At least 11 Mexican mayors have been killed this year in assassinations blamed on drug traffickers.
It used to be that working as top cop was one of the most
dangerous jobs in Mexico when it comes to drug-trafficking targets. These days,
however, it seems that mayors are facing the most danger.
The latest attack came Monday, when a mayor and his aide
from the small town of Tancitaro in the state of Michoacan were found
mutilated, apparently stoned to death. Their bodies were found in a pickup
truck outside of the town of Uruapan.
The attack marks the fifth targeted attack of a mayor in
Mexico in more than five weeks and the 11th assassination of the year.
Grisly violence is nothing new in Mexico, where more than
28,000 have been killed in drug-related violence in four years. But targeting
the political class has become a disturbing new problem in the country.
Ties between traffickers and local officials
Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National
Autonomous University of Mexico, says that the spate of recent deaths may be no
coincidence: It comes as the federal government is increasing intelligence
capabilities and taking a harder look at collusion between traffickers and
local police and authorities, as it looks to centralize the police force.
Therefore, many mayors who once may have turned a blind
eye to trafficking exploits in their towns might now be refusing to cooperate.
“If the mayor is an obstacle, that is when the problem
starts,” says Mr. Benitez.
Tancitaro Mayor Gustavo Sanchez became mayor after the
previous one, along with city officials and police, resigned in the face of
death threats. Sanchez's death was the third attack in five days. In the northern
state of Chihuahua, the mayor-elect of Gran Morelos was shot Friday. The mayor
of Doctor Gonzalez in Nuevo Leon was killed a day earlier on his ranch near the
industrial city of Monterrey.
In mid-August, the mayor of Santiago, outside Monterrey,
was found dead, after being kidnapped by suspected drug traffickers. His death
was followed by the assassination of a mayor in Tamaulipas and another shot
dead while working in his office in a small town of San Luis Potosi.
Just as violence in Mexico is largely limited to hot
spots, such as Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, Texas – security
spokesman Alejandro Poire said in August that 80 percent of drug-related
homicides have occurred in just 162 municipalities – so, too, is the killing of
mayors. The recent five attacks have outraged the nation, but many observers
point out that Mexico has 2,456 municipalities.
The targeting of mayors has not played out in big cities,
but in small-town Mexico, where security is scant. Drug traffickers often take
over these towns, enticing poorly paid local police onto their payrolls so that
they can act with impunity to stash drugs, weapons, or cash.
In the past, some mayors may have tolerated their
presence, but as the federal government places greater scrutiny on corruption,
particularly as it looks to form a centralized police system, Benitez says that
mayors are now standing in the way.
“If the mayor cannot be corrupted … the drug traffickers
cannot operate,” he says.
Some mayors, such as that of Ciudad Juarez, have sought
haven in the US, setting up their families on American soil and commuting to
Mexico for work.
The problem could worsen before improving, not only as
scrutiny increases but also because a copy-cat effect is playing out as drug
traffickers see an effective mode of intimidation. “They are looking at what
their brothers are doing and are using the same strategy,” says Benitez.