Yaqui for Borderland Beat
Candidate Abel Murrieta said he was serious about taking on crime. Hours later he was dead.
By: Jude Webber , May 22, 2021
It was a sunny afternoon in Ciudad Obregón, a town in northwestern Mexico. Abel Murrieta, running for mayor of the municipality of Cajeme, where the town is located, stood on a busy intersection by a shopping centre, clutching leaflets to canvas for votes in June 6 elections.
A man in a gray shirt and jeans walked up, took out a gun and pumped 10 bullets into the former state attorney general, including two to his head, before crossing the street again and escaping in a waiting car as Murrieta lay on the pavement. Footage from official security cameras aired on television showed leaflets scattered and blood soaking his white shirt.
Murrieta was the 32nd candidate murdered in the run-up to election day, when Mexicans nationwide will elect 500 federal lawmakers, 15 state governors and thousands of mayors and local officials.
Sonora Abel Murrieta Gutiérrez, former Attorney General and candidate of the Citizen Movement for mayor of Cajeme, was shot to death .
The politician was distributing flyers of his campaign in the center of Ciudad Obregón, the municipal seat of Cajeme, when he was intercepted by armed men who shot him.
He was taken in an ambulance to a local hospital, although minutes after the attack his death was confirmed.
Abel Murrieta Gutiérrez was Attorney General in the administration of the PRI member Eduardo Bours and a complaint was against him for the fire that occurred in the ABC Nursery on June 5, 2009. He was being investigated for his probable responsibility in the crimes committed against the justice administration by allegedly altering and disturbing the scene of the incident and obstructing the investigation.
Since January 2021, Murrieta served as one of the legal representatives of the LeBarón family for the investigations of the murder of 12 women and children, which occurred on November 4, 2019 in the Serrano municipality of Bavispe, in Sonora.
After learning of the event, Adrián LeBarón wrote on his Twitter account:
“They killed my lawyer Abel Murrieta. The one who has helped me so much to link the murderers of Rhonita and my family to the process. And now, who can defend us”.
Meanwhile: the FGE of the State of Sonora said “they were launching an Operation for those responsibles for the attack that deprived life from the Candidate Abel Murrieta Gutierrez.”
The politician resigned last March from the PRI, to join the Citizen Movement as a candidate for mayor of Cajeme, considered the fourth most violent municipality in Mexico , according to the report of the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, AC .
Since the election process began last September, 85 politicians have been murdered, including the 32 who had been running for office, according to Etellekt Consultores, which tracks campaign violence. That makes it the second bloodiest election on record, after the presidential vote in 2018.
According to Etellekt, most of the victims were candidates for mayor from parties in opposition to the incumbents in those states. Their deaths have laid bare the deep-rooted ties between organized crime groups and the local officials who protect them.
“If you confront them, you get harassed or killed,” said Rubén Salazar, Etellekt director. “This is Mexican democracy at the local level … No one can run for office without the permission of the mayor and the local crime boss.”
Murrieta appears to have been no exception. In a posthumously released election spot, he proclaimed he was “serious about taking on crime … I’m not afraid.” Hours later he had been shot dead, the apparent aggressor captured on an official street security camera in the state where López Obrador’s former security minister is running for governor.
The political murders have underlined the challenges facing President López Obrador’s “hugs not bullets” strategy against organized crime, his new militarized federal police force and his repeated promises to deliver peace in a country where violence has been soaring for 15 years and there are nearly 100 murders a day.
Violence, which has been spiraling since former president Felipe Calderón launched a catastrophic war on drugs in 2006, is Mexicans’ top electoral concern, dominating many races. A survey by El Financiero newspaper this month found two-thirds of people disagreed with López Obrador’s handling of the problem, with just 18% approving.
Since 2006, the number of homicides has more than tripled. The government claims it has now contained the rise, reporting a 4% drop in murders the first four months of this year compared with the same period last year.
But in April, there were 2,857 murders, 4% higher than in April 2020, as well as 77 femicides — the murder of women because of their gender — a 13% leap from the same month last year.
Homicides per month since 2015: Mexico’s murders hit an all-time high in 2019 with 34,682 homicides and 970 femicides. Last year was little better: 34,554 homicides and 977 femicides. So far this year, there have been 11,277 homicides and 318 femicides.
Ricardo Márquez Blas, a former security official, said that on a dozen occasions since López Obrador’s term began the number of homicides had surpassed 3,000 a month, including femicides, compared with just three in the previous 2012-2018 administration.
López Obrador, who took office in 2018, says he has taken a different tack by addressing the root causes of crime, offering young people jobs and scholarships instead of confronting cartels directly.
But critics say he, like past governments, has relied on the military instead of reforming state and local police forces in a country where officers earn around US $600 a month, and have to buy their own boots.
In a pointed criticism of Mexico’s strategy, former U.S. ambassador Christopher Landau said López Obrador had adopted a “pretty laissez-faire attitude” towards drug cartels despite estimates that they controlled “anywhere from 35 to 40% of the country.”
“He sees the cartels … as his Vietnam, which it has been for some of his predecessors, and so I think … he sees that as a distraction from focusing on his agenda,” he told an online seminar.
That recalled the “pax narca” — a tolerance for cartel activities provided they remained contained — that reigned while the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled Mexico in most of the 20th century.
“The president doesn’t want to take on “El Narco,” said Salazar, using the Mexican term for drug cartels.
He said López Obrador, who is widely considered to be seeking to replicate the PRI’s centralized power, “doesn’t understand” that the old cohabitation had been shattered as new parties disrupt cosy criminal partnerships and spark new ones.
“The president doesn’t want to recognize that there’s a very big problem of narco politics in the country that is advancing with gigantic steps,” Salazar said, as politics and crime mix at the local level.
Analysts say the climate of polarization is further inflamed by the president’s daily news conferences, where he delivers a barrage of criticisms against his political opponents and electoral authorities that he claims are biased.
“With all this polarization, far from delivering on his promises of peace, he is giving us a more convulsed country,” said Gema Kloppe-Santamaría, an expert on crime and violence at Loyola University in Chicago.
“López Obrador has polarized this election to the point of virtually declaring war on electoral institutions. My big worry is that what we’re seeing now won’t stop after June 6,” she said.
After condemning the murder of Abel Murrieta, the governor of Sonora, Claudia Pavlovich , made an energetic call to the Security Committee to redouble work and reinforce actions in the matter.
“I express my strongest condemnation of the attack that killed candidate Abel Murrieta, I report that we are working in collaboration with the State Attorney General’s Office to find those responsible.”
She said that Abel Murrieta was “a Sonoran with a deep love for Sonora, who always worked and served his land.”
“To the Security Table, I make an energetic call for all the security forces to redouble our work and reinforce actions to respond to what society demands of us, we must not allow this type of attack on democracy.”
476 attacks on candidates from September to April:
According to the indicator of political violence in Mexico by Etellekt consultants, from September 7 to April 30, 476 criminal acts were registered against politicians and candidates with a balance of 443 victims , 79 of them fatal, the process Election of the 2021 elections began in October 2020.
Of the 443 victims, 282 are applicants and candidates in this area, 41% are women.
The figure of 443 victims is equivalent to an increase of 64% compared to the same period of the 2017-2018 electoral process.
Threats are the crime that persists the most among male and female candidates throughout the country, since 174 have been registered in this period.
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