Arrest of Michoacan mayors in 2009

A mayor from the Mexican state of Michoacan told a prominent Mexican news organization that extortion payments are part of local politics in the country giving a brief window into a dark corner of Mexico's war against organized crime.

In an interview with Aristegui Noticias, Ignacio Lopez Mendoza, the mayor of the municipality of Santa Ana Maya and a politician with the leftist Partido de Trabajo (PT), said: "Insecurity is something that is affecting us, something that everyone knows, but nobody says. Why? Because we have to deal with organized crime, we have to pay them 'interest,' and this is something nobody talks about."

Lopez refused to give more details about just how much "interest" he and others paid, or to whom.

Lopez also blamed the links between the authorities and organized crime for the rise of vigilante self-defense groups throughout Mexico.

"This is why our people are rising up in arms," he said, referring the increasing number of these groups in his state and others.

InSight Crime Analysis

Lopez’s comments draw attention to a situation which, as he says, is widely known but rarely acknowledged. Local politicians in areas affected by organized crime often have little choice but to bow to the demands of powerful criminal organizations such as the Knights Templar, the group that operates in Lopez's area, a fact brutally demonstrated by the high number of murders of public officials. According to National Federation of Mexican Municipalities, over the last six years, 31 local mayors and over 1,200 municipal officials have been murdered.

However, in many cases, it is hard to define which politicians may be complicit in this collusion and which are innocent victims. In 2009, in what became known as the “Michoacanazo,” the federal prosecutors arrested 35 municipal mayors for working with organized crime; the charges were later dropped on every mayor.

The line between victim and accomplice is further complicated by the “plata o plomo” -- bribes or bullets -- dilemma many public officials in these areas face. In these cases, there is no easy choice.