MEXICO CITY — As if Mexicans needed more evidence that criminal groups are trying to hijack the political life of the nation, it came with a ferocious triple-whammy punch in the past 24 hours.
Assailants shot and seriously wounded the mayor-elect of a town in the border state of Chihuahua Friday afternoon, less than a day after commandos in Nuevo Leon state executed a sitting mayor, making him the 10th municipal chief slain so far this year.
In Mexico City, a fugitive legislator with drug charges pending against him sneaked into Congress and took his seat, automatically obtaining immunity from prosecution.
Attacks on mayors are quickening, a sign that drug cartels are seeking to intimidate politicians and neutralize them when they interfere with criminal activity.
Gunmen outside a veterinary clinic in Gran Morelos, a town in the high desert west of Chihuahua City, shot and seriously wounded Mayor-elect Ricardo Solis Manriquez, the websites of the Reforma and El Universal newspapers said.
Solis, elected in early July, is to take office on Oct. 9.
Earlier in the day, eulogies poured in for Prisciliano Rodriguez Salinas, a mayor who was slain outside his ranch house in a rural area of Nuevo Leon state.
Four mayors have been killed in the past five weeks alone. The new attacks roiled the political arena, a sign that politicians long complacent toward drug trafficking are feeling heat. Rodriguez, 53, was elected mayor of Doctor Gonzalez, 30 miles northeast of the industrial city of Monterrey, by a coalition headed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the once-dominant force that is now the largest opposition party.
President Felipe Calderon issued a statement Friday morning pledging that his government "will not ease up on criminal groups."
Nuevo Leon state Attorney General Alejandro Garza y Garza said members of an "armed command" had ambushed Rodriguez outside his rural home in Doctor Gonzalez, and shot him with a .223-caliber assault rifle and a 9 mm handgun.
Garza y Garza described the region, which is less than a two-hour drive from the Texas border — as "a conflict zone" due to fierce rivalries between drug cartels.
Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina decried the "cowardly assassination."
"They will not frighten us," Medina said of drug cartels. "We will not yield."
The mayors of cities and towns in regions of Mexico that cartels dominate face pressure to turn a blind eye on criminal activity. Given a choice of "plomo" or "plata" — a lead bullet or a cash payoff — some mayors become virtual allies of the criminal groups.
Mayors also direct 2,022 municipal police departments, and Mexican Secretary of Public Security Genaro Garcia Luna said in early August that drug cartels were paying an estimated $100 million a month in bribes to corrupt municipal police officers.
The assassinations of mayors are becoming not only more frequent, but also more brazen. On Sept. 8, two gunmen marched into the El Naranjo Town Hall in San Luis Potosi state in broad daylight and murdered Mayor Alexander Lopez Garcia as he presided over a meeting, leaving his body slumped on the floor in a pool of blood.
After the Aug. 16 kidnapping of the mayor of Santiago, a picturesque town outside Monterrey, prosecutors said that members of Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos' own police force had carried out the act. His body turned up two days later.
The 10 mayors assassinated so far this year have governed towns in seven Mexican states: Chihuahua, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas.
In late June, a commando squad gunned down the leading gubernatorial candidate in the border state of Tamaulipas, Rodolfo Torre Cantu. It was the highest-level political assassination since presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was shot dead in 1994.
On Thursday, television networks broke into programming to show legislator Julio Cesar Godoy taking his seat in the federal Chamber of Deputies.
Godoy later held a news conference to declare that his 2009 arrest warrant for allegedly offering protection to one of Mexico's most feared drug gangs, the Familia Michoacana, was an effort by Calderon's ruling National Action Party to persecute his party in Michoacan state. Godoy is a member of the opposition leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party.
"I am not a criminal," Godoy said.
He skirted a federal police cordon that was aiming to capture him outside Congress, thus avoiding arrest and taking his legislative seat, automatically winning immunity from prosecution.
MEXICAN MAYORS SLAIN IN 2010
1) Prisciliano Rodríguez Salinas Doctor González, Nuevo Leon state Sept 23.
2) Alexander López-García El Naranjo, San Luis Potosi state Sept 8.
3) Marco Antonio Leal García Hidalgo, Tamaulipas state Aug. 29.
4) Edelmiro Cavazos Santiago, Nuevo Leon state Kidnapped Aug. 16, found dead two days later.
5) Nicolas García Ambrosio Santo Domingo de Morelos, Oaxaca state June 30.
6) Oscar Venancio Rivera San Jose del Progreso, Oaxaca June 20.
7) Jesus Manuel Lara Rodríguez Guadalupe, Chihuahua state June 19.
8) Jose Santiago Agustin Zapotitlan Tablas, Guerrero state April 28
9) Manuel Estrada El Mezquital, Hidalgo state Feb. 22.
10) Ramon Mendivil Sotelo Guadalupe y Calvo, Chihuahua state Feb. 17.
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