MEXICO CITY, (Reuters) – The former governor of the Mexican state of Jalisco was shot dead early yesterday in the bathroom of a restaurant in the beach town of Puerto Vallarta, one of the highest-profile political murders since Mexico began its “War on Drugs” in 2006.
Jalisco province officials said Aristoteles Sandoval was shot in the back by an unidentified assailant while his security details were outside. A shootout erupted as his bodyguards began moving Sandoval to the hospital.
Mexico is battling to wreak harsh violence across the country, with Jalisco being one of the epicenter of internecine cartel warfare that last year committed murders to a record high with 34,670 recorded homicides.
Sandoval’s 2013-18 term as governor was overshadowed by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which rose from oblivion to become one of the most powerful in Mexico, leaving a trail of death and defiance.
Today the CJNG is competing with the Sinaloa Cartel of king-in-law Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman for controlling much of the drug trade inside Mexico as well as the United States.
Jalisco state attorney general Gerardo Octavio Solis said the 46-year-old Sandoval had been with three other people at the restaurant and was gunned down about 1.40 am after going to the bathroom.
Sandoval had 15 bodyguards for him, officials said, though local media reports suggested about half were on duty. Solis told Mexican radio that one bodyguard was seriously wounded in the gunfire.
The attorney general said the restaurant “manipulated” the scene of the crime, cleaning up fingerprints and taking security cameras in an apparent attempt “to avoid justice.”
He said investigators believe 8 to 10 suspects were involved in the attack, but did not identify who was responsible. A federal official said authorities suspect CJNG’s involvement.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador offered his condolences and promised to bring the criminals to justice.
Although low-level political assassinations are not uncommon in Mexico, powerful governor-level figures are rarely seen killed.
Sandoval’s murder is likely to heighten tensions ahead of upcoming midterm elections on June 6, 2021. With his killing the Jalisco cartel will have unveiled the political class in the state, analysts said.
“They are building this reputation that they can kill the best politicians at the state level in case of need,” said Eduardo Guerrero, a security analyst from Lantia Consultores.
Sandoval’s term in Jalisco got off to a bloody start, with his tourism minister shot dead in the state capital of Guadalajara by suspected CJNG gunmen just a week after he took office.
More murders followed and clashes with the security forces. Authorities said the gang purchased thousands of police as it gradually extended its reach across Mexico.
Sandoval’s murder may have been intended as a warning to his successor, Governor Enrique Alfaro, who has been battling the Jalisco cartel.
“The message is: surrender or negotiate with the Jalisco New Generation cartel, or you’ll have the same fate as Sandoval,” added analyst Guerrero.