Pubdate: Thu, 08 Mar 2001
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Contact:  200 Liberty Street, New York, NY 10281
Fax: (212) 416-2658
Author: Julie Watson, Associated Press


CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- Cruising through this seedy border city, police 
Lt. Jesus Benavides snickered at the mention of President Vicente Fox's 
promise to combat corruption.

"We're realists. Corruption is never going to end. It's a culture going 
back generations," Lt. Benavides said. "If you have someone in the back of 
your patrol car and he says to you, 'Take the money or I'll kill your 
family,' which one would you pick?"

Mexico's new Attorney General Rafael Macedo met with top U.S. 
law-enforcement officials in Washington this week to discuss strengthening 
the fight against drug trafficking and corruption. But this drug-corridor 
city shows it isn't a simple battle.

At least two former federal police commanders from Chihuahua state, where 
Ciudad Juarez is located, are sought by the Mexican government and are 
believed to be in the U.S.

"The majority of the federal police commanders here are either dead or 
detained," said Alfredo Quijano Hernandez, an editor and former police 
reporter at the Juarez newspaper, El Norte. "Many have been executed after 
working for drug rings."

Mr. Fox, emboldened by his toppling of seven decades of single-party rule, 
launched a nationwide campaign against corruption after taking office Dec. 1.

Last month, the president removed 67 of Chihuahua's 80 federal police 
agents after uncovering a scheme to sell a police position for nearly 
$500,000. The money was believed to come from drug smugglers who wanted a 
connection inside the department.

Jose Manuel Diaz, one of Chihuahua's top police officials, was placed under 
house arrest in the scandal. But he escaped weeks later from under the 
noses of 11 federal agents, embarrassing the attorney general's office.

"Fox appears to have the political will, but on the other side, he doesn't 
have many tools," said John Bailey, a Mexico specialist at Georgetown 
University. "He doesn't have a lot of elements to work with, his 
anti-organized-crime unit has not been working, his anti-money-laundering 
unit is not operating. He can put administrative reforms into play, but 
that takes a long time."

Efforts at reform have left Mexico with the lowest number of federal 
officers in six years -- from 4,500 in 1995 to 1,800 today, according to 
the attorney general's office. In an effort to replenish the force, the 
police have cut required training from one year to just three months, a 
move critics say has led to undertrained officers.

Despite the obstacles, analysts say the recent purge in Chihuahua -- the 
strongest federal action taken against police here -- shows that Mr. Fox is 

On Tuesday, the new attorney general and officials from the FBI and the 
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration discussed ways to improve training and 
increase the exchange of information.

Lt. Benavides said he would welcome the measures if they return dignity to 
the job.

"I'm out here because I want to do something for my community," said the 
Juarez officer, adding that he has never taken a bribe. "But unfortunately, 
most people here see police as the bad guys."
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