Assassinations of Mayors in Mexico Continue into New Year

On January 1, 2019, Alejandro Aparicio Santiago was sworn in as mayor of Tlaxiaco in the Oaxaca State of Mexico. He only remained in office for 90 minutes. Santiago had just taken office that Tuesday and was walking to his first official meeting at city hall when a group of unidentified gunmen opened fire. He was shot by the gunmen and later died in the hospital. Four others were wounded. The Oaxaca prosecutor’s office stated a person was in custody and it was more than likely drug related

The number of Mayors who have been assassinated in Mexico continues to rise. According to the National Association of Mayors in Mexico over 138 mayors and former mayors have been killed between 2006 and 2018.

With this alarming number of public officials being killed in Mexico, the question is who is doing this and why? According to a report from The Baker Institute called, “Mayoral Homicide In Mexico: A Situational Analysis On The Victims, Perpetrators, and Locations Of Attacks,” it states, “When a local official is targeted, Mexican authorities most commonly suggest that an OCG (Organized Crime Group, AKA, Cartels, etc.) is responsible. There are a number of different reasons to assume that this explanation is at least likely. For instance, the relationship between local authorities and OCGs is, by definition, extremely complex. On the one hand, to run a successful illegal business, the best strategy for an OCG is to avoid interference from local authorities and, if possible, to receive (passively or actively) help from officials, who in exchange for their inaction or even active collaboration can benefit from the expansion of illegal profits. On the other hand, local authorities are the first line of defense against organized crime. They are supposed to tackle, disrupt, and mitigate OCGs’ activities (e.g., extortion, kidnapping, oil theft, robbery, etc.) as they break the law and severely harm local communities. Naturally, mayors who refuse to take an inactive stance toward OCGs or who engage in fighting crime can run afoul of OCGs. Knowing this, OCGs appear to follow a decision-making process in evaluating whether to take actions against local officials who may present obstacles to their activities.”

The report goes on to say, “First, an OCG must decide what its wants from an official (i.e., the mayor, candidate, etc.). In all cases, OCGs look to deter officials from attempting to stop their unlawful activities. Even so, the specific action an OCG may take toward an individual official may vary according to the context. Several options are possible, from deterring individuals from running for office to impeding the election of a local official who may either harm the OCG’s interests or benefit a rival OCG. From a rational choice theoretical point of view, the resolution of any of these aims is a function of the expected utility of a given official versus the risk he or she poses to the OCG. The OCG can of course attempt to co-opt the official and persuade him or her to not act against it, or to even cooperate with the OCG. Overall,....we anticipate five major options OCGs may consider at this point: (a) Deter honest, reputable, and competent individuals/politicians from running for office; (b) Promote candidates that do not constitute a threat to OCG interests; (c) Impede the election of a local authority who may benefit a rival OCG; (d) Assure the successful election of a corrupt politician that has accepted an alliance with the OCG; and (e) Avoid investigations, arrests, prosecutions, and conviction by a given mayor’s administration.

Under the last few presidents of Mexico each has vowed to take on various OGCs. During the presidency of Felipe Calderón, the army was assigned to Michoacán, his home state, to end cartel violence. By 2012, tens of thousands of soldiers aided local and state police. According to the National Public Security System (SNSP) and National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), there were 120,935 homicides under Calderón six-year rule. As Enrique Peña Nieto continued military involvement in the War on Drugs, violent crime increased. The Congressional Research Service Report, “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations” stated that in 2017, Nieto managed to have the highest murder rate at approximately 29,000.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), in 2016, declared Mexico the second deadliest nation only behind Syria. John Chipman, director general and chief executive of IISS stated, "The death toll in Mexico surpasses those caused by conflicts in Afghanistan and Somalia, which is even more surprising, considering that conflict deaths (in Mexico) are mostly attributable to small arms." The World Health Organization (WHO) places Mexico in line with nations involved in armed conflict because of their drug-related homicide rate.

In July 2018, Mexicans clearly wanted a change and voted for a leftist populist for the first time in its democratic history. Andrés Manuel López Obrador campaigned against violence reiterating "abrazos, no balazos" (hugs, not bullets), legalizing some drugs, removing the Army and Navy from street patrols, and even leniency for certain criminals. In his inaugural address on December 1, 2018, he proposed a new understanding of the war on drugs.

According to the Bloomberg News Article, “AMLO Won. What Comes Next for Mexico?” they have analyzed the campaign promises the new president of Mexico want to put in place he has vowed to take on corruption and crime. In the article it states,

"AMLO has vowed to overhaul Mexico’s system of government contracts, which he says have fueled payoffs and corruption, and to slash salaries of top officials, though it’s unclear how cutting paychecks will encourage government workers to demand fewer bribes. What he hasn’t done is suggest he’ll prosecute current politicians for corrupt acts in office, which may also make it hard for reforms to stick. But he says he can lead by example. He’ll take a smaller salary than Pena Nieto and he won’t live in Los Pinos, the presidential palace, which he wants to turn into cultural center.

When it comes to reducing crime AMLO has said he’ll stop using the nation’s military to battle drug gangs; under their watch the murder rate has soared and more than 30,000 people have gone missing since Mexico’s war on drugs began in 2006. He wants to spur development to offer alternatives to working for the drug trade and has floated the idea of amnesty for some nonviolent criminals, which would provide clean slates for them to start new lives."

With several mayors from AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (also known as MORENA) political party being killed in 2018 and now Alejandro Aparicio Santiago in 2019 we will have to see the impact of his new policies on the the fight against organized crime and the target assassinations of politicians.

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) analyzes countries and political situations around the world to make sure we understand and can respond to security concerns and trends. CTG has a team of analysts who specialize in all matters concerning Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. They monitor criminal, terrorist, hazards, and counterterrorism activities 24 hours a day/365 days a year. Although Obrador is promising change, there is much to be done in Mexico at the foundational level for his changes to be fruitful. As long as cartels remain prominent, politicians, police, and soldiers remain vulnerable to corruption and attack. CTG recommends that people traveling to Mexico, whether for business or leisure, understand the criminal/cartel activity in the area and take notice of their surroundings. The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) can assist in travel safety, protection services, and a variety of training needed to maintain your safety. We can also assist your organization in understanding the operational risks of working in countries like Mexico and others. Please contact us if you need any assistance.

1. Image courtesy of Alejandro Aparicio Santiago’s personal Twitter page,

2. Image from National Association of Mayor in Mexco,

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