Mexico's leading presidential candidate stopped by masked men who ask for help in stemming violence

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TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) — Masked men stopped a vehicle carrying Mexico’s leading presidential candidate while she was traveling between campaign stops Sunday to ask that she address the violence in the southern state of Chiapas if she wins the June 2 election.

Former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, the governing Morena party’s candidate, remained in the front passenger seat of the vehicle listening calmly with her window down. Masked men filmed the interaction on their cell phones and one shook her hand before letting her move on.

The men, who identified themselves as local residents, said they felt “powerless” because the government has not done enough to provide security. They asked her to take action as president so that their township, Motozintla, along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, does not become a “disaster” like other communities in the region.

During her campaign swing through Chiapas, Sheinbaum was escorted by the army and national guard.

The border area of Chiapas has been plagued by violence as the rival Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels battle for territory. Thousands of people have been displaced as the cartels work to control migrant, drug and weapons smuggling routes and forcibly recruit locals.

Later Sunday, Sheinbaum confirmed the incident had occurred, but downplayed it and said she did not believe the men were part of an organized crime group. She described the encounter as “very strange” because she said a media outlet critical of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration first published it. Sheinbaum has maintained a comfortable lead in the presidential race, according to polls.

A federal lawmaker from López Obrador’s party who was traveling with Sheinbaum had earlier described the encounter on the social platform X. Federal deputy Carmen Patricia Armendáriz wrote that they had been stopped by masked men from one of the cartels battling for the area’s control, but she later deleted it.