Mayoral Candidate With Suspected Ties to ‘La Linea’ Was Killed in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua

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“MX” for Borderland Beat

Yuriel Armando Gonzalez Lara, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) mayoral candidate of Nuevo Casas Grandes municipality in Chihuahua, was murdered yesterday evening by suspected cartel gunmen.

He was killed along with Rafael Martinez Melendez, a Chihuahua State Police officer who worked as his personal bodyguard. The events occurred shortly before midnight on Thursday in the historic center of this municipality, located about 300 km (186 mi) from Chihuahua’s state capital.

Yuriel was an attorney specialized in criminal law and once worked as a state judge in Chihuahua’s judicial court system. In 2014, he served the police chief of Nuevo Casas Grandes, but retired from his police duties to pursue a career in local politics. At the time of his death, he still managed his own law firm, Yuriel Lara & Associates.

Chihuahua’s PRI head, Omar Bazan Flores, said he was not aware that Yuriel received any death threats. The PRI now has until March 15 to find and choose another candidate for the Nuevo Casas Grandes mayoral seat.

So far authorities have not arrested a single suspect and the motives behind the killing are unknown. But investigators suggested that this attack may have been perpetrated by cartel members given Yuriel’s suspected organized crime ties.

Background

In July 2020, Borderland Beat reported that Yuriel was arrested along with two high-ranking members of La Linea, Gildardo Palomino Nieblas (‘El G3’) and Miguel P. A. H. (‘El Puentes’). Both of these men were arrested for their suspected involvement in the LeBarón family massacre.

Yuriel was released hours later after authorities found no evidence to incriminate him. Several within the PRI distanced themselves from Yuriel after this incident, but Bazan continued to push Yuriel as the PRI’s mayoral candidate for Nuevo Casas Grandes.

In January, Borderland Beat reported that the Nuevo Casas Grandes police chief Julio Cesar Ramirez Valdez was nearly killed in an ambush attack that left four police officers and one bystander dead. The investigators assigned to Yuriel’s murder said both attacks are likely related. Ramirez Valdez was once arrested for a murder carried out by Gente Nueva, a group affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel. He was released due to lack of evidence.

Nuevo Casas Grandes is reportedly under the control of La Linea. La Linea is now a much larger criminal network and directly hires local gang members as “contract enforcers”. Outside of Ciudad Juarez and across rural Chihuahua, it mostly competes against Gente Nueva.

In the past six months, over 64 politicians have been murdered in Mexico. Yuriel’s death is three months before local election season, which typically unleashes a wave of cartel and politically-motivated violence against local officials.

Cartels oftentimes seek to control local officials and/or influence local elections to expand their agendas in a given plaza (turf). Mayors are usually responsible for appointing local police chiefs and deciding who wins government contracts and concessions at a municipal level.

SourceTiempo; Milenio; Proceso; CTVNews; Infobae; Diario de Juarez; La Torre Fuerte; Borderland Beat archives


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