Mexican mayor survives bullets, gets his own song

AP News
Posted: Apr 23, 2011 2:34 PM
Mexican mayor survives bullets, gets his own song

The mayor of a Mexican town who survived two drug cartel assassination attempts has gotten his own "corrido," a genre of Mexican folk song that in recent years has been more devoted to glorifying the exploits of drug traffickers than public servants.

But in a Mexico desperate for heroes, plain-talking Mayor Jaime Rodriguez Calderon seems made to order: The song dedicated to him is called "El Bronco," or "The Unbroken One."

"I'm not one of these politicians who hides what they think. I'm facing things that require you to have a strong character," said the mayor of the town of Garcia, a suburb of the northern industrial hub of Monterrey.

The town of 50,000 is surrounded by mountains and ravaged by violence because two former allies _ the Gulf and Zetas cartels _ now fight a bloody turf war over the smuggling routes to the U.S.

Rodriguez Calderon, who has the fit, stocky, no-nonsense bearing of the horseman he is, talks about his struggle against the cartels since he took office 18 months ago.

"I fired all the police and then I began to close the businesses the cartels ran to finance themselves," he told The Associated Press. "I began to impose order on the city ... and that got this gang angry and they reacted."

Unbroken, but not without feeling: He sometimes tears up, as he did when he attended the funeral of a 26-year-old bodyguard killed in the latest attack against him, a carefully planned assault in March in which about 40 gunmen in 15 vehicles opened fire on the mayor's bulletproof SUV during a 20-minute shootout.

The young bodyguard is mentioned in the mayor's "corrido" as "a loyal bodyguard and a great ally."

"When I heard it (the song) I had conflicting feelings, because it suddenly made me remember an event that one wants to forget," Rodriguez Calderon said.

But the song also gives him a boost, he said. "It pushes me to keep going."

Rodriguez Calderon escaped unharmed from a similar attack Feb. 25. Three gunmen were killed that day in a shootout with his bodyguards.

A spokesman for public security in Nuevo Leon, the state where Garcia is located, agreed that Rodriguez Calderon's police cleanup made him a target.

The spokesman, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject, said it is common practice for public figures in Nuevo Leon, including police chiefs, mayors and the state governor, to use bulletproof vehicles and employ security detachments.

In a country where the violence seems endless _ more than 34,000 people were killed in the first years of Mexico's drug war _ Rodrigo Garcia, the songwriter, found the mayor's story "interesting and inspirational."

"Here is a person who didn't back down, who didn't run," Garcia said.

"It wasn't just the bulletproofing that saved his life/It was the hand of God," declares the first line of "El Alcalde Bronco," which is just starting to make its way onto the airwaves.

Corridos are folk tales popular in northern Mexico and among Hispanics in the United States. The purpose of the accordion-heavy ballads is to memorialize real-life events both tragic and heroic.

After celebrating many of the heroes of the 1910-1917 Revolution, corridos declined in popularity until they were revived in the 1980s as "narco-corridos," celebrating the exploits of outlaws and drug runners.

That genre is considered so pernicious that several Mexican cities have sought to prohibit bands from performing narco-corridos within their limits, and discourage radio stations from playing them.

But with a deep-seated distrust of politicians and law-enforcement officials _ many of whom have proved corrupt, inefficient or in the service of drug cartels _ it remains unclear if Mexico is ready to go back to the old style of hero worship.

Tania Aguilar, 24, who sells "tortas," or sandwiches, from a streetside stall in Garcia, is not so easily convinced that politicians are heroic.

"They're all corrupt," Aguilar said with a shrug. "I respect the mayor for staying in the job, sure, but he's no hero. He is just doing his job."

"Besides," she added, "I don't like that kind of music."

Nearby, Garcia resident Guadalupe Salazar works in a convenience store within sight of the two previous assassination attempts against the mayor. Salazar says she heard the song on television.

"It's nice," she said. "I think the mayor is brave, because not everybody would continue working the job under these conditions."

But mostly she's worried she'll get hit by a stray bullet if there's another attack.