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Pancho Villa’s nephew takes on cartels
Caribbean state’s top cop, retired general, part of Mexican trend to pit ex-military against crime
Question of the Day
“This is a little gift for you,” read the note placed on a dismembered body dumped near the resort city of Cancun. “You’re next, Villa.”
It was no idle threat. Two years ago, retired Gen. Mauro Enrique Tello was kidnapped, tortured and killed shortly after he was hired as a security adviser to root out corruption in Cancun.
The 62-year-old Gen. Villa, who shares the intense stare and strong features of his famous relative, is undeterred. He started his new job on April 5.
“Damn good that they sent me a warning,” Gen. Villa said. “If they are warning me, I’ll be ready.”
Such bravado has been a trademark for Gen. Villa, as he joined the struggle to contain this country’s escalating drug wars and suggested publicly that he subscribes to a shoot-first, ask-questions-later style of policing.
A father of three, Gen. Villa sleeps with a rifle and a .44 caliber pistol he calls “mi negrita” - “my little black one.” He joined the military at age 16, happy to receive three hot meals a day after a youth spent herding cattle in the mountains of Durango.
A telecommunications and intelligence expert during his 43 years in the military, he rose to the rank of general and now calls the army his father and the nation his mother.
In fact, Gen. Villa represents a new mold of top cop in a country where all levels of law enforcement - even federal prosecutors - have been co-opted by drug cartels.
According to Mexico's Institute for Security and Democracy, 17 of Mexico’s 32 states have retired military officers heading their departments of public security. Two years ago, the newspaper Reforma said there were just six.
That trend concerns human rights observers, who say a military-based approach threatens to escalate the violence in a nation where mass graves and gang executions have become numbingly common. Nationwide, drug turf battles already have resulted in more than 34,000 deaths over the past four years.
“Military men have skills for eliminating their enemies but not necessarily in crime prevention,” said Juan Salgado, a specialist in public safety research at Mexico's Center for Economic Research and Teaching.
Oscar Manuel Soto, a researcher for the National Institute of Criminal Justice, noted that military officers have the advantage of specialized training in weapons and tactics. But, he added, that knowledge “is to handle situations of war, not to handle civilian situations, and that is a big problem.”
The get-tough military style was made famous by Julian Leyzaola, a retired army lieutenant colonel and former Tijuana police chief who now heads public safety in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s most dangerous place.
By John McAfee
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