It’s no secret why so many Mexicans risk life and limb, exposing physical and financial predation just to cross the border into America. Hard to fathom as it may be in a vacuum, news out of Mexico of politicians and journalists being slain like cattle at unprecedented rates illuminates how dispensable a life in Mexico becomes when a cartel’s power is on the line.
Mexico’s drug plazas – gangs’ geographical areas of influence, otherwise known as turf – have become warzones where innocent bystanders are not cause to hesitate when squeezing the trigger. Not if, but when somebody with the courage or poor luck to run for political office falls on the wrong side of the cartels’ favor, their life will not be spared. They often won’t be given warning or an offer to resign.
The cartels’ M.O. is fear, and the message sent by a bullet-riddled body – or, more effectively, a pile of them – is more powerful than any bribe. While well-paying jobs, quality medicine, and peace of mind are in short supply throughout Mexico, plomo – lead – is not.
Generalities about cartel violence, while accurate, aren’t effective in portraying the hell which countless Mexicans live through daily. Politicians and journalists must go to work – if they can muster up the courage – knowing that they are being watched, and more than likely targeted, for a reason they may not even know.
This week, three Mexican political candidates were slain in a 24-hour period. In addition, six journalists have been murdered so far this year, deaths which will be tallied as Mexico remains on pace to break its annual high water mark for murders. Two groups, politicians who stand in the way of cartels and journalists who report on their crimes, subject themselves to the reality that they could be murdered at any time – morning or night – on any street corner, even in their own home.
In Mexico, drug-related violence tears the country apart. In most developed nations, the press would make their living covering the causes and tragic aftermath of such wanton gun slinging. In Mexico, journalists are expected to act as if cartels were no more real than Santa Claus.
This expectation will be adhered to, or lives will be lost, an indisputable reality which Miroslava Breach knew well, yet courageously defied. Until she was shot eight times as she sat in her car in front of her home on March 23, 2017.
‘Breach investigated links between drug traffickers and Mexican politicians in the state. Twenty days before she was murdered, she published a report denouncing how the two most important parties in Mexico, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN), presented candidates related to organized crime for mayor in several municipalities in the region.’ (Knight Center)
The drug trafficker arrested for her ordering Breach’s murder is Arturo Quintana, aka ‘El 80’. Breach had shed light in her reporting that Quintana’s mother-in-law would be a candidate for the PRI party, a fact which exposed the direct links between drug trafficking cartels and government throughout Mexico.
Two notes – one alongside Breach’s body and another aside the body of a man later murdered –explicitly stated that El 80 had been responsible for Breach’s killing. In a fashion that shows how deep corruption in Mexico runs, the letters were dismissed by authorities as distractions. But, when one man was arraigned on charges that he oversaw the execution, ordered by El 80, it became clear that El 80’s time would come.
And it has. But the violence, as always, commences. Voids left in the cartel hierarchy, either by arrest or death, are never left vacant for long.
Those three politicians killed in the span of one calendar day were all females. El 80’s case shows that no politician is without tangential connection to the cartels, whether by virtue of allegiance or simply the fact that they aren’t the candidate of the drug trafficker’s choosing. Maybe they are favored by one drug lord, but not the other.
It’s difficult not to see the murder of any politicians as likely tied to drugs, even in a nation where collateral damage seems nearly as prevalent as targeted killings.
‘Running for a position in Juchitan's council and as an Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) member, Pamela Teran Pineda, together with her driver and photographer, was shot dead at approximately 3:00 a.m. local time Saturday after leaving a restaurant in Colonia Centro.
The bodies of legislative candidate for Puebla Juana (Juany) Irais Maldonado, representing the Green Party Ecologists of Mexico (PVEM), and City Public Health, Environment and Education Councillor Erika Cazares were also found Saturday morning after the pair had completed a campaign visit to Jopala.’ (Telesur)
Each of the victims were left in possession of their valuables, ruling out robbery as the motive. Aside from Teran, whose father, Juan Teran, was once a member of the Juchitan Cartel, only a case of mistaken identity would serve as an alternate explanation for what appears to be politically-motivated homicide.
110 electoral candidates have been murdered since past September, making political office one of the most dangerous jobs in Mexico, along with law enforcement, drug running, and gang banging. Earlier this year, five were gunned down in the span of a week. With the cartels running out of means for power – they all have sicarios who all have guns and ammunition – they’ve graduated to political ambition.
And if their candidate doesn’t win at the ballot box or isn’t up for imminent election, the cartels will make room, whether that means wiping out potential candidates or ones who already reside in the mayor’s office.
‘On the morning of Jan. 2, a team of hired killers set off for the home of 33-year-old Gisela Mota, who only hours before had been sworn in as the first female mayor of Temixco, a sleepy spa town an hour from Mexico City.
She was in the bedroom, but most of her family was in the front room, cooing over a newborn baby. As the family prepared a milk bottle, the assassins smashed the door open. Amid the commotion, Ms. Mota came out of her bedroom and said firmly, “I am Gisela.” In front of her terrified family, the men beat Ms. Mota and shot her several times, killing her.’ (NY Times)
And, any journalists who dares report on the violence, let alone point out those responsible, faces the same consequences as those whose only crime was gaining the trust of the people, and being elected as a result.
‘Juan Carlos Huerta was shot dead on Tuesday morning as he drove away from his home in Villahermosa, the capital of southern Tabasco state.
The state governor Arturo Núñez said the killing was not a robbery and appeared to be related to Huerta’s work as a journalist. “They apparently went to execute him,” he said.’ (The Guardian)
Huerta – a television host and radio station director – was killed on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the murder of Javier Valdez, who was the editor of Ríodoce, a weekly newspaper published out of the particularly violent western Sinaloan state of Culiacán.
“The murder of Javier Valdez tells us that in Mexico the life of a journalist is completely worthless to those in power,” said Esteban Illades, editor of the Mexican magazine Nexos.
“Journalists are completely expendable: they are either a nuisance you can easily get rid of or someone to pay off, but never someone worth protecting,” added Illades, who knew Valdez and described him as “one of the good ones”. (The Guardian)
Criticism of a notoriously corrupt government is to be expected. But the cartels have proven willing to stop at nothing to gain an upper hand on similarly ruthless gangs, and fear is a powerful thing. Politicians who do not join the cartel running the plaza at the moment, as these stories show, risk their lives. Journalists who don’t accept the vow of allegiance or silence risk the same.
Eventually, power changes hands, and former allegiances serve as no protection. It’s a bloody cycle of criminal and political regime change with no end in sight. Politicians are gunned down in the streets, journalists are murdered without abandon, women and children are caught in the crossfire.
And, up north, some wonder why the immigration influx is as voluminous as it is. It’s no mystery. It’s the cartels, stupid.