While local authorities, including police and elected officials, are often accused of colluding with cartels, they have also fallen prey to the violence. Most of the killings of mayors have taken place in Michoacan and the northern state of Durango.
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.
Mayors from towns along Michoacan’s borders with other Mexican states are the most at risk since gangs have fierce fights for control over these areas against the Knights Templar.
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.
“Whoever is part of a legally constituted body cannot participate in organized crime or delinquency in any shape or form,” Aguilera Garibay told AFP. “You can’t make a payoff. It’s illegal.”
But mayors say they live in fear of gangs whose arsenal, which includes assault rifles, is more powerful than that of municipal police forces.
The lack of police protection prompted an entire town called Cheran to form its own vigilante force in July 2011 to fight off illegal loggers in their woods. A neighbouring Michoacan town, Urapicho, also took up arms last year and a similar movement emerged last month in the neighbouring state of Guerrero.