May 7, 2018

The Alemán Affair: Violence Stalks the Mexican Elections


The Alemán Affair: Violence Stalks the Mexican Elections
Kent Paterson/The Digie Zone
Ricardo Aleman / publicity photo
This Cinco de Mayo tweet by Mexican journalist Ricardo Alemán insinuating that presidential frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the left-leaning Morena party could be assassinated created an uproar in Mexican media and on social media outlets:
"A fan killed John Lennon. A fan killed Versace. A fan killed Selena. Let's see when, lefties."  
Although Alemán quickly erased the tweet and rendered an apology, arguing in a video posted on his Twitter account that his statement had been misinterpreted and distorted, a torrent of outrage poured forth, the communicator lost two jobs and wound up in a heap of political and legal trouble.
Personalities from across the Mexican political spectrum, including López Obrador campaign chief Tatiana Clouthier, independent presidential candidate Margarita Zavala, former election crimes special prosecutor Santiago Nieto, historians Enrique Krauze and Lorenzo Meyer, and many others condemned Aleman's words.
In the bigger scheme of things, the Alemán Affair brought back to the fore existing tensions and deep-seated anxieties shadowing the 2018 election campaign. And with good reason. Since last fall, when the electoral process unfolded, scores of political aspirants, primary candidates, sitting office holders, political activists and family members have been murdered across the country.
Cited by the Spanish news agency EFE, a recent report by the private security consulting firm Etelleket chalked up 173 aggressions against politically-associated individuals between September 8 of last year and April 8 of this year, plus aggressions against 30 family members. The casualty list included 77 murders, a number representing a sharp increase from the 2015 mid-term elections when 70 aggressions (including 21 murders) were counted by Etellekt.
Recent violence directed against politically active individuals and/or family members has occurred in many regions of Mexico, but is most marked in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz and Mexico, according to Etelleket
While Etelleket's findings bore the quality of a loud wake up call, politically tainted violence has only increased since the report was released and got widespread media attention.
A review of Mexican media accounts tallies 13 additional relevant slayings since April 8, boosting the murder roll to 90.
A sampling of recent murder victims include Maribel Barrajas, 25-year-old Mexican Green Party candidate for the Michoacan state legislature; Ricardo Bravo, municipal Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) leader in Eduardo Neri, Guerrero; Chihuahua PRD activist Juan Carlos Gutiérrez ; Alejandro González, mayor of Pacula, Hidalgo; Addiel Zermann, Social Encounter Party (PES) candidate for Tenango del Aire, Mexico state; and Manuel Fuentes Torruco, a 66-year-old cousin of Eduardo Fuentes, the legal substitute mayor of Cardenas, Tabasco, who is immersed in a conflict over the political position. Last month, one of Eduardo Fuentes' daughters reportedly warned of violent threats against her family. 
On Sunday, May 6, the bullet-ridden body of Eduardo Aragón Caraveo, Chihuahua City leader of the PES who went missing May 4, was recovered in the trunk of his vehicle. The PES is one of three parties that form López Obrador's Together We Will Make History electoral coalition.
In a separate May 6 attack, an estimated 250-300 gunmen descended on the community of Ignacio Zaragoza, Chihuahua, leaving in their wake at least four dead, including PRD city council candidate and campaign coordinator Liliana Garcia who was kidnapped and then murdered.  
According to El Diario de Juarez, gunmen also burned properties belonging to PRD politician Felipe Mendoza and Octavio Chaparro, head of the PRD in Ignacio Zaragoza.
Posted on the Ciudad Juarez website Arrobajuarez.com, a statement from Chihuahua Morena party leader Martín Chaparro strongly condemned the latest bouts of Chihuahua violence. Chaparro reminded the public that the municipal treasurer of Ignacio Zaragoza, Guadalupe Payan, was kidnapped and murdered just last March.
Violence, he affirmed had "reached all spheres," necessitating an urgent "security strategy that guaranteed citizens the right to go out and freely vote without pressures on July 1."    
By Monday, May 7, the Chihuahua PRD was calling for the suspension of the elections in Ignacio Zaragoza. 
The Geography of Election Year Violence
Until now, the bulk of the violence has occurred in state or municipal political environments where numerous posts are also up for election in 2018. Though exact motives remain a mystery in the vast majority of the killings, different news accounts mention ongoing criminal conflicts, underworld power struggles and coveted political transitions as the backdrop.
In Guerrero and Chihuahua, for instance, violent disputes between drug gangs frame the local context, while in Puebla, Verarcuz and Higaldo, the activities of so-called huachicoleros, or highly organized bands of thieves who rob gasoline from Pemex pipelines for a brisk black market, stand as important factors.
In Guerrero, crime and violence are likewise raising serious concerns among staff and representatives of the National Electoral Institute (INE), the official agency charged with organizing the July 1 elections. At an INE session in the state capital of Chilpancingo last week, INE personnel denounced that their trainers had suffered robberies of cell phones and money, warnings to not walk streets at certain hours and other incidences of intimidation. In one case, an INE staffer was trapped during a military operation to free a kidnap victim.  Mostly, the incidents occurred in Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and Tlapa.
In previous years, INE staff had as always endured sun exposure, dehydration and dog bites in the course of their work, but a "climate of insecurity and violence" was complicating the institute's mission in 2018, INE official Analid Mier was quoted in the Guerrero daily El Sur.
The newspaper also reported that at least 17 state legislative hopefuls had withdrawn from the race, including Silvia Rivera, a current federal congresswoman from President Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) who had defected to López Obrador’s camp but ended up dropping her pursuit of a new political office because of threats.
For his part, INE chief Lorenzo Cordova downplayed the impact of violence on successful completion of the 2018 political cycle. Quoted in Aristegui Noticias, Cordova condemned violent acts, but assured that the electoral process "was going well, on time and advancing along." 
Meanwhile, as the political storm over Ricardo Alemán's tweet hit full blast, the Mexican television networks Televisa and Channel 11 dropped the journalist from their programming. 
"I don't agree with it but I respect it," Alemán said in another tweet. "Every company has the right to contract whoever suits their interests. Lynching and the demand for censorship won! The democrats of Morena!"
But others had a far different view of the nature of an episode that's tested the limits and balances between freedom of speech, journalistic professional responsibility and political sensibility in an already charged electoral atmosphere.
Ricardo Peralta, who is mentioned as a possible anti-corruption chief in a López Obrador government if the candidate is elected president, announced he would file legal charges with the Office of the Federal Attorney General against Alemán, for the alleged offense of crime apology.
Peralta was quoted in El Universal justifying legal action not as a personal vendetta against Alemán, but as an effort to establish a precedent against the “irresponsible use of the communications media, and in this instance, a social media network by those considered opinion leaders who can’t incite hate and violence.” 
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Author-journalist Kent Paterson is an expert on Mexican politics.