Mex­ico pres­i­dent an­nounces anti-crime crack­down

The Financial Daily - - INTERNATIONAL -

MEX­ICO CITY: Mex­ico's pres­i­dent an­nounced a na­tion­wide anti-crime plan Thurs­day that would al­low Congress to dis­solve lo­cal gov­ern­ments in­fil­trated by drug gangs and give state au­thor­i­ties con­trol over of­ten-cor­rupt mu­nic­i­pal po­lice.

The plan an­nounced by Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto came two months af­ter 43 teach­ers col­lege stu­dents dis­ap­peared in the Guer­rero city of Iguala, al­legedly killed and in­cin­er­ated by a drug gang work­ing with lo­cal po­lice. Huge marches have been held to protest their dis­ap­pear­ance.

Pena Ni­eto sug­gested his plan was in­flu­enced by the Iguala tragedy, not­ing its "cru­elty and bar­bar­ity have shocked Mex­ico."

"Mex­ico can­not go on like this," he said. "Af­ter Iguala, Mex­ico must change."

As if to un­der­score the prob­lem, au­thor­i­ties said Thurs­day that they had found the de­cap­i­tated, partly burned bod­ies of 11 men dumped on the side of a road near an­other Guer­rero city.

The pres­i­dent's plan would also re­lax the com­plex di­vi­sions be­tween which of­fenses are dealt with at fed­eral, state and lo­cal levels. At present, some lo­cal po­lice refuse to act to pre­vent fed­eral crimes like drug traf­fick­ing. It would also seek to es­tab­lish a na­tional iden­tity num­ber or doc­u­ment, though it was un­clear what form that would take.

The plan would fo­cus first on four of Mex­ico's most trou­bled states - Guer­rero, Mi­choa­can, Jalisco and Ta­mauli­pas. More fed­eral po­lice and other se­cu­rity forces would be sent to the "hot land" re­gion over­lap­ping the first two states, where the govern­ment has al­ready sent sig­nif­i­cant con­tin­gents of fed­eral po­lice and sol­diers.

"My re­sponse to the po­lice oper­a­tion in the 'hot lands' is: ' What? An­other one?'" said Mex­ico Ci­ty­based se­cu­rity an­a­lyst Ale­jan­dro Hope, al­lud­ing to a string of pre­vi­ous an­ti­crime ini­tia­tives in the area. "The same as the oth­ers, for a limited time and with­out the right con­di­tions?"

At a brief­ing for re­porters later in the day, pres­i­den­tial chief of staff Aure­lio Nuno said that within a year and a half the mu­nic­i­pal po­lice forces in those four states would be com­pletely gone, re­placed with state po­lice un­der a clear com­mand struc­ture.

"What this case of Iguala has shown the govern­ment and I be­lieve all of Mex­i­can so­ci­ety, in a bru­tal and over­whelm­ing way, is the level of weak­ness that ex­ists es­pe­cially in this part of the coun­try in terms of se­cu­rity, jus­tice and the rule of law," Nuno said.

The re­forms, some of which would re­quire con­sti­tu­tional changes, will be for­mally pre­sented next week. They would in­clude a sin­gle, na­tion­wide emer­gency tele­phone num­ber, which the pres­i­dent said could be "911," as in the United States. But Pena Ni­eto was vague in de­scrib­ing some of the pro­pos­als.

The fo­cus on cor­rupt lo­cal gov­ern­ments re­flects the shock­ing ac­cu­sa­tions made about the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca. Pros­e­cu­tors say he col­lab­o­rated with a lo­cal drug gang and or­dered the de­ten­tion of the stu­dents by lo­cal po­lice, who turned them over to gang gun­men.

Mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments cur­rently en­joy high levels of au­ton­omy and con­trol their own po­lice forces, some­thing the pres­i­dent is now seek­ing to weaken. Nuno said an au­tonomous prose­cu­tor's of­fice would em­pow­ered to in­ves­ti­gate mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments. If it found col­lu­sion with or­ga­nized crime or other cor­rup­tion there would be a mech­a­nism, yet to be de­ter­mined, that would al­low the fed­eral govern­ment to take con­trol of the lo­cal govern­ment.

Sim­i­lar broad, fed­eral anti-crime plans an­nounced in 2004 and 2008 brought some im­prove­ments in ar­eas such as vet­ting of po­lice of­fi­cers, but failed to pre­vent some en­tire mu­nic­i­pal po­lice forces from be­ing coopted by crime gangs. As a re­sult, Mex­i­cans have be­come skep­ti­cal of such an­nounce­ments.

"More than an­nounce­ments, the pub­lic needs to see con­crete ac­tions that make this rhetoric seem be­liev­able," said Pe­dro Tor­res, a law pro­fes­sor at the Tec­no­logico de Mon­ter­rey univer­sity's school of govern­ment. "There is def­i­nitely noth­ing new here that they haven't tried to im­ple­ment be­fore."

Pena Ni­eto be­gan his ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2012 hop­ing to con­cen­trate on eco­nomic and le­gal re­forms and avoid the fo­cus on drug-gang vi­o­lence that dom­i­nated the term of his pre­de­ces­sor, Felipe Calderon.

Thurs­day marked Pena Ni­eto's first broad pol­icy state­ment on the sub­ject, a tacit ac­knowl­edge­ment that the is­sue had be­come un­avoid­able.

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