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Mexico Faces Unprecedented Wave Of Political Violence Ahead Of Elections


And let's turn now to Mexico, where this Sunday voters will go to the polls to pick a record number of new lawmakers. They'll be voting on everything from a new president to hundreds of Congress members, state legislators and local mayors. This election will go down as being incredibly violent. One-hundred-thirty politicians and campaign workers have been murdered in the run-up to this weekend's vote. That is since last fall. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Green Party candidate Fatima Taboada says the calls started coming even before she officially entered the race for mayor of her town in the central state of Puebla.

FATIMA TABOADA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They would call and say, you should be very careful if you enter the race. You're about to get into a lot of trouble." Taboada says she leaned in anyway. Now her campaign posters and banners are regularly shredded and stolen.

TABOADA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "So now I have to be out there every day and tell everyone I'm not quitting. I'm here to stay," she says as she walks with campaign supporters through one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in her district.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Taboada is one of the lucky ones, though. One-hundred-thirty political workers have been murdered since campaigning began last September. Forty-eight were registered candidates. Taboada now has a full-time bodyguard provided by the state of Puebla.

TABOADA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She says there's always someone guarding her. But I say, I don't see any uniformed police around.

TABOADA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She assures me there's a plainclothes cop among us, that he's with her from the moment she wakes up until she's back in bed at night. Candidates from every political party have been hit by the violence in multiple states and at a dizzying pace, especially as the election draws close.

HECTOR DIAZ SANTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We believe this is one of the most troubling aspects of this election to the citizenry," says Hector Diaz Santana. He heads Mexico's attorney general's special prosecutor's office for electoral crimes.

DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "There is no room for violence in Mexico's democratization process," insists Diaz. He says police around the country are providing protection for candidates, but the killings continue. Candidates have been murdered by commando groups, others shot by lone gunman. One female candidate was shot at close range in a bus crowded with passengers, another killed as he took a selfie with a supporter after a political debate. Ruben Salazar of the security consulting firm Etelleckt says many of the murders appear to be organized crime hits.

RUBEN SALAZAR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: But he says not just by drug trafficking organizations. There are many other crime groups controlling towns throughout Mexico, including powerful political families unwilling to give up their power. Salazar says the majority of the murders are taking place in small towns where the rule of law is non-existent and impunity rampant. Take the recent murders in Michoacan state. In one case, authorities arrested the entire 28-man police force of Ocampo implicated in the murder of a mayoral candidate there. And in another town, Taretan, officials say a candidate there was killed for missing an extortion payment from a well-connected group. Michoacan's attorney general, Jose Martin Godoy, says all of the murderers will be brought to justice.


JOSE MARTIN GODOY: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The enemies of democracy will feel the full weight of the law," he told reporters this week. Senate candidate Lilly Tellez in the northern state of Sonora is not convinced. She's been asking for protection for weeks since receiving a threat on Twitter. None has been provided.

LILLY TELLEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I have to take precautions myself," she says. "I leave events as soon as they are over and don't spend any time lingering or taking photos with voters." Tellez, a former reporter, survived an attack on her life before. She says God got her through that one, and she's sure he'll see her through to the end of this bloody electoral campaign, too. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.


Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.