Five mayors in Guatemala have been attacked since the start of 2017 and two have been killed in a little over a week, raising fears that criminal groups vying for local power are behind the surge in political violence.
Mayor Ángel Amado Pérez of the town of Rabinal and local councilman Eldin Gómez were killed on February 1, the latest in a series of attacks against municipal officials, reported Prensa Libre.
The slayings come on the heels of the murder of Valeriano Rodríguez Cos, a mayor in Suchitepéquez department who disappeared on January 23 and whose body was found two days later wrapped in plastic bags and bearing signs of head and facial injuries.
Edwin Escobar, president of Guatemala's National Association of Municipalities, believes drug trafficking groups were behind these and other recent attacks against mayors.
"We are now seeing that [drug trafficking groups] are killing mayors from the interior, in municipalities that are smuggling routes," Escobar told Prensa Libre. He later added, "From my point of view I would not dismiss [the idea] that it is a repositioning of dark powers such as drug trafficking in order to establish a narco-state in weakened areas."
Meanwhile Édgar Pereira, an analyst with the Central American Institute of Studies for Social Democracy, said the violence may be the result of mayors making promises to political benefactors during their campaign that they were unable to fulfill once in office.
InSight Crime Analysis
While it is not yet clear whether the murders were in fact linked to organized crime, recent cases of Guatemalan mayors being gunned down in cold blood point in that direction. As Prensa Libre noted, several mayors who have either been linked to drug trafficking groups or presided over towns located along major smuggling routes have been killed in recent years.
For his part, Interior Minister Francisco Rivas Lara told the newspaper that drug traffickers are responsible for some, "but not all," of the murders.
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The ties between city hall and organized crime appear to be growing in intensity across Central America's Northern Triangle region of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Not all mayors who are targeted by these networks are corrupt, however. Honest mayors can also find themselves in the crosshairs of criminal groups if they refuse to do the bidding of the underworld bosses.