Pubdate: Tue, 26 Jun 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Sam Enriquez
Bookmark: (Mexico)


The housecleaning comes as the nation seeks traction in a
foundering drug war.

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico replaced the federal police chiefs from each of
the country's 31 states and the Federal District on Monday, pending
polygraph and drug tests to determine whether they are on the right
side of the law in the nation's foundering drug war.

The surprise purge of top leaders of the federal police and an elite
federal investigations agency comes as Mexican President Felipe
Calderon seeks traction in a 6-month-old campaign against drug
traffickers that has neither stemmed killings nor slowed shipments.

Corruption among local, state and federal law enforcement has for
years given cover to drug smuggling gangs, now at war over access
routes to the United States, and over Mexico's growing domestic markets.

"Every federal cop is obliged to carry out his post with legality,
honesty and efficiency," Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna
said at a news conference Monday announcing the housecleaning. "In the
fight against crime, we have strategies. One axis of our strategy is
to professionalize and purge our police corps."

The police chiefs were replaced Monday by federal officers who have
passed a rigorous screening, Garcia Luna said.

Shortly after taking office in December, Calderon sent the army to
work alongside federal police in nine states. But there are growing
suspicions that millionaire kingpins continue to buy protection as
easily as ever, despite Calderon's efforts. Half a dozen federal
police officers were arrested this month when their army counterparts
discovered they'd allowed a cocaine shipment to pass through the
Mexicali airport.

About a third of Mexico's 20,000-member federal police force, which
investigates all drug crimes and homicides, is assigned to work
alongside the 12,000 soldiers employed in Calderon's anti-trafficking
campaign. That pairing has raised speculation about information being
leaked to smugglers and growers.

Street prices in the United States remain stable, suggesting that
suppliers continue to smuggle narcotics over the U.S.-Mexico border
relatively undisturbed, drug experts say.

With more than 2,000 people killed last year, curbing drug violence
emerged as Calderon's first priority when he took office. The army,
with its reputation of being more trustworthy than Mexico's police
agencies, emerged as Calderon's tool of choice.

But critics worry that Mexico's army will be the next institution to
be tainted by drug profits. American drug users are estimated to spend
as much as $65 billion a year, mostly on cocaine, marijuana, heroin
and methamphetamine, commodities largely controlled by Mexican
trafficking organizations and their Colombian affiliates.

"Drug trafficking results in a lot of money, and money buys power,"
said a senior U.S. counter-drug official. "When you have someone who
has a base of operations significant enough to earn millions of
dollars a year, it's not uncommon for them to wield the kind of power
to develop circles of protection. Mexico is no exception to that.
That's no secret here. The government of Mexico is well aware."

Calderon has asked the U.S. to shoulder a larger share of the drug
enforcement burden. U.S. officials acknowledge that the war in Iraq
has shifted attention and military resources away from drug
interdiction in the air and sea shipping zones of Mexico and Central

Although Calderon has won credit for facing down drug cartels,
uncertainty lingers in Washington over how much help to give Mexico's
law enforcement agencies, particularly in the gathering and sharing of

Garcia Luna would not say whether any of the replaced federal officers
were being investigated for alleged corruption, or what prompted the
government's decision.

"Any evidence we have will be processed by the attorney general's
office, and, of course, any reference we find will be analyzed and
sent to prosecutors," he said.

Mexican lawmakers on Monday demanded that Calderon's government
present any evidence it has of federal police corruption.

The removed state heads of the federal police, known as the Federal
Preventive Police, or PFP, as well as the Federal Investigative
Agency, or AFI, will undergo additional training and be subjected to
close scrutiny, Garcia Luna said. They will be given polygraph and
drug tests, he added, and their financial assets will be examined to
see whether they are in line with a public servant's salary.

Garcia Luna said the new state police chiefs were among 284 federal
police officers who began work Monday as replacements. Calderon in
March called for new standards in police ethics and discipline,
triggering the recall.

"It's obvious that there are mafias that don't want things to change,"
Garcia Luna said. "In the fight against corruption, we won't give in
to pressures."

Calderon's campaign began with a flurry of successes in his home state
of Michoacan; TV news broadcasts showed destroyed marijuana and opium
poppy fields. But cocaine seizures by the army this year are less than
half the amount taken during the same period in 2006. Drug killings
continue at last year's pace.

The PFP was created in 1998, unifying various federal agencies that
had specialized jurisdiction over airports, customs, roads and civil
unrest. The 5,000-member AFI was created by then-President Vicente Fox
in 2001 to replace a corrupt federal police force.

More than 100 AFI agents work under the supervision of U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration agents based in Mexico, according to the
Justice Department's Office of Inspector General.
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