|Ricardo Guzman, mayor of La Piedad, was killed while campaigning for President Felipe Calderon’s sister [Reuters]|
The mayor of La Piedad has been assassinated in a brazen drive-by shooting, one of more than two dozen Mexican mayors who have been murdered since 2006, the majority presumed victims of drug violence.
It was announced on Thursday that Ricardo Guzman, 45, died late night in an ambulance after being shot while handing out campaign fliers outside a fast-food restaurant. According to reports, a black SUV pulled up, a hand holding a pistol appeared at its window, and Guzman went down with a shot.
Guzman’s killing raised new questions about organized crime’s impact on Mexico’s democracy, specifically the November 13 elections in the western state of Michoacan, where Guzman had been handing out campaign material for gubernatorial candidate Luisa Maria Calderon, the sister of President Felipe Calderon.
The three major political parties all say they have local candidates who have received some kind of pressure or threats in the Calderon family’s home state, where the president launched his drug war five years ago.
Michoacan “appears to be the state that is most infected with narco-politics”, said Raymundo Riva Palacio, a political analyst and columnist.
The Calderons, like Guzman, are all in the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. When asked by local media on Thursday if she thought a drug gang may have been involved in Guzman’s death, Calderon said “probably”.
“He stayed to defend his city from the incursion of organized groups, and his police force had suffered casualties,” she said. “He told me ‘I’m going to stay in my city, to protect it’.”
Gunmen killed La Piedad police chief Jose Luis Guerrero in March, just a couple of months after he took the job; shell casings from AK-47 assault rifles, the cartels’ favoured weapon, were found littered at the scene.
His successor, Miguel Angel Rosas Perez, was recruited from the better-trained federal police, but he too came under attack in July, when more than 40 armed men pulled up to his police station in a 10-vehicle convoy, sprayed his station with gunfire, and then lobbed hand grenades at it.
Although he survived, at least six municipal police chiefs have been killed in Michoacan in 2011. Twenty-five mayors have been killed throughout Mexico since December 2006, when the drug war began.
Drug cartels have “been very active” in the area around the city of about 100,000 on a key transit route where the territory of three gangs intersect: the Zetas, The Knights Templar and the Jalisco New Generation.
La Piedad has been hit deeply by the violence, said municipal policeman Jose Castro. The local force beefed up security on Thursday for Guzman’s funeral, which was attended by top PAN political figures.
Castro called the mayor “someone who really looked out for people, who was really dedicated to his work’.’ He also said groups of drug cartel gunmen roamed the outskirts of the township.
Javier Lozano, Labour secretary, had few doubts about what the effects of Guzman’s killing would be. In his Twitter account, Lozano wrote, “`this cowardly crime seeks to discourage citizens from voting in the November 13 elections”.