By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, November 3, 8:27 PM
MORELIA, Mexico — The mayor of La Piedad was handing out campaign fliers outside a fast-food restaurant when a black SUV pulled up, a hand holding a pistol appeared at its window, and he went down with a shot.
Ricardo Guzman, 45, died late Wednesday in an ambulance racing to the hospital, one of more than two dozen Mexican mayors who’ve been assassinated since 2006, the majority presumed victims of drug violence.
But Guzman’s killing raised new questions about organized crime’s impact on Mexico’s democracy, specifically the Nov. 13 elections in the western state of Michoacan, where Guzman had been handing out campaign material for gubernatorial candidate Luisa Maria Calderon, President Felipe Calderon’s sister.
Before Guzman’s assassination, polling firm workers were kidnapped in August while trying to conduct surveys on the election, though they were later released unharmed. The three major political parties all say they have local candidates who have received some kind of pressure or threats in the Calderon family 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 political analyst and columnist Raymundo Riva Palacio. He noted that while mayoral candidates, and even one gubernatorial candidate, have been killed in other states, nowhere is the cartel pressure on candidates as systematic as in Michoacan.
The Calderons, like Guzman, are all in the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. When asked by local media Thursday if she thought a drug gang may have been involved in Guzman’s death, Luisa Maria Calderon said, “Probably.”
“I don’t think he had any political enemies,” she said.
“He stayed to defend his city from the incursion of organized groups, and his police force had suffered casualties,” Calderon 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’ favored 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.
Though Rosas 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.
The state Attorney General’s Office said Guzman was hit in the torso and his right arm and was still alive as he was loaded into the ambulance.
It said investigators interviewed 11 witnesses who gave conflicting reports on the number of suspects who drove by in the black Jeep Liberty from which a shotgun emerged. Prosecutors had earlier said that between three and four men were in the SUV.
Michoacan prosecutor Jesus Montejano said the vehicle had plates from the neighboring state of Jalisco, which borders La Piedad. Montejano said they have surveillance videos of the area.