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Mexico's Senate confirms Arturo Chavez Chavez as attorney general

Legislators back the nomination by a 75-27 vote despite criticism from human rights activists.

September 25, 2009|Ken Ellingwood

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's Senate on Thursday confirmed Arturo Chavez Chavez as the nation's attorney general, despite objections by human rights activists who assailed his record as prosecutor in the northern state of Chihuahua during the 1990s.

Chavez, 49, who was quickly sworn in, becomes Mexico's top law enforcement official at a crucial moment. The government of President Felipe Calderon is at war with drug-trafficking groups that have unleashed waves of violence across the country.

A lawyer from Calderon's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, Chavez picked up opposition support to win confirmation by a hefty margin, 75 to 27. He takes over for Eduardo Medina Mora, who resigned this month amid criticism by political opponents that the government's anti-crime offensive is foundering.

"I come with my head held high and will work the same way: with honesty, transparency and with a commitment to serve my country," Chavez said after his swearing-in.

Rights advocates charged that Chavez had failed as Chihuahua state prosecutor to properly investigate the killings of hundreds of women in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. Foes lobbied to defeat the nomination, and sign-toting protesters camped outside the Senate as the vote took place.

"The attorney general should be a man of great prestige so that he has something to defend. Mr. Chavez is lacking in prestige," leftist Sen. Pablo Gomez Alvarez said before the vote.

Chavez was Chihuahua's top prosecutor from 1996 to 1998, a period when an alarming number of women in Ciudad Juarez were disappearing or turning up dead, often bearing ghastly injuries. More than 350 women were slain in the city during a 15-year period starting in 1993.

Critics said Chavez failed to properly investigate, and they accused Chihuahua authorities of torturing suspects and falsifying evidence.

In testimony before a Senate committee this week, Chavez acknowledged failings by his former agency, but said he did his utmost as state prosecutor to investigate and prosecute the slayings. He said his office convicted killers responsible for 32 of the deaths.

Chavez previously was the ranking federal prosecutor in Chihuahua, and he has served in the Interior Ministry.

Although the PAN holds a numerical edge in the Senate, Chavez needed votes from the main opposition force, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, to win confirmation. The vote was a test of Calderon's relations with the PRI since the opposition party gained control of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, in July elections.

The recent wave of violence has hit Chihuahua hardest. In a new episode, gunmen burst into a radio station in the northwestern part of the state Wednesday night and killed a reporter, authorities said.

On Thursday, police said they found three human heads in coolers on the highway between Ciudad Juarez and the state capital, called Chihuahua.

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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