As we celebrate our Independence Day in true American fashion, with barbecues, friends and family, and fireworks, it's easy to forget that there are other major world events going on in places where the Fourth of July isn't a big deal. Today, Mexico has its own big deal - elections across the country where people will be voting for a dozen governors and several dozen municipal officials. Sadly, DTO violence and intimidation has escalated in the weeks leading up to today, claiming the lives of one gubernatorial candidate and several other municipal politicians, not to mention the cadre of hopefuls who have received death threats.
I have a few things I'd like to reflect on. First, I think it's a bad omen than Mexican DTOs are in the business of attempting to influence elections. It's bad enough that so many government officials are already in the pockets of the DTOs. But killing candidates and threatening to kill others is one more step towards a very slippery slope that leads to an erosion of the fundamental elements of democracy. News reports from both Mexico and the US are telling us that fewer people than ever are registering to vote and more people than ever are avoiding the polls because they're afraid of being attacked while waiting in line to cast their ballots. I can't help but think back to Iraq's first election after the removal of Saddam Hussein, when the Iraqi people were so proud to go on TV and show off their inked fingers, announcing to the world the privilege they just experienced. My family comes from a communist country, and we vote in every level of election because we know - either from personal experience or learning about it from older relatives - that many people in this world don't have that right.
The Mexican people have had the right to vote for a long time, but many feel it's being taken away from them; not by the government, but by organized crime groups who are increasingly exhibiting the characteristics of insurgencies and terrorist groups around the world. The fact that election outcomes in Mexico can be - and likely will be - affected by threats and intimidation of both candidates and voters is a very disturbing development in both the drug war and Mexican history as a whole.
My next thoughts turn to the eventual outcome of said elections. Many observers feel that the PRI - the longstanding and long-corrupt political party that has dominated Mexico for so many decades - is poised to make a huge comeback today. They already made significant gains in the Mexican congress during elections last year. My concern over a return to PRI dominance in the legislature, if not the presidency, is a return to a political way of thinking that benefits the DTOs. During the PRI's hegemonic rule from 1929 through Vicente Fox's election in 2000, they had a nasty reputation for mostly being on the DTOs' payroll and looking the other way when it came to drug trafficking. This meant that life in Mexico was considerably more peaceful than it is now, but it also allowed DTOs to grow into the monsters that they've become.
And maybe the Mexican people want that. Maybe they're just so tired of the shootings and beheadings and grenade attacks that they're ready to accept a political solution that is morally compromised. Many Latin Americans in general don't care who's in charge as long as their lives are relatively stable, and maybe most Mexicans will put the PRI back in charge because they feel the PRI can provide that stability. But at what ultimate cost? This is all just speculation, of course. It could be as simple as the PAN and PRD candidates not coming across as able to get the job done, or past PAN and PRD officeholders just being completely incompetent. But to combine increased voter fear with reduced voter turnout and a likelihood of PRI election dominance...that's a bit too much for me to view as mere coincidence.
So today I'll be enjoying the Fourth of July holiday with my family and will be trying to stay away from my laptop and any news or Twitter updates about the elections in Mexico. There will be plenty of time tomorrow to get back into the grisly business of reading about the results, the turnout, the violence, and trying to make sense of it all.