Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ciudad Juarez police chief gunned down by assassins

Very dangerous to be a lawman in Mexico.

MEXICO CITY — Assassins gunned down a senior police official in the border city of Ciudad Juarez early Saturday as Mexico's gangsters pressed their counteroffensive against the country's security forces.

Municipal Police Chief Juan Antonio Roman was shot about 2 a.m. in front of his house on the outskirts of the city, which is across the Rio Grande from El Paso.

Another of Roman's police commanders was shot shortly before he was killed.

Roman's was one of more than 100 deaths, including those of at least 20 police officers, attributed to organized crime last week across Mexico. Among those killed were a top commander of the Federal Preventative Police, whose gray-uniformed agents have spearheaded a crackdown on the criminal underworld.

Gangland violence has been sweeping Mexico as powerful narcotics smuggling gangs battle one another for dominance. At stake are the lucrative smuggling routes through the country to transport cocaine, marijuana and other narcotics to U.S. consumers.

President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the gangsters upon taking office in December 2006, dispatching some 30,000 troops and federal police to the most violence-plagued communities.

While failing to seriously curtail narcotics traffic, the offensive has weakened some criminal organizations, enhancing bloody internal rivalries. By some media counts, more than 3,000 people have died in the past 17 months, including scores of police officers and soldiers.

Violence against police was rare until recently in Mexico, as gangsters preferred to use silver instead of lead to persuade officials to leave them alone. But amid Calderon's offensive, the gangs have started hitting at the local, state and federal police.

"It's a war between the cartels and against the state," said Victor Clark, a human rights activist in Tijuana. "The government action has dealt a blow to the interests of organized crime, And they're fighting back."

Roman's name headed a list of "executable" city police officers that was publicly posted by gangsters in January.

Standing in the street in front of his house, with his wife and three children inside, Roman managed to shoot back at his killers but was cut down in a volley of more than 60 bullets, said Jaime Torres, a Ciudad Juarez police spokesman.

"He was able to repel the attack, but he was outnumbered," Torres said. "It's a very sad day."

Calderon called Friday for his nation to unite against the gangs. But years of endemic police corruption and abuses have left many Mexicans cynical.

Mexican officials have acknowledged that some officers — especially local and state forces — have been killed for their role in protecting one criminal gang or another rather than in the line of duty.

"They haven't been able to break the ties between the organized criminals, police and political power," said Clark, noting that 144 municipal and state police officers were fired in Baja California last week.

The federal police commander killed Thursday, Edgar Millan, was met by assassins as he arrived home in Mexico City. Investigators suspect they were helped by someone from within the federal police.

Ciudad Juarez police chief gunned down by assassins | - Houston Chronicle


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