MEXICO CITY (AP) — Officials said Friday that a crusading small-town Mexican mayor who denounced cartel extortion has been found dead on a roadside, a killing that has drawn national attention.
Former President Felipe Calderon published tweets demanding an explanation of the death of Ygnacio Lopez Mendoza, the mayor of the town of Santa Ana Maya in western Michoacan state. The largely agricultural town has about 12,000 residents.
Calderon is from Michoacan, which has been dominated for years by the Knights Templar drug cartel. Its members routinely extort money from residents, businesses and even local officials.
"The mayor ... was on hunger strike in front of the senate complaining of complicity between local police and criminals. Today he's dead. How did it happen?" Calderon asked on his Twitter account.
Armando Amaro Vallejo, an assistant prosecutor in the neighboring state of Guanajuato where the mayor's body was found on Thursday, said an autopsy showed he died of "mechanical asphyxiation ensuing from neck trauma," a phrase normally used to refer to strangulation but which could potentially refer to an accidental injury.
Amaro Vallejo said prosecutors were not ruling out homicide in the death.
The Mexican Association of Local Authorities said Lopez Mendoza "suffered during his administration not only from a lack of funding, but also drug cartel harassment."
Lopez Mendoza, 62, recently held a hunger strike to press demands for more funds for local governments. During that strike, he told local media that Michoacan mayors were being forced to give 10 percent of works budgets to the Knights Templar, a charge also made by residents in other parts of the state.
Ricardo Bautista, president of the mayors' association, said on MVS radio that Lopez Mendoza had told others at an association meeting in Mexico City shortly before his death that he was being subjected to extortion by the drug cartel. Bautista said at least 40 mayors have been killed in Mexico in recent years. In some cases, their own local police forces are believed to have been involved in the killings.
Calderon wrote in another tweet, "The crime problem in Michoacan won't be solved as long as local governments continue to avoid cleaning up local police forces and detectives who are infiltrated by the criminals."
In a sign of how widespread the problem is, army troops moved into another town in Michoacan, Vista Hermosa, on Thursday and detained the entire local police force of 25 officers for questioning. Vista Hermosa is located in violent area where the Knights Templar are battling the New Generation, a cartel from neighboring Jalisco state.
On Monday, military and Federal Police moved into the Michoacan port of Lazaro Cardenas, a major source of income for the cartel through drugs, precursor chemicals and extortion. They took over security, dismissing 113 local police.