Truce With Criminal Groups Pits Bishop Against Mexico Government

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The refusal of Mexico’s government to recognize agreements between a Catholic bishop and organized crime groups regarding electoral violence in the state of Guerrero has revealed a disconnect between official policy and the current reality on the ground in some remote areas of the country.

After more than two years of outreach, dialogues between Bishop Salvador Rangel and local organized crime leaders in Guerrero started to solidify in February. The religious leader was seeking to halt political violence that has left two priests dead this month.

In an interview with Spain’s El País, Rangel said he decided to open talks with the criminal groups to put an end to assassinations of political candidates.

“They promised me they would stop, that they would ensure a free election so it could be an election by the people,” he said.

The bishop reached the alleged truce with organized crime members on March 30, following the murders of 12 mayoral candidates in Guerrero in the past seven months. The state registered the highest number of homicides in Mexico in 2017, which went on record as the country’s most violent year in recent history.

Meanwhile, the Centro Católico Multimedial reports that during the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which began in 2012, 21 priests have been killed.

Rangel and the criminal groups reached their truce despite the Mexican government rejecting the idea.

“The Mexican government does not negotiate the enforcement of the law,” said a representative of the Interior Ministry in comments reported by Excelsior.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Mexican federal government has relied on deploying security forces and prosecuting high-level criminal actors to combat organized crime groups and bring them to justice. But at the local level, a lack of institutional capacity often hinders such actions.

Guerrero has suffered more violence than any other state leading up to the July 1 general elections, when Mexican citizens will vote not only for the president and members of congress, but also to fill more than 18,000 local and federal government positions.

In Mexico’s more remote states, the federal government’s go-to strategy has overlooked local criminal dynamics and how they relate to local actors like politicians and the Catholic Church, which may limit the effectiveness of the approach.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

But proposals for addressing the country’s growing violence have taken a back seat to other issues in the electoral debate, one of the few exceptions being seemingly off-the-cuff remarks from presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador regarding the possibility of granting amnesty to members of organized crime groups.

Rangel’s decision to enter into talks with criminal groups — despite calls not to do so from some sectors of the Catholic Church at the national level — also shows how the actions to end criminal violence taken by local institutions can face challenges even within those entities themselves.

As InSight Crime has reported, in Latin America, co-opting local power structures by controlling political posts and public works projects is already a well-established strategy criminal groups use to increase power and secure impunity, sometimes with violent results.

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