A Mexican mayor was having breakfast with his wife in a restaurant when he was gunned down this week. To avoid a similar fate, mayors in the western state of Michoacan admit they must pay off drug cartels.
Wilfrido Flores Villa, interim mayor of the Michoacan town of Nahutzen, was the 31st mayor to be killed in Mexico since a spiral of drug-related violence began to engulf the nation in 2006.
“The lack of security has affected us. It is something that everybody knows about but doesn’t talk about, because we are afraid of facing organized crime,” said one of five mayors who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“We have to pay them a tax,” the mayor said. “They don’t leave you a choice. As the saying goes, ‘either cooperate, or it’s your neck.’“
The gangs operating in Michoacan, where the Knights Templar cartel emerged, shake down everybody from the wealthy to the poor. They must all pay up to avoid being kidnapped or killed.
Gang members brazenly walk into city halls without warning to collect their extortion money, which amounts to around $800 per month.
This happens right under the nose of federal troops who have been deployed since 2006 to crack down on the country’s drug cartels.
In November, Maria Santos Gorrostieta, a former mayor in the Michoacan town of Tiquicheo, was found dead with signs of torture. She had survived two assassination attempts while she was in office from 2008-2011.
The mayor of the town of Inde in Durango said in November that officers from his own municipal force tried to kidnap him in an attack that left eight people dead.
But Vinicio Aguilera Garibay, a regional prosecutor in the state capital Morelia, said that paying money to gangs is a crime.
Mayors threatened by drug gangs have an obligation to file complaints with the authorities, as the money they give to the criminals comes from public coffers, he said.