-47s. Proceso noted that the town had seen confrontations in the past between local communities and the Knights Templar, who took control of the area.

According to a report produced by Mexico’s National Mayors Association (Asociación Nacional de Alcaldes – ANAC), 99 active and retired mayors were killed between 2006 and August 2017.

17-10-10-Mexico-Gov Graph 1

Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidencies combined saw more than 100 mayors killed (that includes ex-mayors and mayors who had been elected but were yet to take office).

17-10-10-Mex-Gov Graph 2

Most of these killings are concentrated in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz and Michoacán. The first three are known organized crime hotspots. As for Oaxaca, security consultant Jaime López told InSight Crime that the state concentrates around 25 percent of all Mexican municipalities and suffers from “violent hyper-local conflicts […] concerning land, vendettas, politics” and other “local power struggles” that could also explain the high number of mayors killed.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although it is unknown how many of the mayors’ murders are linked to organized crime, the total number points to increasing conflict and tensions in the interactions between local politicians and criminal actors. Targeting local authorities is a rational choice for criminal groups: it involves less risk than attacking federal politicians, while arguably better serving their criminal agenda.

The same is true for governors that are co-opted or coerced by organized crime, as the latest accusations against Duarte and numerous other ex-governors in Mexico show. From the governors’ perspective, some criminal groups yield such power and territorial control that negotiating may simply be the most pragmatic means of both political and physical survival, unless it is done for personal enrichment.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

As InSight Crime has previously reported, ties between local governments and organized crime were thrown up in the air by the fragmentation of Mexico’s political landscape and the end of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI) rule in 2000. The arrival of other political parties at both the state and federal level helped decentralize power and place more sway in the hands of governors. These changes and the plurality of interests across the country meant that new loyalties had to be agreed, and interests realigned, between politicians and organized crime. The lack of political consensus and loyalty to different parties can lead to greater conflicts between competing powers at a local level.

Unfortunately, shifts in political-criminal alliances regularly involve violence, a factor that is exacerbated by the increasing, parallel fragmentation of Mexico’s criminal landscape.

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