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Profile : A Rights Reformer Holds Mexico's Reins of Justice : As the nation's new attorney general, Jorge Carpizo MacGregor faces a tough task in his commitment to halting police abuses.


MEXICO CITY — As national human rights ombudsman for the last two years, Jorge Carpizo MacGregor branded the attorney general's office and its Federal Judicial Police force the worst rights violators in Mexico.

Now, as Mexico's new attorney general, the former president of the National Human Rights Commission is charged with putting an end to the abuses he so often denounced--torture, extortion and even murder. Carpizo is to clean up the agency that oversees the fight against narcotics trafficking--but which is said to be deeply involved in that trafficking.

Human rights activists lauded Carpizo's appointment last month, calling him "a tireless human rights advocate" with an "irreproachable" career.

"He takes risks and is moved by principles, which is rare in politics," said Sergio Aguayo, president of the independent Mexican Human Rights Academy. "One big advantage he has is that we believe in him."

But the task ahead of Carpizo is enormous.

Police corruption and apparent immunity to prosecution are longstanding problems in Mexico that several presidents have tackled unsuccessfully.

Some political observers question why Carpizo would risk his hard-earned reputation on such a tough job with so little time left in the current administration. He is the third person to hold the post under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, whose term ends next year. Presidents effectively become lame ducks in Mexico once the ruling party's next candidate for president is named. And that will happen late this year.

"Carpizo is going to open the window and let some air in," said Carlos Ramirez, a columnist for El Financiero newspaper.

"The problem is that there is an organic link between (the department) and traffickers," Ramirez added. "It's not just that they sell protection. They participate directly in trafficking."

Ramirez and others note that Carpizo cannot clean house overnight because the country does not have a corps of trained and honest police officers and federal attorneys waiting in the wings.

And, they say, Carpizo has to worry about what the fired officers might do once they're out of work. One police force disbanded during the previous administration of President Miguel de la Madrid turned to full-time crime.

"Carpizo can't just fire people. He has to charge them with crimes," said Marieclaire Acosta, president of the independent Mexican Committee for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights. "There have to be some high-profile trials, and not just of scapegoats. This has to go to the bottom of the issue. In the past, many police have gotten off saying they were obeying orders."

Carpizo, 48, knows the problems he faces as well as anyone.

However, he received a harsh reminder shortly after taking office. He told human rights workers that during his first public presentation as attorney general he was heckled by employees of the agency he was promising to overhaul.

He issued a list of 27 actions that he would take as attorney general, including fighting police immunity and complying with scores of recommendations that his commission had made to the attorney general's office but that had been ignored or unfulfilled. (The commission has no enforcement power.)

Carpizo vowed to "fight frontally against arbitrary acts. It must be clear that it is not possible to apply the law in some cases and not in all. No one, neither authorities nor individuals, can ask to be above the law. . . . No end justifies the use of illegal means. . . ."

He has undertaken a review of the federal judicial police force and "is evaluating the situation," said a source in the attorney general's office. "Those who are capable will remain and those who are not, will not."

Carpizo also is setting up an internal affairs office to handle complaints of abuses by police and federal attorneys.

A longtime champion of human rights, Carpizo co-founded the Mexican Human Rights Academy in 1984, along with then-colleagues Aguayo, Acosta and other activists. They began promoting the idea of a national ombudsman.

As rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1985, Carpizo created the post of ombudsman for students' rights. He resigned from the Human Rights Academy in 1989 when he was named to the Supreme Court.

In June, 1990, Salinas formed the National Human Rights Commission and put Carpizo at the helm in response to an international outcry over the assassination of human rights activist Norma Corona in Culiacan, Sinaloa, a month before.

The commission determined that Corona had been investigating the murder of three Venezuelans in Sinaloa and suspected the complicity of federal judicial police who she believed were involved in drug trafficking. The federal judicial police commander for Sinaloa, Mario Alberto Gonzalez Trevino, eventually was arrested and charged in the murder.

That investigation and other charges the commission was making riled then-Atty. Gen. Enrique Alvarez del Castillo.

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