Mexican politicos urge drastic drug war measures

Sharp debate over the direction of Mexico’s narco war has broken out in the wake of twin massacres in northern Mexico last weekend. As the death toll from the narco violence punctures past records, some political leaders propose drastic responses that could curb civil liberties.

In the northern Mexican city of Torre贸n, Coahuila, Mayor Eduardo Olmos urged citizens to avoid going out at night unless they had urgent business. Olmos’ warning followed a Jan. 31 attack against a nightclub complex that left eight people and 41 others reportedly injured; initial reports indicated the victims were mostly between 19 and 23 years of age. In memory of the victims, Olmos appealed on clubs to close their doors this coming weekend.

On Feb. 1, Torre贸n was once again the scene of bloodshed. A shoot-out between the Mexican army and federal police on one side and suspected drug cartel gunmen on the other resulted in the deaths of seven suspects. Three officers and one soldier were reported wounded, while an injured suspect was taken into custody by authorities. Officials also announced two kidnap victims were rescued from the criminal group. Audible at a nearby shopping center, the armed showdown provoked public panic. [Authorities blame the Zetas in both Torre贸n attacks, the Los Angeles Times reports Feb. 3.]

In Mexico City, meanwhile, finger-pointing, recrimination and accusations of corruption characterized the political response to last weekend’s massacre of 16 people, mainly teenagers, at a party in Ciudad Ju谩rez‘s Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood, the site of previous narco-executions.

A member of President Felipe Calder贸n鈥檚 National Action Party (PAN), Congresswoman Antonieta P茅rez Reyes of Ciudad Juarez said serious thought should be given to ordering a curfew in the border city. “A curfew should be considered now more than ever,鈥 P茅rez declared.

Although many shootings in Ciudad Ju谩rez have occurred in broad daylight and in heavily-transited places, Perez did not say whether a curfew should apply round-the-clock.

On a similar note, PAN Senator Guillermo Tamborel of Queretaro proposed a “state of exception” for Ciudad Ju谩rez, but did not give any specifics other than to say that drugs should not be legalized or the death penalty enacted.

After a sometimes heated debate this week, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution to make Ciudad Ju谩rez a national priority. The legislators backed a new policy of crime prevention that would “reconstruct the social fabric and increase the efficiency of governments.”

Touring Japan, President Calder贸n pledged his administration will unveil a new comprehensive crime-fighting campaign in the coming days. In March 2007, the Calder贸n government also announced a comprehensive anti-crime strategy which, among other things, promised a focus on combating Mexico’s growing problem of drug addiction.

Nearly three years later, drug-related violence shows no signs of subsiding. Indeed, nearly 1,000 narco-executions last month wracked up a record monthly toll.

In Ciudad Ju谩rez, state and municipal governments have also previously rolled out drastic crime prevention measures. In the late 1990s, the administration of Chihuahua Governor Patricio Mart铆nez unveiled a “No Tolerance” policy by reducing bar hours and the times stores could sell alcoholic beverages. In subsequent years, however, homicide and other violent crimes surpassed all previous records.

In 2007 the administration of then-Mayor Hector “Teto” Murguia tried to implement a youth curfew, but the measure was later dropped after complaints of police harassment directed against young people. Similar to the Ciudad Patricio Martinez experiment, youth curfews were also enacted in different cities in the border states of Sonora, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

From Frontera NorteSur, Feb. 3

See our last posts on Mexico and the narco war.

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