Friday 15 June 2018

Violence and economic uncertainty are the big issues in Guanajuato

La politica es la politica has posted 32 articles - one for each state in Mexico, including Mexico City - in advance of the July 1, 2018, presidential election. For links to all 32 articles, scroll to the bottom of this post.

The Mexican state of Guanajuato is in the center of the country, with a population approaching six million. It’s a stronghold the center-right National Action Party (PAN), and is one of the eight states that is also electing a new governor on July 1. At present, the governor and two of three federal senators are members of the PAN. The third senator is a member of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is also the party of the sitting president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Guanajuato has been spared the corruption scandals that have plagued many states where governors have belonged to the PRI, but it has not been immune to the violence that has plagued the country. In the first four months of 2018, a resident of Guanajuato is murdered every three hours, with about eight people being killed every day.

Some of the killings, inevitably, represent attacks on police. On Friday, June 1, gunmen killed six traffic cops in La Gloria, a neighborhood in the city of Salamanca, Guanajuato. A motive is unknown, but at the time Governor Miguel Márquez was attending a meeting at a nearby military installation, purportedly discussing ways to improve security. Some observers are speculating that the seemingly random killing was intended to wound him politically.

So far in 2018, 34 police officers have been killed in Guanajuato. According to the Guanajuato Attorney General, a major source of the unrest is petroleum pipeline theft. Salamanca is the home to a refinery by state oil company Pemex, which is now under investigation for alleged fuel theft by company employees.

In response to the violence the government has included Guanajuato in its Titan Shield initiative, which is intended to stabilize those parts of the country that are in the greatest turmoil. Titan Shield, which relies heavily on the Marines, was implemented in Guanajuato in early March. The government claims that, as a result of Titan Shield, gang-related killings are down 61% in Apaseo el Grande, and 43% in Celaya.

Guanajuato has also not been unaffected by political violence leading up to the July 1 election cycle, which includes elections at the local level, including mayors. On Thursday, May 10, a candidate for mayor in Apaseo el Alto was shot dead along while out campaigning. José Remedios Aguirre, 34, was standing outside the town’s ecological park when he was killed.

Remedios Aguirre, who was the former head of security for the municipality, was running as part of Morena, the left-of-center coalition headed by leading presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Ricardo Sheffield Padilla, 52, the Morena candidate for governor, has said that he holds Governor Miguel Márquez responsible for the crime.        
As well, on March 22 ten gunmen showed up in several vehicles and opened fire in a bar and cockfighting ring in Purísima del Rincón. They killed eight people, including the father of the mayor, and wounded eleven others. This was clearly a targeted attack intended to kill as many people as possible.

The state Public Security Secretary, Álvar Cabeza de Vaca Appendini, told the Guanajuato Congress that the reason for the wave in violence was a dispute between two criminal gangs fighting over street-level drug sales as well the theft of fuel from Pemex pipelines. This has affected the press as well: Guanajuato had never had a journalist killed until 2015, when the journalist Gerardo Nieto Álvarez was murdered.

Security, therefore, is the number one issue in Guanajuato during this election cycle. Though politicians in Mexico are often slighted for their corruption, it must be acknowledged that many also risk their lives running for office, particularly if they refuse to be bought, or, as is sadly also sometimes the case, if are on the payroll of one criminal group and subsequently removed another. This may have been the case with Remedios Aguirre due to his previous role as the town security chief – it is difficult for low level security officials on contested “plazas” (territories) to avoid relationships with cartels. However, in a remarkable turn of events, within a week of Remedios Aguirre’s death his wife María del Carmen Ortíz announced that she would be running in his place.

There has been some good news for Guanajuato on the economic front. In April it was announced that Robert Bosch GmbH, a German engineering and electronics company, would invest US $120 million in a new manufacturing plant in Celaya. The facility is expected to begin production next year and employ 1,200 people. Overall last year Guanajuato recorded economic growth at, 4.58%, more than double the national average.

Unfortunately, Guanajuato is being negatively affected by President Donald Trump’s erratic behavior, and uncertainty over NAFTA and the possibility of auto tariffs. This year only one auto company, a German firm, has announced new investment in Guanajuato. In 2017 the state saw foreign investment of $1.7 billion, mostly in the automotive sector, which is expected to create over 14,000 jobs. However, a spokesperson for Mexico's Ministry of Economy has said that fewer international companies than usual are now visiting Guanajuato to explore business opportunities.

But economics aren’t driving this election. Like Colima and Baja California Sur, two states that have historically done well economically with low levels of violence, the spike in the murder rate in Guanajuato makes public security the dominant issue.

The state has four candidates for governor: Diego Rodríguez Vallejo, 37 (PAN); Felipe Arturo Camarena García, 62 (PVEM – Green Party); Gerardo Sánchez García, 57, PRI; and the aforementioned Ricardo Sheffield Padilla, 52 (Morena).

Given past voting patterns, Rodríguez Vallejo of the PAN should be a shoe-in for governor. The people of Guanajuato are inclined to take a more conservative, law and order approach, and the PAN offers that. But Sheffield Padilla is an interesting candidate, in that he has made the shift from PAN to be the candidate for the left-of-center Morena. He is more experienced, and Harvard educated, which impresses conservatives in Mexico.

Gerardo Sánchez García of the PRI doesn’t have a chance, not should he. The PRI are behind the candidacy of Felipe Arturo Camarena García of the PVEM (Green), which is a fraudulent law-and-order party that has very little to do with what one might identify as typical “green” policies. Their television and online advertisements don’t even mention the environment – instead they highlight capital punishment for murderers and kidnappers. The PRI cynically floats PVEM candidates when it want to pull disgruntled votes from the PAN. If anything, one hopes that by weakening the PAN candidacy of Rodríguez Vallejo the strategy might put Sheffield Padilla over the top.

At the federal level most votes will go to Ricardo Anaya (PAN-PRD), a ruthless and whip-smart country-club kid who appeals to business interests and, to some extent, the middle class. The PRI candidate José Antonio Meade is smart and accomplished, but the PRI is toxic in this election, and he’ll fare poorly.

As for presidential front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), he may do better than expected – it will all depend on whether the electorate believes he can improve the security situation. He has taken a softer tone than the other candidates, but that may not be what people in Guanajuato want to hear, particularly given the recent success of Titan Shield.

One factor to consider: Mexican presidents are elected to six year terms. This is a longer bet than in most countries. And in that context, AMLO’s argument that nothing can be done to address violence as long as the country is run by a corrupt mafia – to which he has connected Anaya and Meade – might resonate with even a more conservative voter.

Below are the links to the posts for each state: 

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