Mayoral Candidate Shot Dead During Campaign Rally

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Bertha Gisela Gaytán Gutiérrez, a 38-year-old candidate from the Morena Party, was starting her campaign for mayor when she was fatally shot on a street in a town outside Celaya, Guanajuato on April 2, 2024. Her death adds to the growing list of politicians targeted in Mexico, highlighting a surge in political violence as the country approaches its June elections.

The streets that were meant to echo her campaign slogans instead bore witness to her fatal shooting, marking a chilling continuation of the violence that has snatched away numerous politicians in the country in recent weeks.

Gutiérrez embarked on a campaign under the banner of Morena, a party seeking transformation amidst turbulence. Her aspirations were cut short on a street just outside Celaya, an area that also encompasses smaller surrounding communities. 

A video that surfaced on social media captured the haunting moment: a procession for Gaytán, chants of “Morena!” pierced by gunshots, leading to chaos and despair among her supporters.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, leading Morena, expressed deep sorrow over losing party candidates, including Gaytán, yet stopped short of announcing enhanced security measures for politicians. Alma Alcaraz, a fellow Morena candidate, summed up the mood of the party and perhaps the nation, stating, “This is something that has us angry, shocked, in mourning.”

In a statement on the social media platform “X,” Diego Sinhue, the governor of Guanajuato, where the incident occurred, declared that the attack would face consequences and would not be left unaddressed.

Hours before her untimely death, Gaytán’s social media account reflected a spirit undeterred by the challenges ahead. She shared her vision for Celaya, posting on Facebook: “In unity and with firm commitment, we aim to realize the transformation we deeply yearn for. Our goal is a Celaya where all can flourish; we seek significant change.”

This optimism was a stark contrast to the violence that plagues Guanajuato, a state notorious for having the highest homicide rates in Mexico and being a dangerous place for law enforcement.

Politically motivated violence remains rampant across Mexico, illustrated by the recent murder of Churumuco’s mayor in Michoacan. He was fatally shot in a taco eatery in Morelia, the state’s capital, alongside his 14-year-old son, who survived the ordeal.

Additionally, in Michoacan, two mayoral hopefuls, Miguel Angel Zavala Reyes and Armando Perez Luna from Morena and the National Action Party, respectively, were slain on February 26.

In March, it was reported that Tomás Morales, a candidate for mayor, met a violent end in Guerrero, a state along the Pacific coast. Also, Alfredo González, another mayoral candidate in Atoyac, Guerrero, was killed.

The violence is a manifestation of the turf wars between the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel and the Jalisco cartel. These battles have claimed countless lives and now threaten the democratic process itself.

Guanajuato’s struggle with violence is further highlighted by the fact that more police officers were shot to death in the state in 2023 than in the entire United States. This violence is not limited to those in law enforcement or politics. Civilians, too, bear the brunt of the conflict, as evidenced by the recent killing of the mayor of Churumuco, Michoacan, and previous attacks that have left students and police officers dead.

The murder of Gaytán underscores a grim reality: political candidates, especially those like her who boldly seek change, often become targets. Despite her request for protection for her campaign, she joined the growing list of politicians whose potential and passion were quelled by violence.

As Mexico prepares for an election that will determine not only President López Obrador’s successor but also numerous state and municipal posts, the killings of candidates like Gaytán cast a long shadow over the democratic process. The violence in Guanajuato and across Mexico not only threatens the lives of those brave enough to run for office but also undermines the very foundations of democracy.

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