MEXICO CITY -- As a small-town mayor in the drug-trafficking western state of Michoacan, she survived two assassination attempts. One claimed the life of her husband; another three months later left her badly wounded.
That was in 2009 and 2010. Her mayoral term ended in 2011. And over the weekend, Maria de los Santos Gorrostieta Salazar was slain, apparently tortured and beaten to death, her body dumped in a ravine.
Gorrostieta had been mayor of Tiquicheo, a remote town in the so-called hotlands of Michoacan, farmland firmly under the thumb of drug-trafficking cartels. She had denounced traffickers; she also had to confront accusations that her late husband was involved in criminal business.
The Times interviewed Gorrostieta in April 2010, at the height of political intrigue in Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon.
About 35 Michoacan mayors, police chiefs and others had been arrested on charges of having aided the dominant cartel at the time, the Familia Michoacana. The case was seen by many as the most dramatic display to that date of how deeply drug gangs had penetrated a state’s political and law-enforcement establishment. But soon it was all falling apart, suspects gradually being released.
Around the same time, the top security official in Michoacan also survived an assassination attempt, when gunmen pumped hundreds of rounds into her armored SUV in an ambush on a dark highway.
In the interview, Gorrostieta said she was painfully aware of the dangers. But she was also resolved to continue her work, which, on the day The Times saw her, involved meeting with local farmers and ranchers and students and generally being a good sport.
Young and attractive, she said it never occurred to her to resign. Her husband, Jose Sanchez, a local landowner, was killed in one attack, and there was speculation he was the main target, at least initially, not her.
Her family reported her missing Wednesday, and her body, bruised and with signs her hands had been bound, was found on Friday off a Michoacan road. A day later, she was identified.
Members of her leftist political party are asking why state authorities had not provided protection, given her repeated close calls.
“All mayors are at risk,” said Calderon’s sister Luisa Maria Calderon, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michoacan late last year and is now a senator.