On 24 July Mexico’s national association of mayors (Anac) asked the federal interior ministry (Segob) to establish a new security protocol to better protect mayors across the country.
Significance: Anac’s call came in the wake of the violent murder of two mayors over the weekend (22-24 July) in the southern states of Guerrero and Chiapas. Although the two cases are very different, they nonetheless highlight the worrisome level of violence and threats that local government officials have to contend with in many parts of Mexico, such as Guerrero, which in recent years have been the site of bloody turf wars between rival drug trafficking organisations (DTOs) and have become violence ‘hot spots’. The call puts the government led by President Enrique Peña Nieto under renewed pressure to improve public security across the country and ensure the full return of order and the rule of law in all troubled states including the socially volatile Chiapas.
• Both Domingo López, the mayor of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, and Ambrosio Soto, the mayor of Pungarabato in Guerrero, were shot dead on 23 July. But while López and one of his aides were killed during an early morning confrontation with a group of indigenous residents that escalated into violence, Soto and his driver were killed (and part of his security escort badly wounded) in a planned armed attack carried out by presumed criminals on his vehicle that same evening.
• Separated by only a few hours, the murders shocked the country for various reasons. In the López case, the concern was that this was evidence that tensions are once again running high in Chiapas, one of Mexico’s poorest states which has a large indigenous population. López, who only assumed office in October 2015, was killed when indigenous residents marched down to his offices to present a series of grievances they had against the new mayor. The details of the incident are unclear, but after López sought dialogue with the angry mob, shots were fired from the crowd. Five people were killed and 12 others seriously injured in the ensuing clashes with the police according to official reports. The violence was repudiated by Governor Manuel Velasco, who said López had been “cowardly murdered” and he ordered an exhaustive investigation.
• Soto’s murder was even more shocking even if less unexpected. Last year the mayor of Pungarabato, which lies on Guerrero’s border with the also troubled state of Michoacán, had warned that he had been receiving death threats from local criminal organisations. Soto’s security was reinforced by the Guerrero state government, with federal police officers (PF) ordered to join his security detail. However, Soto’s vehicle was ambushed by unidentified armed criminals when he was making his way back to Pungarabato after visiting the nearby town of San Lucas, Michoacán. Four police officers (two from the PF) were wounded in the attack. Guerrero Governor Héctor Astudillo condemned Soto’s murder but said that unfortunately “the state is overwhelmed in Guerrero” and that it requires more federal security assistance to combat criminality.
• Against this backdrop, Anac issued a statement yesterday calling on the federal authorities to provide increased protection to mayors. Noting that since 2003, 40 sitting mayors, seven mayor-elects, and 32 former mayors have been murdered in Mexico, the mayors “demand that the competent authorities clear up these crimes and that the Secretaría de Gobernación [Segob] develops and implements a new security protocol for mayors and officials at all levels of government”. The statement adds that doing this is particularly urgent in violence hot spot areas such as the Tierra Caliente region that runs across Michoacán and Guerrero. In particular they call for municipalities in such areas to receive additional funding for their public security reinforcement programmes (Fortaseg) that would allow them to recruit additional police officers and fund local police intelligence agencies.
Looking Ahead: So far the federal government has responded by stating that while it is prepared to provide more security assistance to some particularly troubled states, this assistance cannot become the norm. María de los Angeles Fromow, the secretary of the new judicial system implementation coordinating committee (Setec), summed this up by stating “it is necessary that states and municipalities assume their responsibilities” when it comes to improving public security. Yet with concern that there could be more violence in San Juan Chamula and more mayors targeted in the Tierra Caliente region, the federal government may have to continue providing additional assistance for the time being.