MEXICO CITY – A flamboyant farmworker organizer who called himself a modern day Emiliano Zapata has been slain in a brazen ambush that also killed 14 members of his family and staff, officials said Saturday.
Prosecutors in the border state of Sonora, where the slayings occurred, said they were investigating a range of motives. Sonora, like much of Mexico, has been hit by a wave of killings tied to drug-trafficking gangs.
The union leader, Margarito Montes, was killed in the southern part of the state that borders Sinaloa, a major center for the production and transport of marijuana and heroin.
Farmers Montes represented often find themselves trapped in the drug war, with traffickers forcing them to work illicit crops. But Montes also had chalked up numerous enemies as he fought in tumultuous land disputes for more than two decades.
Montes, his wife and two children were traveling in a small convoy with at least 11 other relatives and staff members to a rural hacienda Friday afternoon when they were intercepted by several assailants armed with large-caliber weapons, investigators said. All 15 were shot to death, the investigators said.
Red Cross workers arrived at the scene to find bullet-riddled bodies on the side of the road. There were reports that three additional people in the group survived with injuries.
Several organizations joined Saturday to demand a thorough investigation and to ask for protection for leaders.
“This was an attack not just against a union leader but against the work we do,” said Norma Patino, an official with Cocyp, an umbrella group of peasant and popular organizations. “This hurts the work of all of us.”