LATIN AMERICA

Former Mexican mayor who "refused to give in" found dead

María Santos Gorrostieta Salazar, 36, had survived at least four assassination attempts

María Santos Gorrostieta in 2010. / V

Michoacán is a beautiful western Mexican state, which is actually ruled by two distinct powers. There is the legitimate administration of Fausto Vallejo, who was elected governor in February on behalf of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). And there is feared violent rule of the Michoacana Family, or that of the so-called Los Caballeros Templarios, who have been waging a bloody war against their enemies for the past seven years.

Last week, they dealt a deadly blow to the political establishment when they murdered a former mayor who had dared to challenge their authority. María Santos Gorrostieta Salazar, 36, had survived at least four assassination attempts, including one that left her widowed and disfigured.

A physician, she served as mayor of Tiquicheo - a small town about two hours away from the capital Morelia - from 2008 to 2011 on behalf of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). She disappeared on November 12, and on Thursday police found the body of a young woman who had been tortured before she was killed. She was later identified as Santos.

"Despite my own security and that of my family's, I have a responsibility toward my people, the children, women, elderly and men who each day rip apart their souls just to bring home a loaf of bread... It isn't possible for me to give in when I have to set an example for my three children," she told EL PAÍS last June.

On October 15, 2009 a group of hitmen shot her at least seven times in an ambush

On October 15, 2009 a group of hitmen shot her at least seven times in an ambush in which her husband was killed. Three months later, after she recovered from her injuries, another armed group opened fire on her brother's vehicle while she was in the passenger seat. Santos made the news when she appeared before the press to show the extent of her scars, which had left her body badly disfigured. On Wednesday, the Mexico City daily El Universal said there were at least two other assassination attempts that she never reported.

On Monday, the Michoacán state government came under public attack after a PRD lawmaker revealed that her bodyguards had been taken away from her this year. "There was never any petition or request for security. I don't know anything about this," said Jesús Reyna, the governor's chief of staff.

Of the estimated 50,000 people who have been murdered in Mexico's bloody drug war, waged since President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006, more than 40 have been current and former mayors.

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