Reports of drug traffickers taking control of towns in northwestern Mexico is a reminder of how organized crime often seeks power at the municipal government level.
Criminals have taken near total control of Madera, a town in the northern border state of Chihuahua, reporter Dora Villalobos told local media. The town sees two to three murders per week and residents are often subjected to kidnapping and extortion, she added.
In another Chihuahua town, Las Chinacas, some 300 families have fled their homes after being threatened by a caravan of armed men, reported La Opcion.
Meanwhile in nearby Sinaloa state, Santiago Chaidez Jimenez is known as the "narco-mayor" of Canelas, where he allegedly directs a group of hitmen who kill political rivals and those who fail to make extortion payments, according to El Diario.
InSight Crime Analysis
It is noteworthy that these recent reports involve towns with little or no support from Mexico's central government. Madera has no permanent federal or state presence, Villalobos was reported as saying, while Las Chinacas and Canelas are both isolated mountain towns.
Organized crime's influence can most often be felt at this level, where officials are seen as more vulnerable to receiving both bribes and threats. The ongoing killing of mayors in Mexico speaks to this grim reality, as do the spikes in violence that often precede local elections.
SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles
Making matters worse, municipal-level police are often poorly paid, making it easier for criminals to subvert what little security apparatus a town may have. President Enrique Peña Nieto's "mando unico" initiative seeks to address municipal level police corruption by consolidating local police under state command. However, there are indications state police agencies are no less prone to corruption than their municipal counterparts.
This dynamic is certainly not unique to Mexico. In Central America's Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras), criminal groups often fill the power vacuum in areas with a weak state presence (pdf), especially in border regions where drugs, weapons, and other contraband products flow freely.