ILAVE, Peru — Mayor Cirilo Fernando Robles was fated to die the cold April morning he returned to this town that rises on a small plateau above Lake Titicaca, 12,621 feet up in the thin air of the Andes.
He arrived before dawn to preside over a City Council meeting. Before the sun set, he was kicked and pummeled by fellow Aymara Indians, beaten with his own belt and paraded through town in a pedal-powered tricycle taxi, bleeding and slowly dying.
In life, Robles passed out candies from his office to the town's children and took pride in seeing his name on city plaques, complete with his Peruvian university title. In his final minutes, the lynch mob forced him to climb the four steps of City Hall, where he uttered his last words and then fell, his head striking the concrete with a sickening crack.
Depending on your point of view, the mayor's killing last year was the work of a rancher who had been a rival since the two men were in college. Or of the 42 men and women formally charged with his slaying. Or of all 20,000 Aymara Indians who had marched on Ilave from surrounding villages to demand that Robles resign in the face of corruption charges.
"These things have always happened when the Aymara people are cheated, when they are betrayed," said Edgar Larijo, a community leader and one of those charged in the killing.
If he were alive today, Robles might ask the question that his widow, family and friends ask: Why are nearly all the people who had a hand in his death walking around the plazas, the streets and even City Hall as if nothing had happened?
Only one person charged remains in custody. Several others have returned to their city jobs.
Despite an outstanding warrant for his arrest, Larijo spoke about the killing from inside City Hall, within sight of a small group of the mayor's supporters and a bored employee of the National Police.
Larijo's eyes were all defiance, as if his dead foe were still alive and standing before him.
"The mayor was warned by a colonel of the National Police not to come back here," he said.
Explaining why he hadn't turned himself in, the militant Aymara nationalist said, "We all know that in Peru there is no true justice, that there is justice only for the big people."
The story of the mayor's death is, in many ways, an allegory of modern Peru. Both the country and this town of 55,000 people near its southern border are unsettled places where weak government makes the rule of law a tenuous thing. A year later, it remains unclear whether the corruption allegations were true. A preliminary report by Peru's Office of the Controller General last month found that at least two of the eight charges against him had no merit, but the final report is still pending.
But here, as elsewhere in the country, the malevolent spirits of disorder and violence seem poised to spring forth from a Pandora's box of social inequality and dysfunction -- like the young masked men who climbed a roof to break into the home where Robles presided over his last City Council meeting.
Those men hunted the mayor down, breaking windows and ransacking rooms, until they finally found him hiding in a closet.
In Aymara villages, Western individualism is turned on its head: The individual serves the community. Citizenship is defined as a series of obligations, and those who don't comply lose their right to grazing lands and irrigation water. A leader who betrays the trust of his community risks collective retribution. Even in urban Aymara neighborhoods, it isn't uncommon to find the scarecrow-like figure of a local thief strung up in effigy.
"This would be homicide if there were just one or two or five people involved," said Albino Zapana Cueva, another community leader charged in the lynching. "Here, there were some 25,000 souls involved. You would have to prosecute all of Ilave."
The mayor's small band of allies believes that none of those indicted will be convicted.
An autopsy listed the cause of death as shock brought on by internal bleeding and multiple blunt-force trauma. But the countless people seen on video inflicting those injuries with their feet and fists apparently fear no retribution, legal or otherwise.
The radio DJs and community leaders who rallied the angry crowd, and the five City Council members listed as defendants in the case, all go about their business. In fact, in many ways, the late mayor's enemies are running the city.
Valentin Ramirez, a community leader and a defendant, campaigned openly for a candidate in the election to replace Robles, despite an outstanding warrant. His man, Miguel Angel Flores Chumbi, won.
"We nominated Miguel Angel, and he is the mayor now," Ramirez said from his home, referring to other Aymara leaders. "We gave the authority for the elections to go forward. Our democratic force prevailed."