Monday, June 24, 2024

Mayor of Michoacán town is murdered the day after elections

Eight months after having survived a kidnapping, the mayor of a small municipality in the state of Michoacán was murdered on Monday night.

Yolanda Sánchez, the outgoing mayor of Cotija, Michoacán, was killed in a drive-by shooting in the main plaza of the town. The assassins reportedly used assault rifles, firing at the mayor and her bodyguard from a moving SUV and hitting Sánchez at least 19 times. The bodyguard was also killed.

The state government issued a statement on social media condemning the assassination, adding that “[a] security operation coordinated with federal agencies has been deployed to find those responsible for the incident.”

A member of the National Action Party (PAN), Sánchez was elected in 2021 and became the first female mayor of Cotija, which borders the state of Jalisco, home to the violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

Sánchez’s murder occurred a day after her successor, Juan Pablo Aguilar Barragán — also a member of the PAN — was elected as the next mayor of Cotija. The newspaper El Universal reported that the CJNG issued public threats against Aguilar Barragán on Tuesday morning.

El Universal also reported that a gang known as “Calaveras” (Skulls) had claimed credit for Sánchez’s murder. “Calaveras” is reportedly a CJNG cell operating in the Jalisco-Michoacán border region known as Death Row, a dangerous area under the control of the CJNG, according to the news site Infobae.

In April 2023, a commando unit which allegedly included gunmen wearing National Guard uniforms stormed Cotija’s City Hall, killing two people. According to Infobae, a man in an official uniform told the mayor that the CJNG would be taking over the municipality’s security forces. Sánchez reportedly received a phone call later that day ordering her to replace Cotija’s police chief with a man chosen by the cartel.

Five months later, on Sept. 23, 2023, Sánchez was abducted while riding in a taxi with two members of her family in the city of Zapopan, Jalisco, a suburb of Guadalajara. She was rescued three days later by members of the National Guard (GN). 

At 5 a.m. on Sept. 26, the mayor phoned the Cotija police chief and informed him she had been placed on a bus traveling from Jalisco to Michoacán. The police chief alerted the GN which intercepted the bus outside the municipality of Villamar, Michoacán, about 42 kilometers southwest of Cotija, and liberated Sánchez without incident. Three men were detained but have yet to be charged for her kidnapping. 

Although Sánchez could not positively identify the kidnappers, local media assigned blame to the CJNG. She did say her kidnappers had made “demands” and inflicted “psychological terror” before releasing her, according to the BBC.

In the 2023-24 campaign season, at least 35 pre-candidates and candidates were murdered across Mexico. Most were running for municipal positions.

With reports from La Nación, the BBC, Infobae and El Universal

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