MEXICO & THE AMERICAS

Two candidates slain amid violence ahead of Mexico's June 7 elections

Two candidates shot dead about an hour apart amid a wave of electoral violence in Mexico

Two candidates in Mexico’s upcoming midterm elections were shot to death in different parts of the country amid a wave of violence and intimidation of candidates ahead of balloting next month.

Enrique Hernandez was in the middle of a campaign event in the town of Yurecuaro in Michoacan state when he was hit by shots from a moving vehicle Thursday about 8:10 p.m. He was running for mayor for the left-leaning Movement for National Regeneration, or Morena, party.

Less than an hour later, in the southeastern state of Tabasco, Hector Lopez Cruz, a candidate for local councilor for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was pumped with 16 bullets on his doorstep in the town of Mecatepec.

The assassinations come less than two weeks after Ulises Fabian Quiroz, a mayoral candidate for a coalition of the PRI and the Green Party, was slain in Atzacoaloya in the state of Guerrero.

Another aspiring candidate in Guerrero was killed and beheaded in March, and two others were kidnapped and then released.

Michoacan and Guerrero have seen intense levels of violence over the last two years. Territorial disputes involving warring drug gangs, conflicts between armed “self-defense” groups and an increase in the number of police and soldiers on the ground have contributed to growing tensions in the two states, parts of which are known as Tierra Caliente, or the Hotlands.

In September, 43 students from a local rural teachers school came under fire from local police in the Guerrero city of Iguala and were subsequently “disappeared.”

The approach of federal and state elections on June 7 has only turned up the heat in both states.

Miguel Sandoval, leader of the Michoacan branch of Hernandez’s Morena party, said in a radio interview after his colleague's slaying that the party had asked local authorities for protection during the campaign but were ignored.

“There is no peace in Michoacan,“ said Sandoval, who says dozens of other towns are under siege, ruled through fear by organized crime.

Speaking in a video interview late last year, Hernandez said: “I was pursued for months, they made attempts on my life because we rose up against organized crime, and the state was involved too because they were working together. … I was accused of crimes I didn’t commit for rebelling against organized crime and the government.”

Hernandez was the leader of the local branch of armed auto-defensas -- civilians who rose up against organized crime in the region. He was detained on suspicion of murder and spent three months in jail before being freed because of a lack of evidence.

Security analyst Alejandro Hope said the violence, although nothing new, is a sign of the control that organized criminal groups hope to achieve through the elections. They back the candidates loyal to their interests and get rid of their rivals.

“In states like Guerrero and Michoacan, the violence could reduce how many people vote, and even how people vote and the local results of the poll,” said Hope.

The capture in Michoacan in February of Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, who at the time was one of Mexico’s most-wanted fugitives, led to a fragmentation of the Knights Templar cartel that he headed and the creation of newer, smaller groups with conflicting interests.

Since 2008, 24 political candidates have been assassinated -- the majority of them in Guerrero -- and nine kidnapped during the run-up to elections in Mexico, according to the Integralia consulting firm.

Bonello is a special correspondent. Cecilia Sanchez of the Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

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