Amid broad outrage over the slaying of a 14-year-old kidnapping victim, Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday urged Congress to toughen punishments for abductors to include life in prison.
The proposal would make kidnapping in some cases subject to the harshest criminal sentence in Mexico, which formally abolished its long-dormant death penalty three years ago. Kidnappers currently face as long as 60 years in prison, or 70 years when they kill the victim. Murderers face a maximum of 60 years.
Calderon, a conservative who has made the fight against organized crime a centerpiece of his administration, proposed toughening sentences for kidnappers more than a year ago. The measure has gone nowhere.
The issue vaulted to the forefront after the decomposed body of Fernando Marti, a muscular wake board enthusiast, turned up in the trunk of a car here last week even though his parents reportedly had paid millions of dollars in ransom.
The case has dominated the news, striking a nerve among Mexicans who have seen a growing wave of kidnappings along the U.S. border and in other spots. The official tally rose more than a third last year to 438, but the actual number is assumed to be much higher.
Emilio Gamboa, a congressional leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, the former ruling party, called this week for reinstating the death sentence in kidnapping cases. A poll published Thursday in the Reforma newspaper found that 71% of respondents in liberal Mexico City favored executing kidnappers; 72% said they did not trust the police.
Calderon's proposal takes aim at abductions by police and those in which minors are seized. In addition, kidnappers who gravely injure or kill their victims would face a possible life sentence.
Two of the three men arrested in the Marti case are Mexico City police officers, and investigators are reportedly looking into possible involvement by members of the federal police.
"There is no greater offense than a crime that goes unpunished, and it is even more outrageous when the kidnappers, the criminals, are police officers or protected by police," Calderon said.
But some anti-crime activists accused Calderon of playing to public opinion.
Jose Antonio Ortega Sanchez, who heads a civic group in Mexico City, said efforts should focus on cleaning up corruption-plagued police forces. Many officers moonlight as gunmen for organized-crime groups, including drug traffickers.
"A life sentence or the death penalty is not going to solve the kidnapping problem in Mexico, because the problem, the cause of the problem, is the corruption, the collusion," he said.
The Marti slaying has sparked sniping between Calderon and Marcelo Ebrard, the leftist mayor of Mexico City. Calderon blamed a lack of coordination between federal and local authorities, an assertion Ebrard rejected.
Meanwhile, Mexican news reports said the victim's bodyguard, originally reported by authorities as dead, had survived and would testify.
The bodyguard, Cristian Salmones Flores, told investigators that Marti was seized June 4 by men in police uniforms who had erected a checkpoint on a major boulevard, according to an account in Reforma.
The kidnappers took the boy, Salmones and their driver to a safe house and called the youth's family to demand a $3-million ransom, the newspaper said.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.