Gutsy lady

A small border town in Mex­ico, home to one of the dead­li­est drug car­tel in the coun­try, ap­points a young fe­male stu­dent to be its po­lice chief.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN - By JO TUCK­MAN and RORY CAR­ROLL

ONE rea­son Marisol Valles Gar­cia did not have much com­pe­ti­tion for the po­lice chief job could be that her pre­de­ces­sor’s head was left in front of the po­lice sta­tion a few days af­ter he was kid­napped.

An­other rea­son could be that a fifth of the pop­u­la­tion of Praxedis Guadalupe Guer­rero, a dusty, sun-baked town on Mex­ico’s border with Texas, has fled a wave of killings and burn­ings that have made this one of the most vi­o­lent places on Earth.

It may also have been re­lated to the fact that drug car­tels tend to give po­lice of­fi­cers a choice of plomo o plata, lead or sil­ver, death or cor­rup­tion – which is not much of a choice: if you take the plata, a ri­val car­tel will likely fill you with plomo.

If be­ing po­lice chief of Praxedis for a monthly salary of not much more than £400 (RM1,955) sounds like a ca­reer op­tion from hell, you are not Marisol Valles Gar­cia, a 20year-old crim­i­nol­ogy stu­dent who seized the of­fer and started her new job last week.

For an un­der­grad­u­ate who paints her nails pink and has an in­fant son to be thrown into the cru­cible of the drug war has as­ton­ished Mex­ico, but Valles Gar­cia ap­pears to be san­guine: “I am fright­ened, I am only hu­man,

‘I am fright­ened, I am only hu­man, but you have to learn to trust and to have hope that things can change,’ says Marisol Valles Gar­cia, the new po­lice chief of Praxedis Guadalupe Guer­rero. but you have to learn to trust and to have hope that things can change,” she said. “Have faith that we can do some­thing about this se­cu­rity prob­lem. We want to build a place where young peo­ple can ful­fil their hopes and dreams.”

Valles Gar­cia has yet to make an ar­rest but has be­come an in­stant celebrity and been hailed Mex­ico’s bravest woman. She brushed off the praise.

“I don’t think age is im­por­tant,” she said. “What is im­por­tant is what is go­ing on in­side. What I feel and what I be­lieve. We were not look­ing for pub­lic­ity. I don’t know how the in­for­ma­tion got out.”

She heads a force of just 13 agents, nine of them women, with one work­ing pa­trol car, three au­to­matic ri­fles and a pis­tol. The town is small – just 8,000 peo­ple af­ter the re­cent ex­o­dus – but it sits in Juarez val­ley, a strate­gic route once used by Apaches and Billy the Kid, and now a tran­sit point for car­tels trans­port­ing co­caine, cannabis and other drugs to the United States, which is a stone’s throw across the Rio Bravo.

The pre­vi­ous po­lice chief, Martin Cas­tro, was ab­ducted in Jan­uary 2009 and his sev­ered head turned up days later in front of the po­lice sta­tion, a warn­ing that fright­ened away most of the force and left the po­lice chief post un­filled for over a year.

The Si­naloa car­tel is said to be wag­ing an ex­ter­mi­na­tion cam­paign against the home­grown Juarez car­tel in the val­ley, mak­ing it one of the dead­li­est fronts in a war that has claimed 28,000 lives in the past four years. Ear­lier this month, a new mayor, Jose-Luis Guer­rero, started in­ter­view­ing can­di­dates for a new com­mu­nity po­lice force.

Valles Gar­cia, a stu­dent from Juarez uni­ver­sity who is due to fin­ish a crim­i­nol­ogy de­gree in De­cem­ber, was work­ing as the po­lice sec­re­tary and ap­plied to be a reg­u­lar po­lice of­fi­cer. She so im­pressed the mayor that he of­fered the top job.

“To those who say we are naive and she doesn’t have the ex­pe­ri­ence, we say that the tra­di­tional meth­ods have not worked,” said An­dres Morales, the mayor’s chief of staff. “We know that the re­sults will not be im­me­di­ate. We are think­ing of the medium and long term. Of lay­ing the foun­da­tions for some­thing bet­ter in the fu­ture.”

Valles Gar­cia’s force will fo­cus on com­mu­nity polic­ing and, in the­ory, leave the gun bat­tles to the army and na­tional po­lice.

“We are only go­ing to do crime pre­ven­tion work,” she said. “We do not have the means to take them (or­gan­ised crime) on. Tak­ing on the other stuff is the job of the state and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties.”

She im­plied that she would not even re­port the pres­ence of or­gan­ised crime in the town.

Ap­point­ing a stu­dent was not a gim­mick, said Morales: “We never imag­ined the kind of at­ten­tion it would get, but we are not com­plain­ing. It helps us send a pos­i­tive mes­sage to the com­mu­nity.”

Valles Gar­cia has re­fused body­guards be­cause they would dis­tance her from the com­mu­nity, im­ply she was fright­ened and not do much to pro­tect her any­way.

Lead­ing com­men­ta­tor Hector Aguilar Camin wel­comed the ap­point­ment.

“Peo­ple may be fright­ened and be­sieged, but they have not sur­ren­dered,” he said.

Farmer Ar­turo Gomez said he would give the new chief a chance. “This is a town with­out law,” he said. “It is not likely things will change from one day to the next, but let’s see what a woman can do ... things can’t get any worse.”

Fidel Vega, a petrol sta­tion em­ployee, added: “Here, ev­ery­body is afraid, and any­thing that can be done to re­move that fear would be good. This girl has a de­sire to get things done.”

How­ever, some tra­di­tion­al­ists are up­set. “Are there are no men in the state of Chi­huahua?” asked one blog­ger. – Guardian News & Me­dia 2010

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