TIJUANA, Mexico — The first female mayor of Tijuana is taking office Friday amid a tumultuous transition.
Karla Ruiz MacFarland, the current secretary of municipal education, will step in to fill the last year of Arturo González Cruz’s two-year mayoral term.
Ruiz will become the first female mayor of Mexico’s northern border city of approximately 2.1 million residents, city officials said Thursday. She is taking office during a heated controversy within her own Morena political party between the governor of the state and her predecessor.
González, who took office in October 2019, is stepping down after Baja California Gov. Jaime Bonilla tossed out a wild and unproven accusation last week alleging the mayor’s involvement in the assassination of a controversial local blogger.
González insisted his departure from public office was not because of Bonilla’s “false accusations,” which he strongly denied and said he plans to seek legal action to stop.
While announcing his decision to leave office and naming his replacement Wednesday, González described Ruiz as “a committed woman that I am sure will continue with the work in each delegation and each neighborhood.”
Ruiz has not made any public statements about her mayoral appointment and was not available for an interview Thursday, a city spokeswoman said.
González stressed he plans to continue working in the public sector either for the political party to which both he and Bonilla belong or by running for another elected office. He is considered by some a potential contender for Bonilla’s job in 2021.
“I will continue to focus on providing a project of welfare, social justice, care, honesty, openness, understanding, union and sanity,” he said in his farewell speech.
Mariano Rafael Soto Cortez, who was killed on Oct. 4, ran a news and gossip site called “Tijuana Sin Censura” or “Tijuana Uncensored.” The website focuses on narco crime, posting insider information about violence between drug cartels in the border region. It also shares regional gossip about local public officials.
Soto was fatally shot inside his white Volkswagen Bora while parked in front of a mini-mart on Prolongación Paseo de los Heroes street in the “20 de Noviembre” neighborhood of Tijuana. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
He had previously been injured in the back and arm during a Sept. 9 shooting, about a month before he was killed.
In 2019, Soto was convicted of extortion and sentenced to five years in prison and a 22,000-peso ($1,031) fine for threatening Tijuana’s Secretary of Economic Development Arturo Perez Behr with an internet smear campaign if the public official did not agree to make payments to Soto.
Soto’s sentence required him to report to prison custody only on Saturdays and Sundays, but the punishment was suspended March 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic. His sentence also barred him from publishing items on his website or social networks, guidelines Soto apparently ignored.
Days before his death, Soto published a piece on “Tijuana Sin Censura” alleging Tijuana municipal police had seized 600 kilos of cocaine from a location in Palm Valley, between Tijuana and Tecate, without reporting the large drug seizure to the attorney general. He also reported he received threats that he would be killed if he did not take down his post.
The day he was killed, Soto made an audio recording that said if anything happened to him the Tijuana mayor and the city’s secretary of public safety, Jorge Ayón Monsalve, were responsible, according to the governor and multiple news reports that shared the recording online.
Prosecutor Hiram Sánchez said the state attorney general’s office offered Soto protective police custody on the day he was killed.
“He refused, mainly saying he did not trust any security institution,” said Sánchez.
Soto was not recognized as a journalist by Tijuana’s union of reporters, which cited his extortion activities. He was included in a federal protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders. The program doesn’t have any enforcement authority but does condemn attacks against people under its protection.
Sánchez said that so far there is no evidence or any line of investigations that would warrant investigators bringing in González or Ayón for questioning about Soto’s death. They are not currently suspects or persons of interest in the homicide investigation, he said.
Ruiz, the newly appointed mayor of Tijuana, is the daughter of the state Attorney General Guillermo Ruiz Hernández, who was appointed by Bonilla.
Gonzalez said he plans to seek legal action against Bonilla for the false accusations.
“If anyone is responsible for the death of that person, it is you,” González to Bonilla last Thursday, the day the governor made the public accusations during his daily livestreamed news update. The daily briefings started as a mechanism to inform the public about the coronavirus pandemic but have since expanded in the topics tackled by the governor and his staff.
Bonilla told The San Diego Union-Tribune that the victim’s family also believe the mayor is responsible for Soto’s killing, and that several other recordings the blogger made before his death point to González. Soto’s family could not be reached for comment.
©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune