Assassination of Mexican Candidate Highlights Deepening Crisis Ahead of Election

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Video of the assassination of Mexican mayoral candidate Alfredo Cabrera has shocked America. But that murder on Wednesday was only one of many. Some 30 political candidates have been murdered during the current election campaign, ahead of Sunday’s polls. Mexico’s democracy is held hostage at the intersection of rampant criminality and vast corruption.

America bears significant responsibility for this. Without America’s illegal drug market, cartels would lack the financial incentive to buy off or shoot police officers, politicians, and each other.

But the main reason Mexico is a de facto failed state is something other than American drug use. It is the sustained failure of Mexico’s political class to go after criminal gangs of all stripes. Portents for the immediate future are not good. The favorite to replace Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Claudia Sheinbaum, has promised to keep his broken policies if elected. That means more of Obrador’s absurd “Hugs not Bullets” strategy to address rampant violent crime.

The failure of “Hugs not Bullets” is not in doubt. It has multiplied murder and other violence. After 5 1/2 years, violence is still soaring, with more than 30,000 people murdered in 2023 alone. Obrador’s policy of appeasing criminals has centered on expansive social welfare spending supposedly to persuade young men to avoid lucrative cartel service. But the spending has done nothing but fuel endemic corruption. Politicians trade contracts for bribes.

Obrador is comfortable with this. He has defended top officials indicted by the United States for drug trafficking. There is evidence that Obrador has received cartel payoffs. He certainly enjoys intimidating journalists who draw attention to corruption. The cartels continue to make vast sums of money, killing anyone who refuses to be bribed.

There is an example nearby of a better way of doing things. El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele is using force. Some people criticize his anti-gang policies as authoritarian, but the good results are clear. El Salvador’s murder rate has collapsed, and voter reaction has been resoundingly positive. Bukele was reelected by a landslide this year.

There’s less hope for Mexicans. Mexico’s democracy is vulnerable this election. If Sheinbaum’s Morena party secures a legislative supermajority, she will push plans to amend the constitution. Polls suggest a supermajority is unlikely, but it cannot be ruled out. Of particular concern is her proposal to have judges, including those on the Supreme Court, elected by popular vote. Considering the cartels’ vast influence, it should be obvious that politicizing the judiciary is a recipe for disaster.

Sheinbaum doesn’t seem to care much about this. She has pledged to maintain close relations with Cuba’s dictatorship and seems set to adopt the same approach toward Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro and China. She shares Obrador’s authoritarian tendencies.

All of this is bad for Americans, as the southern border is wide open because of President Joe Biden’s willful impotence in dealing with vast migrant flows. With Sheinbaum, the U.S. is likely to continue to suffer from the rampant infiltration of drugs and migrants across the border.

But Sheinbaum should also take care. If former President Donald Trump returns to the White House next January, he is likely to be less tolerant toward Mexico’s double-dealing. Whether by tariffs or other executive policy levers, he will probably extract Mexico’s support for border security. If the cartels continue to spread havoc, Trump may act unilaterally against them, with or without Sheinbaum’s support.

Mexico’s democratic future is on the line. Sheinbaum doesn’t look like any kind of savior.

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