I usually write about frivolous subjects, but I can’t do that today after reading about the abduction, torture and execution of 36-year-old Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the mother of 3 children and the former mayor of the small town of Tiquicheo, Mexico.
She was living in Morelia, Mexico on November 12 and was driving her daughter to school when her van was blocked by another car. Attackers pulled her out and began beating her in front of passers-by. She begged the attackers to spare her daughter and went willingly into their vehicle so that they’d leave the girl alone. Five days later farm workers found her body in a roadside ditch. She had been tortured, beaten and burned.
This was the third assassination attempt on Maria—the first two happened while she was the mayor of Tiquicheo and defied the drug family, “La Familia Michoacana” which controls this area of Mexico. The current drug wars account for at least 50,000 deaths so far—some say it’s double that. Headless, mutilated bodies turn up in the state of Michoacan almost weekly. This past weekend 19 bodies were found in the northern border state of Chihuahua.
Maria Gorrostieta was a doctor who studied medicine in Morelia. She was elected mayor of Tiquicheo as a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2008. In October 2009, her car was attacked by gunmen and her husband, José Sanchez, died. Maria was seriously wounded, but defiantly returned to work. Three months later, she was attacked again on the way to a meeting. The gunmen fired 30 bullets, which wounded Maria’s brother and a reporter. The three bullets that hit Maria caused serious wounds that left her in constant pain and forced her to wear a colostomy bag. In the photo above, she bared her scars to the cameras and said, “I wanted to show them my wounded, mutilated, humiliated body because I’m not ashamed of it, because it is the product of the great misfortunes that have scarred my life, that of my children and my family.” (Like the US press, I cropped out the wounds to her stomach, because they were so grisly.)
After the second attack, she considered quitting but did not. “It is not possible for me to surrender when I have three children whom I have to educate by setting an example,” she said, “and also because of the memory of the man of my life, the father of my three little ones, the one who was able to teach me the value of things and to fight for them.”
During her time as mayor of Tiquicheo, Maria had a police escort, assigned to her by the government, but her protection was pulled after she left office.
As the press reported after her death, two dozen mayors have been murdered in Mexico since the government’s war on the drug cartels began six years ago. Not surprisingly, few men are willing to run for office, but Maria Gorrostieta was one of seven women who dared to serve as mayors or police chiefs because no man could be found for the office. Two of these women were assassinated, a third was kidnapped and is feared dead, and a fourth left her job and fled to the United States. Now Maria Santos Gorrostieta has joined the list of martyrs, as she knew she would.
Morelia, where she died, was the town where I stayed in February of 2011 while touring with author and chef Susana Trilling of “Seasons of My Heart” to meet indigenous chefs of the Purepecha Indians and to visit the nearby nature reserve of the Monarch butterflies at La Rosita.
Morelia, at the very center of the drug war, is a beautiful city with fascinating history but it was nearly empty of tourists when I was there, even though we students of Susanna Trilling never felt in danger (because we weren’t.) But the signs of the drug war—armed citizens and conspicuous groups of armed Federal police—were everywhere. People of means hired body guards, changed their route to work daily and feared constantly that their children would be kidnapped and held for ransom.
It breaks my heart to see Mexico-- where I have traveled so often, seen so much beauty and fallen in love with the people--suffering from this cruel war which the government seems unable to stop, but it breaks my hear even more to see women like Maria die horribly and leave their children orphaned every day while the country and its people suffer terribly and the drug lords just get richer.