Last week, Manuel Gomez Torres, the mayor of Ayutla – a small town in the southern Mexican state of Jalisco – was murdered by a group the police have described as a “criminal gang”. Tragically, the murder of political figures is not an unusual occurrence in Mexico – as the country is a key transit route in the path of drug traffickers, particularly for transporting cocaine from South America to the United States.
At least 30 mayors, mayor-elects, or ex-mayors have been murdered in Mexico since the beginning of the decade – and blame lies predominantly on the War on Drugs. Politicians have found themselves to be targeted by drug cartels for a variety of reasons. Some have attempted to crackdown on traffickers, some are alleged to have inadvertently given an advantage to one cartel over another, and some are simply unwilling to accept bribery or blackmail. Most cases are not solved due to the highly secretive nature of drug cartels, as well as systemic corruption among politicians and police, as well as in the judicial system.
Mexico has long-been the US’ primary provider of illicit substances. During the era of alcohol prohibition, Mexican gangs illegally transported huge quantities of liquor across the US’ southern border for their thirsty and criminalised customers. Once prohibition ended, this trade was replaced with that of other drugs – primarily cocaine and marijuana. The level of trade – and therefore the wealth of drug cartels – rose sharply in the 1980s, and has continued to rise since then. In 2008, the US government agreed to a deal – the Merida Initiative – in which it would provide Mexico with hundreds of millions of dollars to militarise its War on Drugs. This militarisation has led to a huge escalation of violence in Mexico – a country where over 20,000 people are now murdered each year.
However, the fight against drug cartels has not been solely a military campaign; ordinary citizens have bravely stood up to traffickers too, and many have paid with their lives for doing so. In 2008, Maria Santos Gorrostieta, a 32-year-old mother of three, was elected mayor of Tiquicheo in Michoacan state. Gorrostieta was hailed as a “heroine of the 21st Century” for taking a stand against cartels, and refusing to be enticed by bribery or corruption. She was attacked and intimidated on numerous occasions by armed groups, and in 2009, her husband was murdered as a warning for her to stop her counter-narcotic efforts. Regardless of this, she ignored the blackmail and continued pushing for the enforcement of effective policies against drug cartels. In 2012, while driving her young daughter to school, Maria Gorrostieta was kidnapped, beaten, and killed. As with the case of Manuel Torres, relevant culprits are yet to be apprehended.
Inevitably, more Mexican mayors, politicians, judges, and police – as well as ordinary civilians – will continue to be killed as a result of the militarised War on Drugs. Despite the bloodshed, drug trafficking is not decreasing; around 90% of cocaine entering the United States transits Mexico. The intensifcation of the War on Drugs in Mexico has seemingly increased violence, and is now wearing away at democratic institutions and undermining the legitimacy of the state.