Two weeks ago, as Dr. Maria Santos Gorrostieta dropped her daughter off at school about 8:30 a.m., a carload of gunmen screeched to a halt in north-central Mexico and jerked the pretty physician from her car. Rather than fight, the woman who has been described as one of the world’s newest heroines pleaded that her young daughter not be hurt. And, then, with her child watching and screaming in horror, the defiant Mexican mayor was abducted in broad daylight in the rural city of Morelia.
Dr. Gorrostieta, formerly the mayor of Tiquicheo, had already survived three assassination attempts after defying the ruthless drug cartels that have killed 50,000 of her countrymen since 2006. During the first attack, in which her husband was killed as a hail of bullets peppered the vehicle, she was wounded but survived.
Four months later she was again attacked by men with machine guns and seriously hurt by the bullets and as her vehicle crashed. Wearing a colostomy bag and now badly scarred, the mayor later had the courage to pose in graphic pictures to show the world what the gunmen had done to her body and plead that the atrocities now suffered by the Mexican people must stop.
Last week the tortured, mutilated body of the valiant crusader was found after the half-nude remains of the terribly battered Maria Gorrostieta had been dumped along a rural roadside. Her hands and feet still bound, she had been burned repeatedly on her chest and legs, stabbed, and severely beaten in a visible warning that the savage cartels are still very much alive and in control. To date over 30 Mexican mayors like Maria have been tortured and killed in the raging war between the drug traffickers and the Mexican army.
This week the president-elect of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, will meet with Barack Obama about economic matters, immigration issues and being “neighborly.” But the hope here is that Dr. Maria Santos Gorrostieta be prominent in the discussions. You see, she died wanting the very same thing for her people that we Americans want for us.
Back when she posed for the pictures two years ago, showing the bullet holes, the scars, the colostomy bag, and told of her constant pain, she was asked why go through all of this. “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,” she bravely told reporters. “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,” she said, “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,” she said. “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.”
Maria’s second husband, who she married two years after her first was killed, has now been officially reported as missing and authorities believe that when she ran for a seat on Mexico’s Congress recently and was defeated, the cartels simply waited until her security details were withdrawn before they boldly launched what would be her last and fatal attack.
One Mexican official, when asked why the security details were removed, shrugged and told reporters, “She did not ask for it.”
But, around the world, others now ask – not just why her protection stopped but why such a crusader for her people had to die. Her footprint should be remembered and the two presidents, when they meet this week, should assure that Dr. Maria Gorrostieta – in her defiant quest for freedom -- did not die in vain.