Maria Santos Gorrostieta dared defy the Mexican drug cartels, and for that she paid with her life. As mayor of Tiquicheo, a city near Mexico City, and as a mother of three, she viewed the threats of the violent gangs not as a call to cease her efforts in cowardice, but to persist in her denouncement of the gangs.
In 2009, when she was traveling with her husband Jose Sanchez, who had escaped with his life from a previous gang threat earlier that year, he was killed. A few months later, masked assailants gunned her van with 30 bullets, three which hit her. She survived, but had to use a colonoscopy bag and was left in constant pain.
Yet she did not balk. In fact, she flaunted the wounds, having photos of her wounds printed in the newspaper to rally support for the war on the drug cartels.
“At another stage in my life, perhaps I would have resigned from what I have, my position, my responsibilities as a leader of my Tiquicheo,” she said, “But today, no. It is not possible for me to surrender when I have three children, whom I have to educate by setting an example, 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.
“Although he is no longer with us, he continues to be the light that guides my decisions.”
“I struggle day to day to erase from my mind the images of the horror I lived, and that others who did not deserve or expect it also suffered.
“I wanted to show them my wounded, mutilated, humiliated body, because I ‘m not ashamed of it, because it is the produce of the great misfortunes that have scarred my life, that of my children and family.”
“Despite my own safety and that of my people, what occupies my mind is my responsibility towards my people, the children, the women, the elderly and the men who break their souls every day without rest to find a piece of bread for their children.
“Freedom brings with it responsibilities and I don’t dare fall behind. My long road is not yet finished — the footprint that we leave behind in our country depends on the battle that we lose and the loyalty we put into it.”
Her car was pulled over at around 8:30 a.m. Monday November 12. Witnesses watched in horror as she was beaten in broad daylight, as her daughter wailed. She begged for her daughter to be spared, and this explains why she went willingly with her kidnappers.
For days, her three children and second husband waited by the phone for the ransom terms. There was no phone call.
On Saturday, November 17 her body was discovered by farm workers in a ditch. It had been severely beaten, burned, and mutilated from torture.
A devout Catholic, she had previously wondered why she had been targeted this way.
“I have a clear conscience,” she said, “I have never had any issues of any kind, be it money, family or crime related, and I have never had any fights with neighbors or residents of my town or any other town.”
Maria Santos Gorrostieta is rightly being called by Mexican journalists as “A heroine of the 21st century.”