MEXICO CITY – The governor of the southern Mexican state of Morelos said Monday that a drug gang killed a newly inaugurated mayor to convince other officials to reject state police control of local cops and allow cartels to co-opt low-paid local police.
Gov. Graco Ramirez sent a post on his Twitter account blaming the murder of Temixco Mayor Gisela Mota on the Rojos gang, which has been fighting a bloody turf battle with the Guerreros Unidos gang across the neighboring state of Guerrero.
Their rivalry may have played a role in the worst mass disappearance in recent memory, that of 43 students in Guerrero in 2014. Some suspects told investigators that the Guerreros Unidos mistook the students for members of the Rojos and used local police under their control to capture them.
Ramirez said at a news conference Sunday that the killing was a warning to local officials not to accept unified state control of police forces, a new system aimed at combatting corruption in local police forces.
Mota had accepted state police control, though she had demanded traffic cops remain under local authority.
“This is a message and clear threat to the mayors who have recently taken office not to accept the coordination plan and police framework that we have been promoting,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said the state police plan has led to a decrease in the wave of kidnappings, extortions and drug gang killings that swept the state in recent years.
Many critics have questioned whether the unified command will be cleaner or more efficient than the local forces and the state government has struggled to convince mayors to give up control of officers who are a source of influence, protection and often income from bribes.
A local newspaper, La Union de Morelos, cast doubt on Ramirez’s motives in an editorial Monday that accused him of opportunistically using the murder “to get around the growing opposition to a model of security whose effectiveness is belied by figures and facts.”
The biggest holdout has been the recently instated mayor of the state capital, Cuernavaca, former soccer star Cuauhtemoc Blanco.
Despite Blanco’s refusal, Ramirez announced he was imposing state command over Cuernavaca’s police, and he suggested dark forces were influencing the pugnacious former athlete, who has never before held public office.
“Behind Cuauhtemoc Blanco there are people who want to take advantage of his lack of experience, to allow crime gangs to enter Cuernavaca,” Ramirez wrote on Twitter Monday.
The Cuernavaca city government said Monday it would continue to oppose the state plan.
Following the killing, two suspects were killed in a clash with police and three others arrested — a 32-year-old woman, an 18-year-old man and a minor. Officials gave few other details, though state Attorney General Javier Perez Duron said the suspects had been tied to other crimes.
Temixco, with about 100,000 people, is a suburb of Cuernavaca, long a tourist haven famed for its colonial architecture, gardens and streets lined with bougainvilleas and jacarandas.
But the rise of drug and extortion gangs has driven away some tourists and residents.
The expressway — and drug routes — between Mexico City and the country’s murder capital of Acapulco cuts through Cuernavaca and Temixco.