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On the Mexican border, fear rules

The World

Police jobs go unfilled and a terrorized public demands reform as the death toll grows in a drug smuggling war.

November 23, 2006|Sam Enriquez and Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writers

"I've only been on the job nine months," said Hernandez, who suggested a visit to the federal prosecutor's office.

Assistant federal prosecutor Jose Enrique Corona rolled his eyes an hour later. "Of course she knows," he said.

When asked whether his office was investigating the slaying of Dominguez, the 56-year-old father who served only six hours as chief, Corona said the case was being handled by federal investigators in Mexico City. Prosecutors in Mexico City said it wasn't theirs. The truth is, few killings are investigated and almost none are solved.

"This is a city of lies," said one of the local reporters whose daily newspaper no longer covers drug killings. He was afraid to be named. "Last year we reported on all the killings, and business and government officials blamed us for disrupting commerce. Now police say nothing happens here. What a paradise."

Residents take pains to dodge the menace of drug trafficking. Some deny it exists. Look at the peaceful plazas, say boosters, and the thousands of trucks that ferry commercial goods daily to and from the United States.

"If you behave on the streets, you won't get into trouble," Tamaulipas Gov. Eugenio Hernandez Flores told potential investors during a business forum in Nuevo Laredo, which is linked by bridges with Laredo, Texas. An unofficial tally by the newspaper Milenio found 145 police officers were slain this year, a dozen of whom were from Tamaulipas.

When the Tijuana mayor favorably compared his city's crime rate with that of San Diego, some residents were stunned.

"Apparently, he's living somewhere else," said Genaro de la Torre, leader of a citizens safety group that helped organize a recent anti-violence march. "He needs to suffer what the people have suffered to realize what is really going on."

President-elect Calderon has proposed better police training, consolidation of federal law enforcement units into a single agency and creation of a national crime database.

"During the last few years, and really the last months, violence and organized crime have grown in an alarming way," Calderon told a business group last week. "We can't accept that as the image of Mexico. We can't have a daily image of executions and other bloody acts that go unpunished."

The Lopez family, which used to run a money exchange house on Nuevo Laredo's central plaza, is still waiting for justice. Thugs kidnapped one brother last month and returned the next morning for a second brother.

"He grabbed onto the pole of a payphone and wouldn't let go, so they shot him in the leg," said a reporter who interviewed witnesses. "He still wouldn't let go, so they shot him in the arm and took him. People said they called police, but nobody came."

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sam.enriquez@latimes.com

richard.marosi@latimes.com

Enriquez reported from Nuevo Laredo and Marosi from Tijuana. Carlos Martinez and Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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