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HomeWorldHow federal agents defend Mexican election candidates

How federal agents defend Mexican election candidates

  • Bryan LeBaron’s campaign faces violence and security threats
  • Mexican election season marked by violence and candidate assassinations
  • LeBaron, a first-time candidate, emphasizes community engagement

“We are obligated to depart.” That was all Bryan LeBaron’s security officer needed to say to alert the congressional candidate to the severity of the situation.

LeBaron, 47, attended a mayoral debate at a university sports arena in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico, on May 21. His wife, Lindi Johnson Berlin, was present as they observed his uncle’s participation.

However, the moderator abruptly terminated the discussion after the mayoral candidates had barely introduced themselves: The premises must be evacuated promptly. Police were informed of a security threat.

The audience members began to despair, some fleeing to the nearest exit. LeBaron stated that he witnessed the phrase “men outside with guns.”

He was aware that he should remain close to the leader of his security team, Agent Antonio Ayala; however, his wife had diverted her attention in the confusion. He reached over and grasped her wrist to maintain her proximity.

In the safety of his headquarters in Cuauhtemoc, a city in Chihuahua, LeBaron explained a few days after the incident that it was “one of the only times I felt scared during the campaign.”

However, it was not the first time—and it would not be the last—that LeBaron’s safety was at risk during his campaign for a seat in Mexico’s National Congress.

LeBaron is one of the dozens of officials on Mexico’s front line competing for votes as the country is immersed in one of its most difficult election seasons in recent history.

With over 20,000 public offices, including every seat in Congress and the presidency, being contested, this year’s election, scheduled for June 2, is expected to be the largest in Mexican history.

However, the campaign season has been tarnished by violence. The Mexican civil society organization Causa en Comun, documented the murders of at least 59 political figures in the year preceding the election, 34 of whom were candidates or politicians who were preparing to initiate a bid.

The remaining 25 individuals were officials in other capacities, such as party representatives. To influence the outcome of important local races, experts believe that drug cartels and criminal networks are most often responsible for the violence.

Due to the violence, candidates such as LeBaron have been compelled to incorporate security measures into their campaigns. For instance, Agent Ayala has become integral to LeBaron’s daily routine, overseeing the candidate’s 14-member security team.

According to the security information disclosed by the Mexican government on May 27, 185 additional federal candidates, including LeBaron, have been designated National Guard agents.

Ayala said that he has experience safeguarding high-profile figures, including former United States President Bill Clinton, despite not all National Guard agents having the same background.

Before 2019, he was a member of the Federal Police, which was subsequently merged with the National Guard. Additionally, he has completed training as a close protection officer comparable to a retainer and has participated in courses with international special forces.

Therefore, when the mayoral debate on May 21 descended into hysteria, he was aware of the appropriate course of action.

“It took less than three minutes to transport “el señor Bryan” to safety,” stated Ayala, whose innocent appearance conceals his eleven years of experience.

Subsequently, officials disclosed that two bomb threats had been reported; however, no explosives were ultimately discovered in the debate venue.

In the months preceding the June election, the Mexican media has been dominated by daily security incidents, which have kept crime and violence at the forefront of voters’ minds.

In March, a survey conducted by the survey agency Ipsos revealed that crime was the “most concerning” issue for 53% of Mexican adults, surpassing inflation, poverty, and unemployment.

The concept of security is not merely an abstract headline for LeBaron. Less than five years ago, a high-profile homicide that garnered international attention was committed by members of his extended family.

Gunmen launched two simultaneous attacks on three vehicles in a remote area of Sonora, northern Mexico, on November 4, 2019. One of them was being operated by LeBaron’s cousin.

The three female drivers, along with six of their children, were fatally injured. The incident, which was characterized as a “massacre” in the media and among residents of Colonia LeBaron, the birthplace of LeBaron, was also survived by numerous additional children.

LeBaron has dedicated his time and energy to activism since the massacre. However, the violence has persisted.

In recent years, three of LeBaron’s personal friends, all of whom are fellow activists, have been assassinated. One in particular has been a source of concern for him since the commencement of his political campaign.

In 2021, Abel Murrieta was shot in broad daylight on a busy street in Cajeme, Sonora, while campaigning for the municipal president. Murrieta was the lawyer for the LeBaron family.

Murrieta publicly declared his intention to address the security issues in the region during his penultimate interview before his death.

LeBaron reflected on the death of his companion, stating, “I think that this is the reason he was killed.”

LeBaron, an activist, endeavored to secure justice for families that had been subjected to violence, such as his own. However, he said he must exercise greater caution as a political candidate.

His daily commute in his home state involves passing by members of organized criminal organizations. LeBaron stated that emphasizing security during the campaign could be equivalent to declaring war in his community.

This is LeBaron’s inaugural bid for public office. He aspires to secure a position in the federal Chamber of Deputies, where he would represent District Seven, one of nine districts in the border state of Chihuahua.

During a rare moment at home during the campaign, LeBaron stated that his team regarded their prospects of success as “very low,” citing his lack of political experience.

To achieve success, LeBaron would need to defeat Patricia Terrazas Baca, a conservative National Action Party (PAN) member.

LeBaron, a member of the Citizens’ Movement party with a right-leaning stance, aspires to establish himself as a politician who is more accessible and community-oriented than Terrazas Baca.

At each of his rallies, LeBaron questions the audience, “Who among you can identify your federal Congress representative?” The inquiry is frequently greeted with a sea of expressionless faces.

LeBaron spoke to a crowd of supporters on a makeshift stage on the back of a tractor-trailer in the small community of Santa Isabel during the campaign’s final days. The majority of the individuals we have met have expressed the same sentiment: ‘You are the first politician to visit us.’

LeBaron has resided in the border state of Chihuahua for generations. His adolescence was divided between the United States and Mexico, as he, like other family members, holds dual citizenship in both countries.

Regrettably, cartel activity can also target Mexico’s border regions, as criminal organizations smuggle people and narcotics across the international boundary.

In the past four years, LeBaron has consistently targeted the populist governing party, Morena, which the outgoing President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, leads.

For example, on the day of the explosive threat, he wrote on social media, “Mexico is like this outside of the [presidential] palace,” about Lopez Obrador.

In the case of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, an army officer accused of protecting drug cartels, LeBaron has also filed a variety of lawsuits against the president and his administration. These lawsuits include allegations that the president underreported the number of homicides, attacked the media, and obstructed access to information.

Crime has persisted at an elevated level during Lopez Obrador’s tenure. In 2017, the national homicide rate exceeded 30,000 for the first time the year before he assumed office, and it has continued to exceed that threshold ever since.

Furthermore, statistics from the National Register of Missing Persons (RNPDNO) revealed in May indicate that an estimated 50,000 individuals have been reported missing during Lopez Obrador’s tenure.

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LeBaron and other Citizens’ Movement candidates returned to Nuevo Casas Grandes to conduct a rally in the week following the explosives threat that disrupted the mayoral debate.

They precariously balanced on the back of a trailer as they led a caravan of vehicles on a parade into the town. In the party’s signature orange, supporters waved flags and honked their horns.

LeBaron waved at the passing cars while Ayala held onto one of the trailer’s speakers, his team traveling in separate vehicles.

The event’s host, a professional MC, energized the 4,000-person audience upon his arrival at the town square for the rally.

“We all have injuries from our childhood.” The host shouted beneath a billboard-sized poster of LeBaron’s smiling visage, “But here in Mexico, we carry political injuries caused by previous political parties.”

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