Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Questions swirl around Mexico's top cop
By Tim Johnson | McClatchy Newspapers
President Felipe Calderon has risen to the defense of his top law enforcement officer, portraying him as indispensable to Mexico's war on drug trafficking despite a surge of accusations against him, ranging from claims that he's staged raids for the news media to questions about how he could afford a mansion in one of the capital's most exclusive areas.
Secretary of Public Security Genaro Garcia Luna, a 42-year-old engineer, says he's not going anywhere as long as Calderon is in office. He's even collaborating on a new television show that portrays his federal police as macho crime-busters who routinely outwit drug traffickers.
After a demand for Garcia Luna's resignation drew raucous cheers from tens of thousands of people who were attending an anti-violence rally Sunday in Mexico City's main square, Calderon's office was quick to say that Garcia Luna would be staying at the top of his massive government department, which includes the 35,000-strong Federal Police.
"If anyone has worked for the creation of a civilian police force that is professional, follows the law, is well equipped and has intelligence capabilities that guarantee the safety of the people, that person is Garcia Luna," said Alejandro Poire, the federal government's security spokesman.
Garcia Luna's cooperation on the action show "El Equipo" ("The Team"), which debuted Monday night on Mexico's Televisa network, is the most recent sore point.
Legislators from the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party — the PRD, in its Spanish initials — allege that as a way to polish his image Garcia Luna misappropriated police helicopters, gave extraordinary access to the force's underground intelligence center and provided police officers as extras to help Televisa film the show.
PRD Deputy Leticia Quezada filed a complaint Thursday morning at Mexico's equivalent of a comptroller general's office, asking for a formal investigation.
Two days earlier, PRD President Jesus Zambrano called on Garcia Luna to resign, or for Calderon to fire him if for no other reason than to signal that Calderon is taking action on public security at a time of a sharp rise in homicides. Mexico chalked up more than 15,000 murders last year alone.
Garcia Luna has shaken off numerous scandals in the past year, including publication of a book by investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez, "The Lords of Narco," that suggested he'd collaborated with the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico's biggest drug-trafficking organization.
After Hernandez published stories that Garcia Luna had paid cash to build a 7,600-square-foot house, replete with gymnasium and four-car garage, in Mexico City's posh Jardines en La Montana district, she received death threats and city prosecutors assigned bodyguards for her.
In an interview last December, Hernandez said she thought that Garcia Luna had become too powerful for Calderon to remove.
"Getting rid of Garcia Luna would be a very important blow to the Sinaloa Cartel," she asserted.
Obama administration officials haven't voiced any criticism of Garcia Luna, but his support has waned in the U.S. Congress, which holds the purse strings for U.S. assistance to Mexico's battle against drug traffickers. Congress already has appropriated $1.4 billion over a three-year period.
The chief adviser on Latin America for Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, singled out Garcia Luna by name, according to a December article in Mexico's Proceso magazine. Meacham later forwarded the statement to McClatchy.
The magazine quoted Carl Meacham as saying that Calderon needed to focus more on corruption, "especially given allegations that have surfaced against Mexican Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna."
Referring to the U.S. aid program, which is known as the Merida Initiative, Meacham said it wasn't limited to fighting drug trafficking. "Given that the Merida Initiative's objective is to strengthen the Mexican state's ability to combat transnational crime, weeding out government corruption should be one of the initiative's highest priorities," he said.
Speaking in Ciudad Juarez on Monday, Garcia Luna said that not only would he stick it out through Calderon's term, which ends in November 2012, but he'd also accept any invitation to stay on by Calderon's successor.