President Ernesto Zedillo fired Mexico City's chief law-enforcement officer Tuesday after concluding that the city's riot squads used excessive force last week, injuring at least 40 teachers marching for better pay.
"Violence must not be met with violence," declared presidential spokesman Carlos Almada in announcing Zedillo's extraordinary decision to fire David Garay Maldonado, the capital's controversial police chief.
Zedillo, who served as education minister before becoming president 18 months ago, specifically cited Garay's response to the protest on Thursday by teachers demanding a 100% pay hike for salaries that now average $6 a day. The demonstration began peacefully, but clashes broke out after about 7,000 demonstrators attempted to march toward the presidential residence of Los Pinos.
About 500 riot police battled with the marchers, sending dozens of teachers to the hospital for treatment.
Almada said Zedillo accepted Garay's explanation that the teachers incited the violence, "but in no way did that satisfy the president. . . . It is the responsibility of the security forces always to act with prudence . . . compatible with the freedom of expression."
Zedillo's decision to fire a police chief who has presided over a soaring crime rate and rampant police corruption in the nation's capital was expected to be met with widespread public support.
Almada said Zedillo acted unilaterally because the city's mayor was out of town. Mexico City is a federal district in which the president appoints the mayor and approves his appointments to key positions.
Garay's replacement, Almada said, will be announced after Mayor Oscar Espinosa Villarreal returns next week. In the meantime, Zedillo named Rafael Aviles, a career officer who now heads police operations, as acting chief of the 28,000-member force.
At a recent breakfast in Mexico City, Espinosa's chief prosecutor acknowledged the city's high crime rate and police corruption--both problems fueled by Mexico's acute economic crisis, he said. On average, 650 crimes are committed daily in the capital--double the rate when Zedillo took office in December 1994. And nearly 1,000 police officers have already been fired for various offenses.