Stemming Violence in Mexico

Ridding Mexico of systemic violence and corruption has been a theme of many a Mexican politician. But for decades it's been more rhetoric than reality.

So it's encouraging that the public is now saying "enough." Earlier this summer, some 250,000 protesters filled the streets of Mexico City to demonstrate their growing intolerance for crime, violence, police corruption, and all-too-complacent politicians.

And a poll released at the end of July showed that ratings had dropped over the past several months for Mexico City's mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a candidate for the 2006 presidential elections. Lopez Obrador has been criticized for not doing enough to fight rampant crime in that sprawling metropolis.

But the public will have to show ongoing vigilance in its fight, as the problems appear so entrenched.

Mexico ranked second in the world in the number of kidnappings in 2003, just behind Colombia, according to Kroll Security Services of New York. And over the past decade, some 300 women have been killed in the Mexico-US border area near Ciudad-Juarez.

Conservative president Vicente Fox campaigned on a clean-up government platform. But he has failed to enact anticorruption and crime measures, prompting voters to look to someone else who will step up and generate effective reforms.

Not that Mr. Fox isn't trying. He recently proposed major judicial reforms, including something as basic as public trials. But he's been stymied by the opposition congress.

The Fox government also filed genocide charges two weeks ago against former president Luis Echeverria. The move marked the first time charges were brought against a former president of the country.

Mr. Echeverria is a member of the International Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years. Its leaders have long been thought to be immune from justice. (Despite Fox's historic election in 2000 that put the PRI out of presidential power, the party still controls the majority of the Mexican congress, and gained ground this week in local elections.)

Echeverria is widely viewed as an individual who symbolizes the worst of the Mexican government's abuses during the country's "Dirty War" period. He was charged with playing a key role in the violent suppression of a student protest in 1971 that left at least 30 students dead. And he also was the interior minister in October 1968, when police opened fire on antigovernment protesters, killing some 300 people in Mexico City.

But just days after the charges were filed, a judge threw them out, citing the expiration of the statute of limitations. Human rights activists were outraged, and the whole thing has the appearance of a particularly large clod of dirt being swept under a rug.

The government has appealed, but there is no deadline for review. If the appeal is eventually denied, the government should consider going public with the findings of its investigation. When it comes to fighting law-enforcement corruption and violence, the citizens of Mexico - and the Fox government - must not give up.

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