Former Vigilante Campaigns In Dangerous Mexican State Ahead Of Sunday's Election

Former Vigilante Campaigns In Dangerous Mexican State Ahead Of Sunday's Election

4:40pm Jun 05, 2015

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Mexico is readying for an election, and we're going to meet a most unlikely candidate. He's a farmer who grows limes for a living. He took up arms to fight drug traffickers in his town and was jailed twice for murder. Now he's running for Congress. When Mexicans go to the polls, they will replace the entire lower house of Congress - nine governors and hundreds of local posts. NPR's Carrie Kahn is following a very crowded and increasingly violent contest.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: In the run-up to this Sunday's election, four candidates have already been murdered. Fifty-nine-year-old Hipolita Mora, dressed in casual slacks, a flowing button-down shirt and rustic sandals, says he's not afraid, although his two armed bodyguards, wearing bulletproof vests, are always by his side.

HIPOLITA MORA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "What we need now is someone to take control here," says Mora, "someone to really wear the pants." Mora is running in one of the most dangerous states in Mexico, Michoacan - and in one of its most dangerous regions, known as the Tierra Caliente or Hotlands. It was there two years ago that Mora and others took up arms to fight against one of the country's most powerful drug traffickers. He was jailed twice for murder - acquitted both times - and saw his eldest son killed in a gun battle with rival armed civilians. Although the so-called self-defense group successfully ran the cartel out of the state, Mora says crime is still high and politicians do nothing. He says all they care about is money.

MORA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "If they were poor before entering politics, then they get rich," says Mora. "And if they happen to be rich before getting into office, then they leave even richer," he adds. Such distrust of politicians runs deep these days in Mexico. Polls show high animosity towards all political parties. President Enrique Pena Nieto's PRI Party is particularly vulnerable. A survey earlier this year in the Reforma newspaper showed 85 percent of those polled say they don't trust the president and 60 percent say corruption has increased since he took office.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

KAHN: Chanting supporters walk down the cobblestone streets of Cuitzeo, Michoacan, shouting slogans about how they're tired of lying political parties. They hold a banner of the tiny upstart Citizens Movement Party. Mora is their newest member. As the crowd files into a huge concert venue, he takes to the stage alongside other party candidates.


UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Mora looks uncomfortable among the other politicians in suits and ties. He barely claps at applause lines. And despite a rousing introduction, he speaks to the crowd of several hundred for less than two minutes.


MORA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says "enough of those who get into politics to get rich." He finishes with saying "if you elect me and I'm not doing a good job, then throw me out." The crowd loves his plain talk. Voter Jesus Cervantes, who just moved back to Michoacan after living 15 years in Illinois, says he heard about Mora and his fight against the drug traffickers on the international news.

JESUS CERVANTES: When I was - went out watching the TV and say hey, this guy is doing a lot of stuff. And then I said, wow, you know, we want more guys like that.

KAHN: Despite all the admiration, Mora's chances of winning are tough. He's running in a large federal district against candidates and established political parties with deep pockets. And the field is much more crowded thanks to three new political parties on the ballot and independent candidates now allowed under new electoral reform laws. Finishing our interview in a park in the state's capital, Mora is easily recognized by a group of high school students. Fifteen-year-old Oscar Perez asks if the candidate will take a picture with them all.

OSCAR PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Perez says he believes Mora can change Mexico for the better. Perez, however, can't vote in this election. He's too young. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Morelio, Michoacan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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