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Pace of Investigations in Baja Slayings Decried

September 24, 1996|ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — The slayings of two Tijuana-based Mexican anti-narcotics officers in one week have prompted sharp criticism from human rights leaders for the lack of evident progress in the investigations into the killings of seven top law enforcement authorities who had worked in Baja California.

The body of Jorge Garcia Vargas, the Baja California chief of the federal anti-narcotics unit, was found tortured and strangled along with three bodyguards Saturday on the outskirts of Mexico City. The previous Saturday, Baja federal police commander Ernesto Ibarra Santes had been gunned down in the capital along with two bodyguards and a cab driver. Both men had flown in from Tijuana just before their deaths.

Ibarra was an outspoken critic of narcotics corruption. Officials say both killings bear the hallmarks of narcotics violence, but the investigations are continuing.

"We will not be intimidated by this. We will reinforce our efforts in the struggle against organized crime," said Luis Antonio Ibanez Cornejo, the delegate of the Baja federal attorney general's office, where Ibarra was deputy. "This will only serve to unite us. We will continue to combat narcotics traffic with strict adherence to the law and respect for human rights."

Human rights leaders say the failure to find culprits or even strong leads in any of this year's gangland-style killings of law enforcement authorities with ties to the Baja California attorney general's office is emboldening killers who are targeting authorities.

"The fact that none of these assassinations are solved encourages the cycle of impunity. The perpetrators know it is unlikely they will ever be brought to justice and pay for their crimes," said Tijuana human rights leader Victor Clark. "It may be a product of police inefficiency, but it creates the impression that powerful people, and police, are behind the assassinations."

Jose Luis Perez Canchola, the Tijuana-based vice president of the Mexican Human Rights Academy, criticized authorities for failing to make any visible progress on alleged indications of involvement by corrupt police.

"It's easy to blame the narcotics traffickers, but some of these killings could also have come from within the police," Perez Canchola said. "Impunity exists because of negligence or official complicity. There is a growing feeling that organized groups exist who feel secure that there will be no investigation, charges or jail sentence."

Ernesto Ruffo Appel, the former Baja California governor, said that this year's unsolved killings have further battered confidence in local authorities in Tijuana, the scene of Mexico's most notorious unsolved murder, the March 1994 assassination of presidential heir-apparent Luis Donaldo Colosio.

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