The former governor of Mexico’s violence-wracked western state of Jalisco has been shot dead in a restaurant bathroom in the popular beach resort of Puerto Vallarta.
Aristóteles Sandoval was dining with four others when at around 1.40 on Friday he got up from the table and went to the toilet, where the killer shot him in the back, said the state attorney general, Gerardo Octavio Solís.
Sandoval did not die immediately, but when his bodyguards tried to evacuate him from the restaurant, their escape was blocked by more gunmen in the street outside, who opened fire, seriously injuring one of the bodyguards. The former governor died soon afterwards at a local hospital.
Sandoval had been assigned 15 police bodyguards, but only two were with him during the attack.
“A lot of planning went into this murder – which means that someone had been hunting him for weeks, if not months. Someone who knew his movements, who knew more or less when he would not have all his bodyguards,” said security analyst Alejandro Hope.
According to Solis, staff at the restaurant cleaned the crime scene, removing blood and bullet casings, and erasing video of the attack. “There are no clues – they practically swept the place clean,” Solis told Televisa. He said eight to 10 suspects were involved in the attack, but did not indicate who was responsible.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican president, offered condolences and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.
But López Obrador, known as Amlo, said that the investigation was the responsibility of state prosecutors. Normally, high-profile crimes possibly involving a drug cartel are taken over by federal prosecutors.
Sandoval was a rising star of the Institutional Revolutionary party, PRI, whose term as governor was overshadowed by the rise of the ultra-violent Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG).
In just a few years, the CJNG has established a reputation as one of the country’s fastest-growing and most aggressive criminal groups, willing to confront both rivals in the underworld and federal forces.
Sandoval had recently resigned from the party’s executive committee, saying that the PRI – which lost by a landslide to Amlo in 2018 – had failed to admit its mistakes and was guilty of clientelism. Analysts said the brazen assassination presaged more violence ahead of regional elections next year.
Enrique Alfaro, the current governor of Jalisco, called it a “direct attack”, suggesting the killer knew who he was targeting and was only interested in killing the ex-governor.
“It’s no small thing to attack an ex-governor –and it sends a powerful message. But a message for whom? We just don’t know yet,” said Hope.
Jalisco and the neighbouring state of Colima have become the setting for a fierce battle between the CNJG and the rival Sinaloa cartel once led by imprisoned capo Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
One of the most puzzling episodes in that conflict occurred in Puerto Vallarta, in 2016, when Guzmán’s son Jesús Alfredo Guzmán and five other men were kidnapped from a restaurant in the city. Their captors, believed to be from the CNJG, reportedly released them soon afterwards.
During Sandoval’s first week in office, suspected CJNG gunmen murdered his minister for tourism in Jalisco’s state capital Guadalajara.
The same group was also believed responsible for attempting to assassinate a former state prosecutor in 2018 in a daylight attack on a Japanese restaurant in the city, unleashing a gun battle which left 15 people injured.