Crime Hits Home for Mexico's President

THE man who says he is determined to make Mexico a country where ''no one is above the law'' recently got a close-to-the-heart taste of just how difficult that task will be.

Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon has made the country's shattered domestic security a theme of his four-month-old administration. But he must have been shocked nonetheless when informed that his oldest child had been the victim of a daylight assault -- by three members of the police.

Details of the crime, of a variety all too common in Mexico City, became public only late last week, although the assault took place earlier this month.

The president's son, Ernesto Zedillo Velasco, an architecture student at Anahuac University in the city's affluent northwest, had just left class in a chauffer-driven Jeep Cherokee. As he and a driver sat at a red light, three armed individuals approached and ordered them out of the prized, late-model vehicle.

But the assailants -- who according to one version simply laughed when the young man insisted he was the president's son -- got only Mr. Zedillo's watch before a presidential guard escort, which had been following at a discreet distance, arrived on the scene. That is when the three thugs' true identity as members of the State of Mexico's Judicial Police was discovered.

The much-feared Judicial Police, or judiciales -- whose job description says they investigate crimes -- have a reputation throughout Mexico for augmenting their meager salaries with coerced bribes from both drivers and pedestrians.

But their assault on the president's son may help expose the ringleaders of more serious attacks that have been taking place with growing frequency against the drivers of expensive cars.

A suspicious number of those assaults have occurred near police substations, areas where the police-bandits can do their work -- with impunity.

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