Guanajuato election campaigns kick off in a war zone

16 abril, 2021

Guanajuato’s electoral campaigns kick off, seemingly oblivious to the out of control criminal violence, homicides, and shootouts around the state

Originally published by POPLab, April 7, 2021

Translated by Dawn Marie Paley

Sergio was a minor, 17 years old. He was 5 feet, 2 inches tall. He had black hair, and a tattoo on his forearm. In the selfie, he’s wearing a blue cap, a blue t-shirt and a blue sweater.

All of these details appear in the Amber Alert notice, published and sent around on April 5th in the afternoon, after his disappearance in his hometown of Yuriria on Sunday, April 4th.

By then, the electoral process in the state of Guanajuato had already come to a boil. Dozens of mayoral candidates in 46 municipalities had started their campaigns. Their videos were all over social media: their photos in plazas, in the streets, raising their arms, repeated over and over again on digital platforms like WhatsApp; in press releases and elsewhere.

The starting gun had fired. Not for everyone, yet, not for those whose registration was denied, their slates conditioned to comply with the gender equality principle according to the resolutions of the general council of the Electoral Institute of Guanajuato (IEEG). But still, by then, the campaign had started.

A few hours after the start of campaign, Sergio was located. His lifeless body was terribly exhibited, abandoned in one of Yuriria’s streets where people walk pass constantly, on Tuesday morning.

The adolescent was one of 15 people killed in the state of Guanajuato on Tuesday, April 6th. With them, another 27 people lost their lives in the same way during the first 48 hours of electoral campaigns, of an activism interested in getting votes from a population hit hard by insecurity over the past months, over the past years.

The Amber Alert was deactivated after the teenager’s body was located.

Sergio’s name was added to the terrible list of minors assassinated in Guanajuato before him: in the month of March alone, there were 12 victims, according to the report on atrocities committed nationwide between January and March of this year organization Causa en Común… In that report, Guanajuato took the top spot.

While Sergio was disappeared and his family searched in Yuriria; candidates from the National Action Party (PAN) were at an event in Léon, the largest city in Guanajuato, echoing the words of their national leader, Marko Cortés. They were trying to convince the people (and Cortés, to convince himself) that insecurity wasn’t only a problem in Guanajuato, but in the whole country. They warned party members that the issue would be used by their political adversaries in the contest for votes.

Well, of course. The context for people from Guanajuato is one of constant attacks against businesses, police, people in their homes, as well as permanent conflicts between criminal groups, who demonstrate their presence in the state by blood and fire.

Lives destroyed

Monday April 5th was the first day of campaigns towards June 6th midterm elections. On that day alone, these were some of the fatal actions that took place in distinct parts of the state, where the campaign promises and propaganda of candidates on billboards and stickers competes with that of criminal groups who put messages on signs beside their victims and hang larger signs threatening those who are against them and the police forces.

Shootout in Irapuato. Photo: Courtesy.

In recent days, a handful of events point to the onset of a new attack against members of the State Public Security Forces (FSPE). 

In one of the worst attacks to date, two members of the state police were killed and two others wounded after they were attacked by armed civilians while outside a house in the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood of Irapuato.

Supposedly, the agents were guarding a police commander. The messages left in public spaces threatened the Tactical Team of the FSPE, and its commander.

That attack took place at 5am on Monday, April 5th. The Wednesday prior, another member of the same corporation was kidnapped and killed in Los Rodríguez in Silao.

Irapuato’s Emiliano Zapata neighborhood was the place where three FSPE patrol cars were supposedly guarding a house, when civilians in various trucks arrived and opened fire.

The standoff lasted more than half an hour, according to witnesses. Two of the agents died on the scene and two others were hospitalized.

In an official communiqué, the Guanajuato’s Secretary of Public Security (SSPE) said that the confrontation took place in the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood, and affirmed that it occurred while the FSPE agents were on patrol and “were attacked without reason by a group of armed civilians,” because of which they responded to the aggression.

“When the shooting ended, three of those assumed to be responsible were killed in the location of the attack, and there was air surveillance support to reinforce the police operation.”

The SSPE said that two long guns, bullet proof vests with the patch of a criminal group, and a reinforced grey SUV were found at the scene.

On this attack and other recent aggressions against FSPE agents, Guanajuato’s governor Diego Sinhue Rodíguez said it was “an attack on the work they do, they fall in the line of duty… These attacks are an attempt to intimidate police from doing their work.”

Without mentioning ‘the other fallen’ – minors, women, families, market vendors – the governor re-stated his confidence in state officials, who, he said, “are the second-most trusted police in all of Mexico.”

Diego Sinhue even spoke about the possibility of pushing forward, through the National Conference of Governors (CONAGO) or the Group of National Action Governors (GOAN) a legislative reform  that would allow police officers, especially commanders or members of special forces (like the tactical squad of the FSPE) to carry weapons on their days off.

“We know that this is difficult because the collective license of the army has some restrictions, but it is something we have to propose again, it’s an issue for the federal congress,” said Sinhue.

He also announced that in the coming days, the head of the National Electoral Institute in Guanajuato and the State Electoral Institute will participate in a state security roundtable to carry out an overview of the circumstances in which security will be provided to the candidates that request or require it, which will be overseen by Guanajuato’s government secretary Libia Denisse García Muñoz Ledo.

Also on Monday, just hours after the attack on the FSPE, María Antonia, a councillor from Roque, part of the city of Celaya, was killed inside the municipal offices. The killers entered the building, shot at her, and escaped without being detained.

She was the second municipal councillor in the region killed in less than five months.

Neighbours said the shootout between criminals and FSPE officers lasted half an hour.

Guanajuato City, the capital of the state of the same name, hasn’t been without sinister events. A house in the Pueblito de Rocha neighborhood was arsoned, after it was shot at. One version has it that a man –another member of the state forces– died on the scene, but that was not confirmed by the Attorney General’s office or by the state’s Security Secretariat.

Tuesday, April 6th. The second day of the electoral campaign. The feeling of fear throughout the day has become routine:

The city of Celaya awoke to dismembered bodies in different parts of the city.

At least two bodies were abandoned at dawn, in access roads to the west, near the Panamerican highway.

Another was found at the Motel Mónaco, on the Querétaro-Celaya highway, and another on the other side, in the entrance to Celaya, near the Pepsi roundabout.

Almost daily, since March 31st until this story went to press, the people of Celaya have been waking up to these scenes.

In the same city, a cyclist was killed as he made his way into the Los Mezquites subdivision.

In the Laja-Bajío region, three people were killed in an attack on a cachimba (truck stop) on the Panamerican highway in Apaseo el Alto. Among the victims were two women, presumably the owner and an employee.

The third victim was a trucker who was having a meal there.

In the evening, there was another woman killed, also in Apaseo el Alto. Residents of the El Rejalgar neighborhood told police they heard gunfire. They found her in the street, where she appeared to have been walking when she was killed.

In Yuriria, in addition to the teenager Sergio, there were three others killed in three different events.

A man was killed on Albores streets in the La Aldea neighborhood in the first minutes of the day. Around seven in the morning, two more men were killed on the road between the communities of Rancho Viejo and Casacuarán, in the same municipality.

In another part of the state, the city of León, three people were killed on Tuesday morning and afternoon; two in Loza de los Padres, their bodies left in plastic bags, it is said they were both women.

A little later, the third victim was killed in La Laborcita.

In León, seven people were violently killed between Monday and Tuesday.

In Salvatierra, a man was shot to death between Alhóndiga de Granaditas and Independencia street.

In addition, in Irapuato, a woman and her son were kidnapped, pulled from their home on San Cayetano de Luna street. The police arrived after receiving a notice of shots fired.

They found the door forced open and the house empty. 

The competition is fierce. Parties and candidates will campaign, immune to violence, as criminals remain deaf to any possibility of peace.

This report was originally Published in POPLab, which is part of the Media Alliance organized by Red de Periodistas de a PieYou can read it here.