Monday, February 9, 2009

Mexican troops take over police headquarters in Cancun

I have been to Mexico a few times in my lifetime, most of the areas I visited were very nice, however with the violence there now, I can tell you I will not be going there for a long time to come.

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican troops today seized the municipal police headquarters in the resort city of Cancun as an investigation deepened into the slaying there of a recently retired army general.

Scores of soldiers backed by two armored cars took over the offices amid press reports that Cancun's police chief and other officials may be implicated in the Feb. 2 torture-killings of Gen. Mauro Tello, his bodyguard and his driver.

Cancun's public safety chief and six officers from its traffic police department were removed from their posts, the mayor's office said today. Federal investigators arrrested the public safety director, Francisco Velasco, who faces charges related to the killings, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general's office said..

The tortured and shot bodies of Tello, 63, and the other men -- a former army lieutenant who was working as his aide and the nephew of Cancun's mayor -- were discovered before dawn in a pickup abanoned on a highway west of Cancun.

Cancun's mayor had announced Tello's hiring as a security consultant the day before the general was killed. Tello had been expected to replace Velasco as police chief.

Army troops have moved to dismantle local security forces across Mexico when those police are thought to be corrupted by organized crime. Soldiers are now patrolling in areas most affected by the drug cartel-driven violence that last year killed more than 5,400 people. Many of the slayings were in Ciudad Juarez, Reynosa and other cities bordering Texas.

The army's role in the drug fight has been accelerated since President Felipe Calderon ordered troops against the country's drug traffickers upon taking office in December 2006. More than 20,000 troops are now deployed along the border and in key drug production and trafficking areas.

Calling today for a united front against the gangsters, Mexico's defense minister equated the current crackdown with the early days of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. He said if left unchallenged, organized crime's impact would be irreversable "sooner rather than later."

"Throughout its history Mexico has struggled with internal threats," Gen. Guillermo Galvan, the minister, said in a speech. "Organized crime today represents a serious adversary and confronting it demands firm national unity."

Cancun, the epicenter of Mexico's tourism industry, and its nearby coastline also have long been a major transit point for South American cocaine headng for U.S. and other markets. Local drug use has increased dramatically there in recent years, as it has throughout Mexico.

Four-fifths of the 18 million tourists visiting last year hailed from the United States. Millions more Americans visit the so-called Riviera Maya coastline south of the city each year.

Most Cancun tourists stay at the resorts and upscale hotels in the boomerang-shaped barrier island offshore from Cancun proper, at a distant and safe distance from the urban neighborhoods in the city itself.

After retiring from the army on New Year's Day, Tello had been hired as a special adviser on public security issues by Cancun Mayor Gregorio Sanchez. The newsmagazine Proceso reported in its weekend edition that Tello was set to bring in former and active military men to crack down on the drug trade in the city.

A career officer, Tello was arrested in 1997 and charged in relation with the kidnap-killings of six young men during a police crackdown in Mexico City's Buenos Aires neighborhood, known for trafficking in stolen cars and parts. The charges against him were later dropped.

Tello also commanded the military crackdown in central Michoacan state in 1997, which at the time was the scene of some of the most brutal gangland violence between local gangsters and those from the so-called Gulf Cartel, based in the cities bordering South Texas. Cancun's underworld trade is reportedly controlled by the Gulf Cartel and its gunmen, known as the Zetas.

After the ambush that year of an army convoy that killed a colonel and four other soldiers, troops roughly rounded up suspects in several nearby villages, sparking an outcry from human rights groups.

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