Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Student, 20, Heads Police in Mexico Drug Corridor

Saturday, October 23, 2010 |

By: Olivia Torres
Associated Press

Follow up from previous Borderland Beat coverage:

Praxedis G. Guerrero, Mexico — There's a new police chief in this violent borderland where drug gangs have killed public officials and terrified many citizens into fleeing: a 20-year-old woman who hasn't yet finished her criminology degree.

Marisol Valles Garcia was sworn in Wednesday to bring law and order to a township of about 8,500 that has been transformed from a string of quiet farming communities into a lawless no man's land. Her predecessor was gunned down in July 2009 and the town had been unable to find a replacement for more than a year.

An army vehicle patrols past the police station hours after Marisol Valles Garcia, a twenty-year-old student, was sworn-in as the new police chief in theborder town of Praxedis G. Guerrero, near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday Oct. 20, 2010. Praxedis G. Guerrero was once a quiet farming town until two rival gangs, the Juarez and the Sinaloa drug cartels, began battling for the control of its single highway.

Two rival gangs — the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels — have been battling for control of its single highway, a lucrative drug trafficking route along the Texas border.

The tiny but energetic Valles Garcia, whose only police experience was a stint as a department secretary, says she wants her 13 officers to practice a special brand of community policing. She plans to hire more women — she currently has three — and assign each to a neighborhood to talk with families, promote civic values and detect potential crimes before they happen.

"My people are out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and (in homes) where there are none, trying to teach values to the families," she said in her first official appearance on Wednesday. "The project is ... simple, based on values, principles and crime prevention in contacts house-by-house."

Valles Garcia has been assigned two bodyguards but won't carry a gun. She says she will leave most of the decisions about weapons and tactics to the town's mayor, Jose Luis Guerrero.

She didn't respond when asked why she seeks women to do the job. She wasn't even in the market to do it herself.

But Guerrero solicited proposals from residents on how to make the town safer, and he liked hers so much, he offered her the chief's job. She took it, she said, because she loves the town where she has lived for 10 years, though she was born and has studied in Ciudad Juarez.

Whether her decision is courageous or foolhardy, the appointment shows how desperate the situation has become in the Juarez Valley. Local residents say the drug gangs take over at night, riding through the towns in convoys of SUVs and pickups, assault rifles and even .50 caliber sniper rifles at the ready. The assistant mayor of nearby El Porvenir and the mayor of Distrito Bravos were killed recently even after they took refuge in nearby Ciudad Juarez.

While the bullet holes that pockmarked police headquarters in Praxedis have been painted over, police buildings in other towns in the valley remain empty, with broken windows and few sign of life.

Eight officers quit in fear two years ago, leaving only three when Valles Garcia took over. She hired 10 and will add five more.

"Let's hope it is not a reckless act on her part," said Miguel Sarre, a professor who specializes in Mexican law enforcement at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. He said that "a municipal police force cannot protect itself against such powerful forces."

Local residents like farmer Arturo Gomez are willing to give her a chance.

"This is a town without law," Gomez said. "It is not likely things will change from one day to the next, but let's see what a woman can do ... things can't get any worse."

Drug cartels in many drug-plagued parts of Mexico have killed or threatened police chiefs and their departments, buying off some officers and prompting some others to quit en masse.

Soldiers man a checkpoint hours after Marisol Valles Garcia, unseen, a twenty-year-old criminalistics student, was sworn-in as the new police chief inthe border town of Praxedis G. Guerrero, near Ciudad Juarez.

In past months, soldiers and then federal police largely took over patrols in the Juarez Valley, but they stick mainly to the main road, afraid to venture down unfamiliar dirt roads that are well-traveled by drug traffickers.

"Here, everybody is afraid, and anything that can be done to remove that fear would be good," said Fidel Vega, a 46-year-old gas station employee. "You can see that this girl has a desire to get things done."

Twenty year old criminology student, Marisol Valles, stands outside of her office in the northern Mexican border town of Praxedis G. Guerrero municipalityin Chihuahua State on October 19. Valles is just 20 years old, mother of a baby son and still a student, but she is also the newest chief of police in a drug-plagued region of northern Mexico.

But some question whether a young inexperienced chief can handle a problem that has stumped even Mexico's federal government: how to cope with the drug cartel threat and underpaid, untrained local police, who are easily corrupted by criminal gangs in Mexico's roughly 2,022 municipal police forces.

President Felipe Calderon has recognized the problem faced by local police forces, whose officers earn average monthly salaries of only 4,000 pesos (about $300). Most of them have completed less than 10 years of schooling and are either at basic education levels or illiterate, according to the report.

Calderon has proposed a "unified command" structure in which Mexico's 32 state governments would have state police take on the main responsibility, backed up by federal officers and soldiers where needed.

While the cartels have been more than able to penetrate much tighter security details — killing mayors and police chiefs throughout northern Mexico — Valles Garcia says she isn't afraid.

For residents, her personal courage may not be enough.

Amalia Garcia, 58, had to send her five children to live in Ciudad Juarez for their safety, but now lives in Praxedis with her husband.

"Whoever is here, man or woman, things are not going to change," said Garcia. "Things are bad here, and nobody pays any attention."

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17 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

She will not receive a salary, because according to the government, there are no budget to pay her or her related expenses such as life coverage insurance, vehicle, gas, gun and bullets, etc. There are only two unarmed cops in her staff. They are not receiving salary also...

Anonymous said...

i like the way the article was written and i comment to the readers that judgeing by the way the situation is being documented it seems to me we are at the climax of this "NEW" orwelian (war of the worlds) type of life style for us people who live on the borders. this group of people that will rise from the phoenix ashes will creat i hope that person who some day can rule as TPOTUS.

J said...

She's cute I don't want to sound sexist, or anything of the kind, but she shouldn't be allowed to do this job. No 20 year old should, that's just incompetent and I can only hope this doesn't end in tragedy.

Anonymous said...

This woman will not carry a gun and is leaving all tactics to the mayor?? She is too you young, inexperienced and foolish to lead a police force in a very dangerous area of Mexico! She is not long for this world...

Anonymous said...

Obviously someone is backing her. Come on people.

Anonymous said...

Good God! You all are right and wrong, she is cute and let us all pray not only for her survival, but that she can be the Joan of Arc of Mexico. Wait, bad example.

Anonymous said...

Radical needs call for radical changes, may God give her and her loved ones strength, wisdom and protection. If she is genuinely seeking AND working for a safer community, I admire her decision, she has cojones to want to help things for the best, I'm sure she wants a safe country for her son to grow up in, and I am proud of her for stepping in with her best foot forward. I just turned 31, at 20 I remember being as daring and courageous as her, I guess she figures she's not safe anyway so she may as well at least try to do something about it, while everyone else just whines and points fingers at each other...I would advise her to carry a weapon though.
Mucha suerte y que Dios proteja a quien en realidad lucha contra el crimen y la corrupcion, mientras los demas elegimos cruzar nuestros brazos.

Anonymous said...

To all of you that are against her should be ashamed of themselves.
Why shouldn't she be allowed to do this? Do you see any other person with enough guts and courage to step up and try... How long has the position been vacant? This is one, young woman standing up and trying to help her country. It's a shame that the rest of the innocents won't stand up as well and fight to regain Mexico.

I was heartbroken when I read the enough is enough article. There are so many people that don't know how bad it is in Mexico I was one of them until recently. What this young woman is doing should inspire the people of Mexico and give them hope. Come on people... the ones against it are the ones that won't stand up and are scared. She's doing something that others... grown men even... WILL NOT DO! Yes she could be somewhat crazy for doing it... but she is. So support and back her. If something does happen to her... at least she died trying and she's done more than most have. She's making a stand. She has my respect.

Anonymous said...

These are the kind of women one needs to admire and vote for.
not some failed Alaskan hot air tebag.

Anonymous said...

Wow is she nuts?!?

Matt said...

Boy if she can deputize folks, I would recommend her to create a small volunteer army in the form of a posse. That's if Mexican law allows for such a thing? I also think she should rethink the 'not being armed' thing. She might not care about doing such a thing, but if she cares what the townspeople think, she should. What if she personally witnessed a violent crime? How could she personally stop it if she is not armed, and what kind of message does that send to the people she is tasked with protecting?

Anonymous said...

She is just so, so innocent, in applying U.S. communitarian policing with an unpaid, unarmed staff, including her. There is something grotesquely wrong with this picture, as for the young girl, I commend her for her courage. I hope the best for her.

TheBronze said...

She'll be dead within a fortnight.

Anonymous said...

I wish her the best. I wouldn't have the guts to do this job, but this is her decision. I hope it works out.

Anonymous said...

Written a year and a half ago, it remains a very relevant editorial against Calderon and his use of the military in this sad sack pr campaign in support of the Mexican military now coming out of the Ciudad Juarez metro area...

La Jornada, Mexico
Calderon's Bush-Style Militarization of Mexican Politics

http://worldmeets.us/lajornada000104.shtml#axzz13PJFHL6o

Ernest1

Anonymous said...

What the hell does this woman being "cute" have to do with being named Police Chief. The local cartel will decide if she and her bodyguards live. Plain and simple! No gun, experience, training! Its a death wish!

Anonymous said...

Hang on...I think I see the problem with Mexico...

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