Pubdate: Tue, 26 Jun 2007
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Sam Enriquez


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's neither stemmed the killings nor slowed the 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 house-cleaning. "In
the fight against crime, we have strategies. One axis of our strategy
is to professionalize and purge our police corps."

The former top cops 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. A half dozen federal
police were arrested earlier 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, evidence that
suppliers continue to smuggle narcotics over the U.S.-Mexico border
relatively undisturbed, say drug experts.

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

But critics worry that Mexico's army will be the next institution to
be infected by drug profits. U.S. 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.

"Illicit 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 United States 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

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

Garcia Luna would not say whether any of the replaced federal officers
are 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. "These types
of actions cast doubt on all police," said Sen. Fernando Castro Trenti.

The removed state heads of federal police will be given polygraph and
drug tests and their financial assets will be examined to see whether
they're in line with a public servant's salary, Garcia Luna said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek