On the first anniversary of the assassination of ruling party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, President Ernesto Zedillo's government declared war Thursday on powerful crime syndicates that smuggle hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants and tons of narcotics across Mexico and into the United States each year.
Zedillo marked the solemn day with a vow to end the crime, corruption and national insecurity that have intensified in the year since Colosio was killed in Tijuana and that endangered even the president's son last week.
Four of Zedillo's Cabinet ministers on Thursday unveiled a comprehensive strategy to crack down on the lucrative border trade that has sent hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants across the U.S.-Mexican border each year and supplied as much as three-fourths of the cocaine sold on the streets of the United States.
The attorney general and secretaries of the Interior, transportation and Treasury all signed an accord, agreeing to create a super agency and coordinate their efforts as never before to bring the force of law down on the smugglers of drugs and migrants.
Officials denied critics' charges that the ambitious new effort to break the nexus between smugglers and law enforcement officials who sanction them was part of a secret agreement to ensure that Mexico receives a $20-billion credit package from the Clinton Administration.
Two Cabinet secretaries who announced the campaign insisted it was part of Zedillo's commitment "to strengthen the rule of law, to fight criminal impunity and to cement the cooperation among institutions."
"Our society is clamoring to entrench the rule of law with certainty, security and justice," declared Interior Secretary Esteban Moctezuma Barragan. "In view of the difficulties facing the nation, it is imperative to unite forces, broaden efficiency and stop those who make illegal activity their way of life--all the more when the criminal activity involves human beings.
"These traffickers," he added, "exploit human beings, violate the security of our borders, profit criminally on hope, risk the life and security of countless people, attack dignity and human rights, corrupt our authorities, personnel and institutions to the detriment of our social fabric and our communities."
He noted that most undocumented migrants from Central America who cross into Mexico in the south continue north to the United States; most of those who cross the U.S.-Mexican border do so with the help of international crime syndicates and corrupt officials. He vowed to end this.
Treasury Secretary Guillermo Ortiz said he is creating special, handpicked customs teams to intensify the search for contraband at Mexico's borders.
As Zedillo on Thursday dedicated a statue to Colosio on Paseo de la Reforma, the capital's main boulevard, the president added his voice to the anti-crime crusade. He said Colosio's yet-unsolved assassination serves as a powerful, tragic example of the lawlessness that must stop. "We will not rest until the brutal crime that took away Mexico's best man is totally clarified," he said. "We will not rest until we are certain the entire society knows the truth."
A factory worker has been convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison for fatally shooting Colosio at a Tijuana campaign rally a year ago. But Zedillo's chief prosecutors conceded this week that they have not identified the motive in that case nor the masterminds behind the assassination that shook this nation and unleashed a year of turmoil.
As he stood beside the towering bronze of the man who preceded him as the Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate, Zedillo said: "Today, I reiterate the unbreakable promise of my government to push for a rule of law that guarantees public security and restores public credibility in the enforcement and procurement of justice. As president of all Mexicans, I am resolved to lead the construction of a nation of laws and justice."
That challenge is enormous, as Thursday's presidential and governmental vows came against the backdrop of a crime wave that the capital's top law enforcement official attributed to chaos and corruption throughout the criminal justice system.
In his first 60 days as Zedillo's handpicked attorney general for this city of almost 20 million, Jose Antonio Gonzalez Fernandez told the City Council he had "found areas (in law enforcement) that were neglected; duplicated functions; inoperative systems of coordination; communication breaks; administrative problems, and disorder."
He also said crime runs rampant, noting that in the first 10 weeks of 1995, more than 38,000 major incidents were reported--including 5,843 nonviolent car thefts, 3,962 muggings, 3,435 violent car thefts, 3,306 assaults, 416 killings and 250 rapes. He estimated that more than 30,000 criminals are on the loose.
And as a dramatic illustration of the criminal impunity reigning on the streets, he confirmed that the president's son, Ernesto Zedillo Velasco, 19, was among the latest victims of the sort of criminal corruption that terrorizes this nation. The youth's jeep was stopped by three state police officers at gunpoint in the wealthy suburb of Tecamachalco in a mugging attempt last week, he said.
Threatening young Zedillo with kidnaping or death, the police ordered him out of his vehicle and were about to rob him when bodyguards in his escort car intervened and arrested the offenders. "It was a simple and unfortunate robbery attempt," a presidential spokesman said. "They had no idea who they were sticking up."