17 November 2008

Anger grows over Chihuahua crime


The News

Public outcry mounted in Chihuahua on Sunday as the wave of violence plaguing the northern state continued unabated, this time claiming a top state police commander.

A group that included 62 of the state's 67 mayors as well as business and university organizations and the bishops of three Chihuahua dioceses published an open letter to President Felipe Calderón on Sunday, urging him to overhaul federal crime fighting efforts in the nation's largest - and this year, most violent - state.

"We ask that you refocus Joint Operation Chihuahua and in general the strategies of combating organized crime," stated the letter that was published in newspapers throughout the state.

Hours before the letter's publication, yet another police official was murdered in the border city of Ciudad Juárez. José Manuel Sanginés Leal, regional director of investigations for the state police, was shot at 149 times while driving a police pickup truck, according to investigators. Police captain Miguel Carlos Herrera González was killed the day before by unknown assailants.

A crime reporter for the newspaper El Diario was also assassinated last week in the city.

Joint Operation Chihuahua organizes federal, state and local officials to battle organized crime in the state and is part of Calderón's efforts to crack down on trafficking cartels. Experts say the operation is failing to produce results because of problems with intelligence and an inability of federal and state officials to work cooperatively.

According to UNAM security expert Pedro Isnardo de la Cruz, Sunday's open letter sent the right message to Los Pinos.

"The system of coordination between federal and state authorities isn't trustworthy. The president has to do a top-to-bottom purge," de la Cruz said.

"The level of infiltration by the cartels into police forces and the infiltration into politics and governments is now, after Sinaloa, the highest [in Mexico]."

Chihuahua has been the scene of a bloody turf war between narcotics trafficking gangs, who have increasingly been turning their guns on local and state police - 59 law enforcement officials have been slain in Ciu-dad Juárez so far this year. Reforma estimates that the war on organized crime has claimed 1,368 lives in Chihuahua thus far in 2008, a sharp increase from the 147 deaths registered the previous year.

In response to the violence, increasing numbers of Chihuahua residents are acting or speaking out for change.

Last week, members of the state's 40,000-member Mennonite community shuttered business to demand an end to the violence. On Saturday, the state's opposition National Action Party demanded the resignation of Chihuahua's two top law enforcement officials.

One diocese in the southern part of the state has even gone as far as to deny funeral rites to narcotics gang members murdered for their criminal activities.

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