Mexico Demotes Senior Police Officials in Graft Crackdown

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

MEXICO CITY, June 25 -- The heads of federal police agencies in all 32 Mexican states and 250 other high-ranking officers were demoted Monday in one of the broadest corruption crackdowns in this country's recent history.

The demotions are the latest step in President Felipe Calderón's campaign to fight drug cartels, which are blamed for more than 1,000 execution-style killings this year and have been largely undeterred by Mexican military offensives against their strongholds.

The demoted police chiefs and officers will undergo ethics training in hopes of bringing them up to "international standards" for professionalism, Security Minister Genaro García Luna said Monday at a news conference. They will remain on the payroll -- under Mexican law, it is extremely difficult to fire police officers. García Luna gave no details about possible crimes committed by the demoted officials or whether any of them would eventually be removed from office.

García Luna acknowledged Monday that "it is obvious that mafias are taking steps to assure that the situation doesn't change so that they can continue enriching themselves under the protection of corruption."

"In the fight against corruption, we will not give in to the pressures and dark forces that try to discredit the actions we're taking to comply with the law," he said. "We are aware that Mexicans are insisting on police who are honest, clean and trustworthy."

The new police chiefs will be required to submit to regular drug screenings, polygraph tests and reviews of their personal finances.

"The regional federal police chiefs who take office today do so with the understanding that the police are there to serve the community, not to serve themselves," García Luna said. "The objective of the federal government is clear: restore tranquility in the streets, the parks, the towns and the cities."

Reform efforts, however, are still hampered by low salaries that make rank-and-file officers easy prey for wealthy drug traffickers. In many Mexican states, police make only $200 a month. Studies by the Security Ministry have shown that officers can be corrupted by drug cartels for bribes as small as $120.

Also late Monday, the Calderón administration announced that it had arrested Luis Reyes Enríquez, "El Rex,'' one of the alleged founders of the Zetas, the Gulf cartel's notorious hit squad.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company