By a stroke of luck, Guillermo Valencia, candidate for mayor of the western part of Mexico, decided at the last minute to go with a friend to watch on television the boxing match of his compatriot Saúl ‘Canelo’ Álvarez and thanks to that he got rid of the shooting that his team suffered in one more expression of the violence that hits the process Mexican election that has claimed the lives of 35 politicians.

After the attack on his truck, which received 37 gunshot wounds and left his bodyguard and his secretary wounded, Valencia – a candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for mayor of Morelia, capital of the western state of Michoacán – changed his routine of life and now he moves in an armored vehicle and uses a bulletproof vest to go to public events.

The case of Valencia is added to more than four hundred attacks and threats against candidates that have been reported since last September to date, according to records of the private communication and risk management consultancy Etellekt Consultores, which has made the intermediate election of the 6th of June in one of the most violent in the recent history of Mexico, surpassed by the 2018 vote when more than a hundred homicides of politicians were reported.

The June elections, the largest in the history of Mexico and in which more than 150,000 candidates participate, will be crucial for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in his plan to ensure control of Congress in the three years remaining in his term. The consultation will vote to renew the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 15 of the 32 governors, 1,063 state councils and 1,926 city councils.

The multiplication of attacks have led at least 18 candidates and candidates to abandon the electoral contest and even some to change their residence to avoid the fate of former attorney Abel Murrieta, candidate for the northern mayor of Cajeme, Sonora state, and of Alma Barragán, candidate for mayor of the central city of Moroleón, Guanajuato state, who were shot dead on May 13 and 27, and more recently Cipriano Villanueva, candidate for first councilor of the southern municipality of Acapetahua, Chiapas state , who died this Friday as a result of several shots fired by unknown persons who were traveling on a motorcycle.

The growing violence has unleashed a wave of criticism from the main opposition forces and local organizations against the plan that López Obrador launched in March to protect the candidates. Some analysts warn that the violence could encourage abstention, the control of criminal groups over the decisions of the candidates and that they reach political power linked to illicit activities.

However, the Mexican president has defended his policies by ensuring that the candidates are permanently paid attention and action is taken to punish those responsible, although he admitted, as a result of Murrieta’s murder, that “he may be responsible but not guilty.”

A few days before the elections, López Obrador urged Mexicans to go out and vote and not let criminal groups scare them. “When there is abstention, those of the mafia dominate the elections, be it the organized crime mafia, as it is called, or the white collar crime,” he added.

Protected by some nine bodyguards assigned to him by the federal government, some of them armed with pistols and a Galil rifle, Valencia, a 40-year-old former local congressman and former mayor, is now mobilizing through the streets of Morelia in an armored truck that lent him a friend, and is always escorted by another vehicle in which the security personnel travel.

The mayoral candidate Guillermo Valencia.

The mayoral candidate Guillermo Valencia.

A couple of years ago the federal government sent escorts to the candidate after receiving threats for the work he does in his civil organization “Social Revolution”, which is dedicated to supporting the inhabitants of Morelia who are victims of crime, one of the the problems that plague the more than 800,000 inhabitants of the beautiful and old town, nestled within a great valley, which is usually visited by miles of tourists attracted by the many historical monuments that are in the city.

The politician said that after the incident he travels alone in the van, accompanied only by a driver, because some of his collaborators are now afraid. “I smell like gunpowder. Who is going to want to hang out with me? He added.

Fears that he will be attacked again are always latent and are especially exacerbated when he attends public events announced in advance as part of his campaign agenda. That is why shortly before heading to a rally in the popular Colinas del Sur neighborhood, the burly candidate, 1.93 meters tall, stops at a relative’s house to put on a bulletproof vest.

“There is a job that was left unfinished and they will find a way to finish it… maybe in one of those someone that I smile at and give him a hug, take out a gun and shoot me because there are many people who do it. In Mexico life is worth nothing. They kill to kill and even more so if they give them money, “he commented.

In relation to the attack, the Michoacán Attorney General’s Office announced on Friday that two men were arrested and the investigation is still open to capture the material and intellectual authors of the incident.

Valencia shows that thanks to information provided by members of “Social Revolution” he learned that a man identified as Ernesto Medina Ramírez, an alleged member of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, could be one of the alleged gunmen who participated in the incident.

A bodyguard assigned by the government to mayoral candidate Guillermo Valencia remains on guard during one of the PRI candidate's campaign stops in Morelia, Michoacán state, Mexico.

A bodyguard assigned by the government to mayoral candidate Guillermo Valencia remains on guard during one of the PRI candidate’s campaign stops in Morelia, Michoacán state, Mexico.

Valencia said he did not know what motivations the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel could have for attacking him and ruled out that the fact had any relation to the situation he experienced in 2014, when he also faced threats and was dismissed from the presidency of the municipality of his native Tepalcatepec, in the state of Michoacán, for being absent from the town hall, a decision that was made after being accused of having ties to the “Los Caballeros Templarios” cartel.

“Time showed that I never had anything to do with these people. So much so that the years passed and I continued my quiet life fighting for the rights of the victims, “he said.

In the opinion of Francisco Rivas, general director of the National Citizen Observatory —which follows the crime incidence in Mexico—, the violence that has been seen in this electoral process is a consequence of the “absence of security policies” and the “inability of the government federal to generate some type of possible solution, (and) to provide sufficient resources to the police or the states”.

According to figures from the Secretariat of Security, during this electoral process 398 cases of politicians have been attended, of which 148 have ended in investigation processes and they have been offered protection. Of the total number of cases, 187 corresponded to threats, 101 to assaults, 11 temporary deprivation of liberty, and 13 homicides.

Regarding the consequences of attacks against politicians, Rivas said that criminals use violence as a “control mechanism” to influence the electoral result. “That means from demotivating citizens so that they will not vote to controlling the candidates’ decisions.”

Likewise, María Elena Morera, director of the local group Causa en Común, which defends rights and freedoms, indicated that violence “deprives people of the possibility of freely electing their representatives” and encourages “figures to come to power who they are linked to illegal activities”.

Since the day of the attack, Valencia assures that every morning when leaving his apartment he must fill himself with a lot of strength to say goodbye to his wife and daughters, aged seven and two, because he fears that it will be the last time he will hug them. “It’s complicated and sometimes it takes even work to say goodbye, because I don’t know if I’m going to come back.”

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