Mexican Mayors in the Firing Line: Killings Prompt Appeals for Federal Protection

Mark Browne | July 28, 2016 | 8:14pm EDT
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Family members of the slain mayor of Temixco, Gisela Mota, mourn next to her casket in Temixco on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Mota took office as mayor of the city of on Jan. 1 and was shot at her home a day later, a killing attributed by the state governor to drug gangs. (AP Photo/Tony Rivera)

Mexico City ( – Four sitting mayors in Mexico have been assassinated during the course of this year – adding to a total of 40 over the past ten years – prompting an urgent call by the national mayors’ association for federal protection measures.

The association’s president and a security expert both blamed the killings on corruption, organized crime and the intimidation of local officials by drug cartels aimed at ensuring that the officials don’t interfere with criminal activity.

Seven mayors-elect were killed prior to taking office, and 32 former mayors were murdered after leaving office, bringing the total to 79 killed since 2006, according to the mayors’ association.

The killings reached a peak in 2013 when 28 sitting mayors were killed. A total of nine mayors have been kidnapped since 2013, according to a study released this week by the association.

Asked to explain the high number of killings, association president Enrique Vargas del Villar said, “Obviously it’s the [drug] cartels,” attributing the violence on efforts by traffickers to ensure “control over their territory.”

The families of local officials are also at risk.

Vargas del Villar confirmed press reports that the body of Delfino Nieto Pelaez, the wife of the mayor-elect in the municipality of Martires de Tacubaya in Oaxaca, was found Monday night. He said she had been shot at on previous occasions as well.

Vargas del Villar said the association has asked for a meeting with federal security officials to discuss measures to protect the nation’s mayors.

Since 2012, more mayors have been killed in Oaxaca in the south – five – than any other state. Four have been killed in the State of Veracruz on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and three in Michoacán in the country's midsection, north of Mexico City.

“Mayors are on the front line,” Vargas said. “We need local, state and federal security forces to work together. There isn’t enough communication between them.”

Ambrosio Soto Duarte, the mayor of Pungarabato, Guerrero, was ambushed, shot and killed the night of July 23 while driving at night near the border of Michoacán and Guerrero.

According to the Yucatan Times, organized criminals had previously threatened Soto, demanding payments from the municipal budget as “protection money.”

Soto was accompanied by two police officers the night he was killed. On July 8, he posted a tweet saying he was being threatened by organized crime and calling upon President Enrique Peña Nieto to act.

“Ambrosio Soto Duarte was an honest person that was fighting with the local drug cartel,” Rául Guillermo Benítez, a security specialist and researcher at Mexico’s national university UNAM, told

“There are cases where mayors have been killed for not cooperating with the drug cartels. There are also those that have cooperated with organized crime and then died as a result of not providing money,” Benítez added.

Political corruption and disputes may also play a role in the murders of local officials, he noted.

The murder of Domingo López González, the mayor of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas last weekend, was widely reported in the press to be tied to corruption, Benitez said.

“He was killed for political reasons, because of a dispute over power and money.”

One solution to the killings would be for the government to “monitor the use of local municipal funds more closely,” Benitez said.

“Some mayors are at risk, but not everywhere. The states that are most dangerous are Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Guerrero.”

A study by the politics and policy analysis center Mexico Evalua has found that while the overall homicide rate in Mexico has gone down since its peak at 22,781 in 2011, the rate is increasing in states that have traditionally had the lowest rates in the country.

“Violence is moving from more violent areas to areas with a history of less violence,” said Jonathan Furszyfer, an investigator at the Justice and Crime Program at Mexico Evalua.

“What we are seeing is that murders in various states have gone up dramatically, showing violence is becoming more widespread,” he noted.

Homicides in the eight states with the lowest rates in Mexico totaled approximately 400 in 2006. By 2015, that number had more than doubled to 816, the study showed.

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