Pubdate: Fri, 22 Aug 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Mexico Under Siege


President Calderon Proposes New Anti-Kidnapping Squads, Special
Prisons, Cellphone Tracking and Aid for Local Forces.

MEXICO CITY -- Facing wide public indignation over Mexico's crime
epidemic, President Felipe Calderon on Thursday proposed new steps to
fight kidnapping and other violent offenses.

He called for anti-abduction squads, special high-security prisons
with separate areas for kidnappers, closer tracking of cellphones and
more aid for local authorities.

Calderon summoned governors and police officials from across Mexico to
chart a way out of a crisis that has dominated the news and put the
nation's leaders on the defensive.

Government officials, representing all three main political parties,
and activists filled an ornate hall in the National Palace with
resolute-sounding talk that was often long on generalities.

The gathering, formally known as the National Public Safety Council,
endorsed Calderon's proposals, which carried target dates for
completion and calls for watchdog panels to monitor progress.

Calderon said a "cancer of criminality" developed in Mexico over
decades of impunity, official corruption and societal neglect.

"This is not about looking to the past to find those to blame for our
current ills," he said. "The reality is we are all to blame."

The crime issue has dominated the Mexican agenda since the killing
this month of a 14-year-old kidnapping victim, Fernando Marti. The
kidnapping, which appeared to involve at least two Mexico City police
officers, tapped deep resentment over impunity and corruption.

The boy's father, Alejandro Marti, a wealthy businessman, fought back
tears as he urged policymakers at the forum to make substantive
changes and said they should quit if they were unable. "Today is our
opportunity," he said.

Activists plan a candlelight march to protest rising crime next week
in the capital and other cities. New polls show wide support for
tougher criminal sentences, including the long-unused death penalty,
formally barred three years ago.

The crime issue has touched off political jousting months before next
year's midterm congressional elections.

Calderon, a conservative with the National Action Party, has traded
jabs with the leftist mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, over whose
government was more to blame for the fatal outcome in the Marti case.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for
seven decades, has stepped up its criticism of Calderon's crime
policies. Manlio Fabio Beltrones, a PRI senator, this week attacked
the strategy as simplistic and ineffective.

Calderon has urged rivals not to turn crime into a partisan issue.
Since the Marti case, he has urged Congress to stiffen punishments for
convicted kidnappers to include possible life sentences.

The president said he hoped that the crime summit would improve
coordination between federal authorities and state and local officials
who have jurisdiction over many serious offenses, including homicides
and most kidnappings.

But many Mexican commentators had dismissed the gathering as an
exercise in damage control.

Calderon has made the crackdown against drug traffickers and organized
crime a centerpiece of his 20-month-old administration, sending 40,000
troops and 5,000 federal agents into the streets.

That campaign has yielded arrests of some important traffickers and
significant drug seizures. But it has also resulted in frightening
violence across much of the country as drug gangs fight government
forces and battle one another for control of smuggling routes.

At least 2,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence this
year, according to unofficial tallies by the Mexican media.

The violence continued Thursday, with the deaths of several more
police officers reported around the country.

Authorities said they had discovered the bodies of two men bearing
federal police identificationon a highway outside Mexico City. The
body of a third man, without identification, was found nearby.

Two state police and, separately, a federal officer were reported dead
in the western state of Jalisco. In the central state of
Aguascalientes, a police commander was shot dead on a highway.