Casualty of war: Dr Gorrostieta is the latest official murdered by cartels in Mexico's bloody battle over drugs

The woman mayor who was kidnapped and  murdered by a Mexican drug gang pleaded with her attackers for her young  daughter’s life, it emerged today.

Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who had already  survived two assassination attempts, was driving the child to school at around  8.30am when she was ambushed by a car in the city of Morelia.

The 36-year-old was hauled from her vehicle  and physically assaulted as horrified witnesses watched, according to newspaper  El Universal. They described how she begged for her child to be left alone  and then appeared to get into her abductors’ car willingly.

The little girl was left wailing as her  mother was driven away on Monday November 12.

Casualty of war: Dr Gorrostieta is the latest official murdered by cartels in Mexico’s bloody battle over drugs

For the next week, her frantic family waited  by the phone for a ransom call that never came.  Gorrostieta’s body — stabbed, burned, battered and bound at wrist and ankle — would finally be found  eight days on dumped by a roadside in San Juan Tararameo, Cuitzeo  Township.

She left behind her daughter and two sons as  well as her second husband Nereo Delgado Patinoran.

Hailed as a heroine of the 21st century, her  death has prompted much soul-searching in a country ravaged by  violence.

The decision to withdraw her security team in  November last year — and her police escort in January — has come under  particular scrutiny. Gorrostieta was elected as mayor of Tiquicheo, a rural  district in Michoacan, west of Mexico City, in 2008.

Almost immediately, she received threats. The  first assassination attempt came in October 2009 when the car she was travelling  in with her first husband Jose Sanchez came under fire from gunmen in the town  of El Limone. The attack claimed his life but Gorrostieta lived.

She battled back from her injuries in the  face of overwhelming tragedy, but she was not destined to know  peace.

The next attempt on her life was just three  months later, when an masked group carrying assault rifles ambushed her on the  road between Michoacan and Guerreo state. The van she was traveling in was  peppered by 30 bullets. Three hit her.

This time her wounds were more severe,  leaving multiple scars and forcing her to wear a colostomy bag. She was left in  constant pain.

Murder: The corpse of Dr Gorrostieta, found by farm workers from San Juan Tararameo. She had been burned, beaten and stabbed

But with unimaginable courage — and despite  being a marked woman — she remained defiant to the very end.

When some doubted that she had been shot,  Gorrostieta bared the scars that riddled her flesh and swore she would never  give in.

In a statement to the public made at the  time, the devout Catholic said: ‘At another stage in my life, perhaps I would  have resigned from what I have, my position, my responsibilities as the leader  of my Tiquicheo.

‘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.’

She added: ‘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 product of the  great misfortunes that have scarred my life, that of my children and my  family.’

‘Despite my own safety and that of my family,  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.’

After her ordeal she remarried and ran for a  seat in Mexico’s Congress of the Union, but failed to gain the backing she  needed.

She remarried and dropped out of the public  eye.

But it was still almost inevitable that she  would eventually pay for her bravery with her life

Mexico has been torn apart by murderous drug  gangs since President Felipe Calderon launched his drug offensive in  2006.

More than 50,000 people have been killed in  clashes between rival drug cartels and security forces and about two dozen  mayors have been murdered.

The cartels have ruled the streets with fear  for years, enforcing their authority with murders, bribery and  torture.

But after decades of using force to combat  the gangs, it is U.S. lawmakers who are the criminals’ biggest  problem.

Legalisation of marijuana, as recently voted  for by Colorado and Washington states, may wipe billions of dollars from the  cartels’ annual profits.

And it has left politicians in Mexico with a  tough question: How can they continue to justify spending money — and lives — fighting drug distribution to America when it will be legal in some states from  next month?

The U.S. Justice Department considers the  cartels as America’s greatest organised crime threat, while  conceding that it  is U.S. dollars that fund the crime ravaging Mexico.

In 2009 a military assessment  predicted that  if the drugs war continued for another 25 years, Mexico’s government was at  serious risk of collapse and the conflict would  spread into America.

A year earlier, the U.S. Joint Forces Command  suggested a similar time-scale of collapse in Mexico and warned American  intervention may be necessary due to the implications for  homeland  security.

The problem of strengthening the  Mexico/U.S.  border even prompted President Barack Obama to deploy 1,200  National Guard  troops in 2010.

The two major cartels in Mexico are now the  Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas.

The Sinaloa Cartel was formed when several  gangs agreed to join forces in 2006 and is now led by Joaquin ‘El Chapo’  Guzman.

He is Mexico’s most wanted drug  trafficker  and is believed to be worth $1billion. Forbes magazing even  declared him the  55th most powerful man in the world in 2009.

Los Zetas were originally a mercenary outfit  of former elite members of the Mexican army by the Gulf Cartel.

Consisting of Airmobile Special  Forces Group  and Amphibian Group of Special Forces members, they helped  control parts of  Mexico for the Gulf Cartel until its leader, Osiel  Cardenas Guillen, was  arrested.

Los Zetas took the opportunity to  seize  power for themselves and are now a 300-strong independent drugs  and arms  trafficking gang under the leadership of Heriberto Lazcano.

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