Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Mayors at the Forefront of Drug Wars

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Mayors at the Forefront of Drug Wars

Article excerpt

Mayors have become a lightning rod in President Felipe Calderon's campaign against drug traffickers. Mayors, mostly from small municipalities, have been caught between a rock and a hard place; they must choose between cooperating with drug cartels or risk losing their lives. Eighteen mayors have been murdered since Calderon launched his intense anti-drug effort in 2006 SourceMex, January 24, 2007. More than half of those deaths occurred in 2011. Mayors who cooperate with the drug cartels are also under scrutiny by the federal government. In 2008, authorities arrested several mayors and other public officials in Michoacan state on charges of cooperating with drug traffickers SourceMex, May 27, 2009 and Aug. 19, 2009. All but one of the suspects were released after a federal judge ruled that the government lacked sufficient evidence to hold them.

Eleven mayors murdered this year

The attacks on the mayors have been brutal, including in the 11 cases recorded this year. In many of the cases in 2010, the mayors were shot on a public street or in a public building, as was the case with Jose Santiago Agustin of the small community of Zapotitlan Tablas, in Guerrero state, as he exited a market on April 28. Manuel Estrada Escalante of El Mezquital in Durango state was killed at a restaurant on Feb. 22 of this year, while Alexander Lopez Garcia of El Naranjo in San Luis Potosi was murdered during a meeting at his office. Jesus Manuel Lara Rodriguez of Guadalupe in Chihuahua state was shot to death at home on June 19, and Prisciliano Rodriguez Salinas of Doctor Gonzalez in Nuevo Leon was killed as he sat in his truck on Sept. 23.

Some murders were especially brutal. Edelmiro Cavazos Leal of the Monterrey suburb of Santiago in Nuevo Leon was kidnapped and tortured before being killed on Aug. 16 SourceMex, Sept. 8, 2010. On Aug. 29, Marco Antonio Lea Garcia of Hidalgo in Tamaulipas state was shot in front of his 10-year-old daughter, who suffered minor injuries.

In the most recent attack, Gustavo Sanchez, mayor of Tancitaro in Michoacan, was found dead along with an aide on Sept. 27. The attack stumped authorities because it was not typical of recent murders. Both men were beaten with rocks rather than shot to death. Their bodies were found in an abandoned pickup truck. "We've had executions of people, a town official, a councilman, but always shot to death ... never anything like this," Michoacan state prosecutor Jesus Montejano said in a radio interview. "We are worried because this situation is very different from what organized crime usually does."

Investigators were working on the theory that robbery, and not retaliation by organized criminals, was the motive. But Tancitaro is smack in the middle of an area controlled by drug traffickers, who had in the past threatened city officials. Sanchez, a school teacher, agreed to take charge of the municipal government only after the elected mayor Gonzalo Paz, the city council, and the police department resigned en masse because of threats from members of the drug cartel La Familia, which controls the area.

For the most part, the drug cartels have targeted mayors of small and medium-sized municipalities, which lack the security apparatus of big cities. There have been some exceptions, such as Ciudad Juarez, where cartels threatened the life of Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz in 2009, forcing him to establish residence across the border in El Paso, Texas SourceMex, Feb. 25, 2009.

And even when big-city mayors are protected, they are still vulnerable. On Sept. 29, a group of assailants tossed a grenade at city hall in the border city of Matamoros. The grenade caused little damage to the government building, but two passers-by were injured in the attack.

Mayors from smaller municipalities more vulnerable

The violence and threats from drug traffickers has a special effect on communities along the border. In addition to Reyes Ferriz, the mayors of several communities in Tamaulipas have moved their residences across the border to the US. …

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