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Two mayoral hopefuls of a Mexican city are shot dead within hours of each other


MARAVATIO, Mexico (AP) — Two mayoral hopefuls in the Mexican city of Maravatio have been gunned down within hours of each other, as experts warn the June 2 national elections could be the country's most violent on record.

The widening control of drug cartels in Mexico has been described as a threat. During the last nationwide election in 2021, about three dozen candidates were killed.

The campaigns haven’t even started yet. They formally begin on Friday.

On Tuesday, this farming town, where most of the men wear boots and big belt buckles, was in a state of wary shock following the previous day’s killings. Dozens of state police were visible around city hall.

Talking about gynecologist Miguel Ángel Zavala, one of the murdered aspiring candidates, Maravatio resident and homemaker Carmen Luna said the crime was shocking and incomprehensible. “The way I see it, there's no explanation for killing a person ... it might have been a power struggle between them.”

Luna was one of Zavala's patients, and she ruled out any potential personal motive in his killing. “He was one of the best" doctors in town, she said. “He took care of me and was very good. He was very friendly.”

While she hasn't voted in years — “whether it's one or the other, everything stays the same” — Luna said the killings left people “angry and feeling powerless, because if the government doesn't do anything, you can't do anything.”

State prosecutors said Tuesday that Armando Pérez was found shot to death in his car in Maravatio just before midnight. He was the mayoral candidate for the conservative National Action Party.

“This illustrates the extremely serious level of violence and lack of safety that prevails ahead of the most important elections in Mexican history,” National Action's leader, Marko Cortés, wrote on social media.

Hours earlier, officials with the ruling Morena party confirmed their mayoral hopeful, Zavala, was found shot to death Monday in his car.

The Morena party state committee said in a statement that the killing of Zavala was “a cowardly and reprehensible act.” The head of the Morena party in Michoacan, Juan Pablo Celis, said Zavala had announced his intention to run but had not yet been designated as the party's candidate.

Another Morena mayoral hopeful was killed last year.

Retiree Catalina Padilla was busy packing charity packages at the local Catholic Church’s food bank. She said the city had started getting violent around 2019.

“Before, we would go out at night, but now if there isn't a reason to go out, you don't,” Padilla said. She said Dagoberto García, the local Morena leader, was the other hopeful who initially disappeared last October until his shot and decomposed body was found in a rural area in November.

“It could be that they don't want anyone from Morena,” she said, suggesting that killing Pérez, of the conservative PAN, was maybe a way to make it appear that the killings were not directed at one party.

The western state of Michoacan has been particularly hard hit by gang turf wars, with the Jalisco New Generation cartel fighting a local gang, the Viagras, for control.

The watchdog group Civic Data said in a January report on political violence that “2023 was the most violent year in our database. And everything suggests that 2024 will be worse.”

Mayoral, state and federal elections are increasingly synchronized on one election day. “It is likely that the biggest elections in history will also suffer the biggest attacks from organized crime,” Civic Data said.

Michoacan had the fifth-highest number of attacks on politicians and government officials in 2023, behind Guerrero state to the south and Guanajuato to the north. Zacatecas and Veracruz also had a higher number of attacks.

Civic Data said five people intending to run for office were killed in Mexico in January.

In a report published earlier this month, Integralia Consultants wrote that “organized crime will intervene like never before in local elections in 2024” because more mayor’s offices are at stake, more cartels are engaged in turf wars and cartels have expanded their business model far beyond drugs.

Cartels make much of their money extorting protection payments from local businesses and even local governments. That’s why mayoral races are more important to them than national elections and often become violent.


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