Mexican president vows that besieged border city will ‘again become a city of law’

By Olivia Torres, AP
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mexican leader listens to border city on drug war

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — President Felipe Calderon promised federal investigations into all complaints of extortion and kidnapping in a Mexican border city overwhelmed by drug gang violence.

Calderon made the pledge after meeting Wednesday with hundreds of residents of Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

“The city will again become a city of law,” said Calderon, who traveled to Ciudad Juarez after meeting with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in Mexico City to discuss the drug war and aviation security.

It was the second time Calderon visited the city since the Jan. 30 massacre of 15 people in a working class neighborhood fueled anger over the government’s failure to stem the bloodshed. More than 2,600 people were killed in the city of 1.3 million people last year despite the presence of thousands of federal troops and police, making it one of the world’s deadliest cities.

Hours after Calderon spoke, gunmen killed the mayor of Guadalupe y Calvo, a town on the other side of Chihuahua state from Ciudad Juarez, said Eduardo Ezparza, spokesman for the state prosecutors’ office.

The attackers ambushed Mayor Ramon Mendivil’s car on a highway as he headed back to his town from a meeting in Chihuahua city, the state capital. One of his body guards was also killed.

The motive for the attack was not immediately known. The town has seen a burst of violence recently. The bodies of five men were found dumped on a dirt road there last weekend, and on Wednesday, three police investigators were killed hours before the attack on the mayor.

Calderon’s government has vowed to implement a new plan that will focus on improving law enforcement in Ciudad Juarez and addressing the social ills feeding organized crime.

Calderon said he has instructed his security Cabinet to immediately look into complaints of extortion and kidnapping in Ciudad Juarez. He said a team of federal investigators specializing in those crimes would be sent to the city.

Authorities say drug cartels have increasingly resorted to kidnapping for ransom and extorting businesses.

Small business are frequently torched in Ciudad Juarez, presumably for failing to provide “protection money” to criminal gangs. Business owners say extortion has increased, although there are no reliable figures because most people fail to report the crime, fearing that police are in league with gangs.

“I can either pay taxes, my workers or the extortion fee,” one woman called out to Calderon. She did not identify herself.

More than 100 high school and university students protested against Calderon outside the building where the meeting took place. They clashed with police who dragged them away from the entrance, a repeat of scenes that occurred during Calderon’s first visit last week.

Calderon angered many in Ciudad Juarez when he initially suggested that the Jan. 30 massacre was the result of a fight between gangs, even though investigators had said most of the dead were students with no known criminal ties, and that the gunmen may have been acting on mistaken information. Calderon apologized for his remarks last week.

The president also promised to reconstruct a system of emergency calls in Ciudad Juarez so police can respond to complaints faster. It took police almost an hour to arrive at the scene of the January shooting, where many of those killed were teenagers at a party.

The Health Department, meanwhile is opening Mexico’s first government-run drug rehabilitation clinics in Ciudad Juarez. Authorities say cartels had been infiltrating private clinics to recruit addicts.

Civic groups want the government to register addicts at clinics.

Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova pledged to invest $100 million pesos ($7.7 million) for rehab centers and other programs in the city. However, he acknowledged that a key challenge persuading qualified doctors to work in Ciudad Juarez at all.

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