Some may call her foolhardy. But 20-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia, the young college student who has just accepted a job as police chief in a troubled border town in Mexico, has garnered praise around the globe for being fearless.
“A wonderful example.” “An inspiration.” "A role model for young girls." These are some of the comments floating across social media networks. And judging from the news coverage – with her story posted in newspapers and heard on radio programs from England to Russia – the young wife and mother is bringing hope far beyond the town, Praxedis G. Guerrero in the northern state of Chihuahua, where she will be on patrol.
In towns such as hers, gripped by violence connected to the drug trade, "police chief" is often the hardest job to fill. Heads of forces are commonly killed off in turf wars between rival traffickers – sometimes because they are moonlighting for one gang, other times because they are standing in the way of lucrative sales. At times, entire forces have quit en masse in frustration and fear.
But Ms. Valles Garcia, who is finishing her degree in criminology, says that the community must overcome fear and bring morals and values back to a ravaged corner of Mexico. "Yes, there is fear," she told CNN en Español Wednesday in an interview. "It's like all human beings. There will always be fear, but what we want to achieve in our municipality is tranquility and security."
Her posting comes as public officials have faced new threats from drug-trafficking organizations. The lead investigator looking into the death of an American tourist in Tamaulipas was recently beheaded. Political candidates have been assassinated. So far this year, roughly a dozen mayors have been killed.
Praxedis G. Guerrero is located in the once peaceful Juarez Valley, just 35 miles south of Ciudad Juarez, the most dangerous city in Mexico, where more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2006. It is now seeing a mass exodus of residents amid violence between the Sinaloa and Juarez drug-trafficking groups.
It might seem that a tough-fisted police chief is required for such a violent town. But Valles Garcia says she will take a reverse tactic, using a mostly female, unarmed force to patrol the streets and focus on social programs in schools and community-building. "The weapons we have are principles and values, which are the best weapons for prevention," she said. "Our work will be pure prevention. We are not going to be doing anything else other than prevention."
While she continues to garner praise for her courage, closer to home not all are thrilled with their new police chief. As CNN noted yesterday, one posting on the Periodista Digital site asked plainly: "Are there no men in Chihuahua?"
(This is an updated version of a story that originally ran on Oct. 20)