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Mexico’s 2024 Election Could Spark Violent Criminal Realignments

Mexico’s increasingly diverse and horizontally integrated criminal landscape could enter a period of violent upheaval during the 2024 election.

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Mexico’s increasingly diverse and horizontally integrated criminal landscape could enter a period of violent upheaval in the wake of political shifts following federal elections set for June 2024, according to a forthcoming report.

The stakes of this year’s election are high. Voters will not just be selecting a new president, but also all 500 members of congress, all 128 senators, plus several governorships and state-level legislative seats. Those elected to the legislature will also be the first to be allowed to run for re-election in future elections.

Graphic courtesy of Rice University’s Baker Institute

Mexico’s criminal groups have often resorted to targeted violence to secure political capital and protect their operations.

“Violence will be highest where incumbent candidates are weaker and likely to be unseated, since shifts in political party power interrupt existing political-criminal agreements,” according to the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University’s Mexico Country Outlook report for 2024.

In particular, the report suggested that recent high-profile arrests of members of the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) at the end of 2023 may cause flare-ups in violence, as competing groups try to seize upon their perceived vulnerability.

After Arrests, Extraditions, and Infighting, What Does the Future Hold for Mexico’s Chapitos?

However, both groups are still expected to dominate Mexico’s criminal map, perhaps aided by strategic displays of political violence. Throughout this election cycle, the report predicted that “political assassinations and threats against candidates to make them pull out of elections, which we saw in 2018, will rise.”

The Sinaloa Cartel, CJNG, and many of the hundreds of criminal groups operating in the country will be aided by continued profits from synthetic drug trafficking and migratory flows, which the report’s authors predict will remain stable or even rise, further fueling violence.

InSight Crime Analysis

Shifts in political power are often accompanied by violence as organized crime groups and elected officials broker new working arrangements, but the nature of Mexico’s criminal landscape today suggests this type of reconfiguration may be particularly brutal in 2024.

“The new structure of organized crime in Mexico and the multiplicity of activities that they’re engaged in makes it more likely that there will be serious political violence with a great degree of impunity,” Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute, told InSight Crime.

There is a long history of political violence in Mexico. Between 2018 and 2022, a study from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded more than 1,000 violent incidents directed at local government officials. In just the first two weeks of 2024, several candidates have already been killed, including a candidate for municipal president in Chiapas and an aspiring mayoral candidate in Colima.

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But organized crime in Mexico has undergone a profound transformation in recent years. The criminal landscape has morphed from a series of hierarchical organizations with a top-down structure to more horizontally integrated networks that manage multiple cells operating across the country, according to Payan.

“When you attack a particular cell, that cell can reconstitute itself very, very quickly or be occupied by an adjacent cell,” he added.

The multitude of criminal cells present throughout Mexico each have their own political interests and are now also engaged in a much wider array of crimes. This extends beyond drug trafficking to include extortion, fuel theft, and kidnappings for ransom, which are now mainstays for many organized crime groups.

However, one dynamic has provided a boom in revenues and given increased financial stability to a growing number of these groups: migration. Mexican criminal groups are now more involved in migrant smuggling and profiting off migratory flows through extortion and kidnapping than arguably ever before.

Government corruption is essential for any of these crimes. Targeting political candidates this election cycle would help crime groups ensure they have the official cover needed to operate unimpeded.

“Anything that adds resources to criminal groups, anything that adds to their ability to buy firepower, certainly feeds their willingness and potential desire to harm candidates,” Payan told InSight Crime.

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