Gang killings in Oaxaca force response from governor


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Two leaders of a university student gang were gunned down last week in front of a popular tourist attraction in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The shootings are not believed to be drug-related but rather tied to the complex world of provincial politics in Oaxaca, where deals, scores, and broken alliances are often settled through violence. Campus-based student gangs, known as porros, are among those accused of carrying out fatal attacks against the teacher-led movement that sought to oust Gov. Ulises Ruiz in 2006.

The victims in the Friday shooting, Ruben Maldonado Marmolejo and Jose Maria Gonzalez Porras, were approached by gunmen outside the Santo Domingo church, a tourism landmark in the historic center of Oaxaca, also capital of Oaxaca state, at about 1:30 p.m. Ruiz was at an official event only a few blocks away, one report said.


The gunmen fired and fled on motorcycles, while the dead men’s bodies were left uncovered for an unusually long time as police investigated, reports said. This allowed the scene to be widely photographed, as seen in the above news agency image.

Maldonado and Gonzalez were identified as leaders of a porro gang at a Oaxacan university that routinely clashes with police and opposition activists (link in Spanish). Ruiz, pressed by local reporters including Mexico’s official state news agency Notimex (link in Spanish), dismissed immediate whispers in Oaxaca that the porro killings at the Santo Domingo church were somehow tied to the upcoming end of his six-year term as governor.

‘We are not immune to this type of violence,’ Ruiz said, adding that violence in Oaxaca is not as acute as in other states.

On Dec. 1, Ruiz hands over the governorship to Gabino Cue, ending 80 years of uninterrupted rule in the state for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Cue won as a coalition candidate for non-PRI parties. The PRI’s control over Oaxaca is longer than the party’s uninterrupted control over the Mexican presidency, which lasted 71 years. The transition is expected to be delicate.

Porros are often hired as unofficial muscle for politicians and political parties in various regions of Mexico. Operating as contracted thugs, the secretive groups are thought to openly attack or seek to sabotage opposition demonstrations, such as those that gripped Oaxaca during the conflict over Ruiz’s rule in 2006. The Oaxaca teachers’ group known as the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, or APPO, accused the Ruiz administration of hiring porro groups to attack its blockades in the city at the time. The gangs were known as ‘caravans of death’ (link in Spanish).

In statements during the 2006 confrontations, APPO said at least 17 people died in attacks, but subsequent reports place that figure higher. Among the dead over the seven-month period of upheaval was the American journalist Brad Will, a case that Will’s survivors say has never been fully solved.

In recent weeks, two social activists have been killed in different towns in Oaxaca, part of a steady stream of politically motivated attacks that crisscross the state and confound even locals over their motive or meaning. In mid-October, an American real estate developer was found dead near the town of San Bartolo Coyotepec. Lane Gilbert, 46, was a native of Northern California who lived in Oaxaca for 18 years. He had been missing since August.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City