Mexico's transition from the 20th century authoritarian state of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to an uncertain democracy has been a bloody affair. And it continues to be in the 2012 electoral year.
Fabiola Osorio, environmentalist assassinated
While much of the international press focuses on the mayhem generated by the confrontations between organized criminal bands, this year's violence goes beyond the drug war media frame of government vs. narcos, and hits people from different walks of life-journalists, environmental activists, indigenous community leaders, migrant advocates, members of political parties, personalities long associated with the government, and individuals with no seeming connection to anything other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The geography of 2012 election year violence coincides with the weakening of centralized political control, transition year power jockeying and the growth of what criminologist Edgardo Buscaglia calls the feudalization or Balkanization of power underway in Mexico.
The violence of 2012 builds on but is different from the bloodshed that accompanied two other critical periods in Mexican political history: the electoral uprising against the PRI from 1988-1991, and the assassinations that marked the last year of President Carlos de Salinas Gortari's rule in 1994.
In the first case, violence was leveled against an insurgent electoral movement that coalesced around the presidential candidacy of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, which later institutionalized as the new Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). Especially hard hit were PRD branches in the southern states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, where the new party represented a threat not only to the national PRI, but to regional power brokers and strongmen known as caciques.
A document prepared for the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal (TPP) held in Ciudad Juarez late last month stated that 500 PRD members were "executed" and 322 other people killed during election-related violence from 1988 to 1994. The murders of early PRD activists are unresolved, and the current party leadership has not made investigating and punishing the crimes a big issue.
Anti-PRD violence followed the repression of the Dirty War and the waning years of the Miguel de la Madrid presidency, when 1,200 forced disappearances of suspected guerillas and opposition activists-650 of them in the state of Guerrero alone -were carried out by government security forces, according to the TPP document.
Like the murders of PRD militants, the Dirty War disappearances remain unprosecuted and they are likely to stay that way. Individuals central to the repression, including former Federal Security Directorate chief Miguel Nazar Haro and General Humberto Quiros, died natural deaths, while retired General Mario Acosta Chaparro, who was also implicated in organized crime, was gunned down in Mexico City in April. A former state police chief of Guerrero, Acosta Chaparro had survived a similar attempt in 2010.
1994 was a key year in the slow disintegration and mutation of the old regime. Mexico was riveted by the assassination of the probable next president, PRI candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, and the murder of the PRI's general secretary, former Guerrero Governor Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, who also just happened to be the brother-in-law of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
The president's brother, Raul Salinas de Gotari, was charged in the crime but exonerated years later by a judge after serving time in prison. Like the slayings of PRD activists, the Colosio and Ruiz Massieu murders- events that shaped the destiny of a country- remain shrouded in mystery. Similar to the ongoing JFK assassination controversy in the U.S., many Mexicans doubt the official story that Colosio was gunned down by the lone assassin, Mario Aburto, who was convicted for the crime.
If the 1994 Zapatista uprising and the murders of two PRI leaders were not enough to shake a nation, the year ended with Mexico in the throes of economic emergency. The crisis led to a huge public bailout of the re-privatized financial sector, furthered the break-down of the rural economy, touched off massive out-migration to the cities and the United States, deepened the dependency on Washington and witnessed the consolidation of underworld organizations like the Juarez, Tijuana and Gulf drug cartels. According to political analyst Gustavo Esteva, the portion of national economic activity in the hands of the state plunged from two-thirds to one-fifth between 1982 and 2000...