- Associated Press - Monday, August 30, 2010

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s federal police agency has fired nearly 10 percent of its force this year for failing lie detector tests or other checks designed to detect possible corruption, officials said Monday.

Mexico’s approximately 35,000 federal police are required to undergo periodic lie detector, psychological and drug examinations, and the government routinely investigates their finances and personal life.

Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas said 3,200 officers have been dismissed this year for failing to meet the agency’s standards. He did not give more details.

The fired agents are barred from taking jobs in any other security force — a recurring problem that Mexican governments have vowed to solve for many years. Another 1,020 federal police are facing unspecified disciplinary measures.

Police corruption at all levels is widespread in Mexico, which is mired in an intensifying conflict with brutal drug cartels. Police are often found to have been involved in cartel attacks, including the assassination two weeks ago of a mayor who had disciplined municipal officers in his northern town. Investigators say local officers aligned with the Zetas drug gang killed the mayor in retaliation.

Scandals have also ensnared the federal police. Two years ago, a corruption probe known as “Operation Clean House” toppled the former anti-drug czar, Noe Ramirez, and other high-ranking police accused of protecting the Beltran Leyva gang.

Rivals of the Sinaloa cartel, which broke with the Beltran Leyvas before “Clean House,” have sometimes accused federal officials of protecting that gang. Earlier this year, Reforma newspaper reported that a trove of papers containing the names and phone numbers of federal police officers was found in the car of an associate of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin Guzman during a May 2009 bust. The government has never confirmed or denied that report.

President Felipe Calderon, who has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police to fight drug traffickers in their strongholds, insists his government combats all cartels with equal force.

He has pointed to the regular police tests and crackdowns such as “Clean House” as evidence that his government is also aggressively fighting corruption.

Drug violence has surged since Mr. Calderon intensified the crackdown on traffickers in late 2006, claiming more than 28,000 lives.

Last week, marines discovered the bodies of 72 Central and South American migrants believed to have been gunned down by the Zetas after refusing to smuggle drugs, in what may be the deadliest cartel massacre to date.

The lone survivor — an 18-year-old Ecuadorean who escaped and alerted marines at a highway checkpoint — returned to his home country over the weekend after declining a humanitarian visa that would have let him stay in Mexico, the Foreign Relations Department announced Monday.

Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, who had been recovering from a gunshot wound under heavy police protection, flew home Sunday on an Ecuadorean air force plane.

The migrants were discovered at a ranch about 100 miles from the U.S. border in Tamaulipas, a state controlled by the Zetas. Begun as a gang of hit men, the Zetas have grown into a major trafficking cartel with increasing control over migrant smuggling routes.

Violence has surged in Tamaulipas and neighboring Nuevo Leon state this year since the Zetas broke ranks with their former employer, the Gulf cartel.

On Sunday, gunmen killed the mayor of Hidalgo, a town near where the migrants were slain. Two weeks earlier, the mayor of Santiago in neighboring Nuevo Leon state was assassinated, allegedly by police tied to the Zetas.

In June, cartel gunmen assassinated the leading candidate for governor of Tamaulipas, Rodolfo Torre Cantu, less than a week before state and local elections.

The government offered a $1.15 million reward Monday for information leading to the capture of his killers.

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