Federal Police Official Killed in Mexico City

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 27, 2008

MEXICO CITY, June 26 -- A high-ranking federal police official and his bodyguard were assassinated here Thursday, the latest in a string of killings attributed to drug cartels seeking revenge against law enforcement agencies.

The killings appear to be part of a recent coordinated effort by drug cartels to go after the federal police agency, which is generally thought to be less corrupt than most state and local police forces. Thousands of federal police officers have been dispatched around the country in the past year and a half to confront the cartels and sometimes to disarm entire local police departments suspected of aiding drug traffickers.

Also Thursday, 10 people -- including three police officers -- were killed in apparent drug violence in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Michoacan. A 25-man cartel commando squad is suspected of killing the officers in the city of Guamuchil in Sinaloa state, one of the most important drug-trafficking centers in the country.

The federal police official killed Thursday -- Igor Labistida Calderón -- was a supervisor in the agency's trafficking and contraband division. His bodyguard, José María Ochoa, was also shot to death while the men ate lunch at a small restaurant in Old Argentina, a low-income Mexico City neighborhood, authorities said.

Labistida reportedly had survived an assassination attempt five years earlier. He is said to be a close confidant of Genaro García Luna, Mexico's public security secretary and the nation's highest-ranking law enforcement official.

Labistida was killed seven weeks after gunmen shot to death Édgar Eusebio Millán Gómez, Mexico's federal police chief, at his home in Mexico City. Three other top federal police officials were killed that same week, outraging residents of the capital, where the targeting of high-profile police had been virtually unheard of in recent years.

Drug cartels engaged in a vicious turf war are blamed for more than 1,500 killings this year and more than 6,000 in the past 2 1/2 years. President Felipe Calderón -- no relation to the officer killed Thursday in Mexico City -- has dispatched the army to fight cartels and is hoping the U.S. Congress will approve a $400 million aid package to help Mexico confront drug traffickers.

"These killings of police put a lot of pressure on Calderón," said Juan Pardinas, a Mexico City-based political analyst. "They demonstrate a weakness. The fundamental job of the state is to keep its citizens safe, but if they cannot even protect the police, how can they guarantee the safety of the rest of the citizens?"

Pardinas noted that cartels have repeatedly killed police at the local, state and, more recently, federal levels. But, he said, they have seldom attacked the Mexican military, which is also heavily engaged in the battle against drug cartels.

"This makes the police look weak," Pardinas said. "The killings are showing a great vulnerability."

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