By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
He’s young, intelligent, forward-thinking, good-looking, charismatic, firmly focused on economic development and – if recent political polls are to be believed – has a 20-point lead in the polls to become the next governor of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato.
But while Diego Sinhué Rodríguez has at least 10 years of political experience under his belt – having served both as a federal deputy in Mexico’s Congress representing Guanajuato and that state’s secretary of social and human development – and a clear vision of how to boost his state’s financial growth, the dyed-in-the-wool PANista (he became a card-toting member of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, in 2005 at age 24), if he does become governor, he is going to have to deal with a lot more than the political corruption and economic challenges he has committed to overcoming in his impressive campaign platform.
Guanajuato – a state that accounts for nearly 4 percent of Mexico’s total GDP and which currently has the sixth-largest economy in the nation (right behind Mexico City, the State of Mexico, Nuevo León, Jalisco, and Veracruz) – is quickly becoming Mexico’s murder capital.
Last year, Guanajuato registered an unprecedented number of 1,508 intentional homicides, representing a staggering 24 percent increase compared to just three years earlier, according to the National Public Security System.
And during the first 10 days of 2018, there were at least 62 homicides, translating into an average of one murder every four hours, this in a state with a population of just under 5 million inhabitants.
On Friday, May 11, José Remedios Aguirre Sánchez, the leftist Morena candidate for mayor of the central Guanajuato municipality of Apaseo el Alto, was gunned down in broad daylight, becoming the second mayoral candidate nationwide to be assassinated in Mexico’s 2018 elections.
Aguirre Sánchez was just one of at least 11 people murdered in Guanajuato in a 24-hour period, along with a police officer in the agricultural town of Irapuato.
In fact, according to the private-sector consulting firm Lantia Consultores, Guanajuato had more per capita murders during the first trimester of 2018 than any other Mexican state.
Between January and March of this year, in the state once known as the birthplace of Mexican independence there were on average at least 15 shootings a day, with three of more resulting in death.
Put another way: In 2011, Guanajuato’s murder rate was about half the national average; today, it is double the national average.
In response to Aguirre Sánchez’ murder, Sinhué Rodríguez – who is running as a PAN-Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD, a traditionally leftist party)-Citizen Movement Party (MC, a grassroots party, also with leftist leanings) coalition candidate under the banner of Por Guanajuato al Frente – first expressed his condolences for his fallen colleague and then proceeded to in essence blame the victim, stating flatly that “political parties need to better vet their candidates and campaign staff to avoid having contenders with dubious backgrounds or touchy personal histories reach electoral popularity.”
(Aguirre Sánchez was allegedly involved in gang activities and killed another man in 2008, purportedly in an act of self-defense. He had also been closely linked to a group of persons charged with the illicit attainment and sale of hydrocarbon fuels.)
Bravely (and perhaps fool-heartedly), Sinhué Rodríguez then announced that he would not accept any additional government security during his campaign, nor would he use a bullet-proof vehicle to get from town to town.
“I trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation that will allow us to find the assassin and have him pay for his crimes,” Sinhué Rodríguez added.
It’s worth noting that Guanajuato has been governed by Sinhué Rodríguez’ alma mater PAN for the last 26 years, so it is logical that he would endorse the state’s police and judicial authorities.
But, sadly, most Guanajuatenses are not as convinced that justice will prevail in the case of Aguirre Sánchez’ murder, or in those of the other victims of last weekend’s shooting spree.
Despite the deployment of 1,500 additional federal military police to support security operations in January, the incidence of violence has continued to spike in Guanajuato, and less than a quarter of the state’s murders are even investigated. For those cases that are prosecuted, conviction rates are less than 10 percent.
Police and judicial collusion are rampant, not only in Guanajuato, but nationwide, and most Guanajuatenses have little faith in the incumbent government’s ability to remedy this situation.
In fairness, Sinhué Rodríguez has run on a strong (albeit vague) anti-corruption platform, and, when asked in a recent press conference about the surge of violence in his state, admitted that organized crime is the biggest challenge his new administration will be facing in the coming years.
In classic PANista form, Sinhué Rodríguez’ stock answer to solving the violence in Guanajuato is to find alternative jobs for potential criminal recruits.
But it is, in fact, precisely Guanajuato’s economic success that has made it a lodestone for organized crime, attracting gangs from nearby Jalisco and Michoacan that have for the last three years been cashing in on the state’s wealth through a deluge of theft and extortion.
Nearly a fifth of recorded fuel thefts from Mexico’s state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) – more than 30 billion pesos a year – occur in Guanajuato.
Clearly, new job opportunities alone and a nebulous promise to rid graft and corruption are not the solution to Guanajuato’s surging violence.
Yes, Sinhué Rodríguez is young, intelligent, charismatic and a definite shoo-in for Guanajuato’s July 1 gubernatorial race.
But while he has a clear vision of what he wants for his state in terms of economic development, Sinhué Rodríguez’ first order of business is going to have to be curbing the uptick in murders and other violent crimes across the state.
Otherwise, all his other best laid plans will surely go awry.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at email@example.com.