3rd Mexican Mayor Killed in 2 Weeks as Cartels Increasingly Target Politicians

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The mayor of a small town in southern Mexico, Luis Jimenez Mata, was assassinated yesterday by unknown gunmen in the privacy of his home in the state of Oaxaca.  

Jimenez was the second mayor killed this week, and the third so far this year. According to the Mexican daily El Milenio, he had only been in office since the turn of the new year.

Although a motive for the killing has not been confirmed by authorities, drug-related violence continues to rise in Mexico, and the murder may be the latest in an increasing number of politicians targeted by the country’s powerful drug cartels.

Another mayor, Gustavo Sanchez, was stoned to death last September in Tancitaro, Michoacan, a town known for producing high amounts of methamphetamine.  The Associated Press reports that a year prior to the mayor’s death, his predecessor and seven other town officials resigned, saying they had been threatened by drug traffickers and complaining that local police were not showing up to work.  One of Sanchez’s first acts as mayor was to dismiss the municipality’s entire 60-officer force for failing to stop a series of killings, and to order Michoacan state police and soldiers to handle security duties in the town.  This may have angered criminal organizations in the area, who were likely tied to the notorious Familia Michoacana.

Sanchez’s case is typical for low-level Mexican authorities who attempt to take on criminal enterprises.  Because mayors often appoint local police officers, they are seen as key assets to drug-trafficking organizations attempting to control police activity in their areas of influence.  In addition, many of Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations seek to control local authorities to win government contracts and concessions. These “public works” can help them ingrain themselves in the community and thus deepen their local loyalties.  The Familia, for instance, bills itself as a kind of community organization, resolving local disputes and funding social projects like schools and roads.

Drug-related assassinations are not limited to low-profile officials, as demonstrated by the June 2010 killing of Rodolfo Torre Cantu, a candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI) who was running for governor of the state of Tamaulipas.  Torre was gunned down in his motorcade as he made his way to a campaign event, days before the July gubernatorial elections. Last year saw Tamaulipas transform into a battleground between the Gulf Cartel and Zetas criminal gang, the former enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, a feud which began in early 2010 after Gulf members assassinated a Zeta leader.  Torre had made  the fight against drug-related violence a central pillar of his campaign.

In a statement made shortly after Torre’s shooting, President Felipe Calderon called it part of a broader attempt by drug syndicates “to interfere in the decisions of citizens and in electoral processes.”  As analysts look ahead to the 2012 presidential elections and the country’s main political parties begin to consider candidates, drug-related violence is sure to be a key issue for each prospective campaign.  With so many politicians being targeted for their anti-crime stance, however, the candidates may find themselves having to weigh their political platform against their life.

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