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Mexico Police and Law Enforcement Organizations
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Mexico's rural indigenous peoples periodically have risen in protest against poverty and encroachment by large farmers, ranchers, and commercial interests on contested land. The most recent and serious such uprising occurred on January 1, 1994, when the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional--EZLN) rebelled, capturing four municipalities in Chiapas state. Some of the group, believed to number about 1,600, were armed with semiautomatic and assault rifles, whereas others were armed only with sticks and wooden bayonets. Although the group's attacks seemed well planned, army units, supported by air force strikes, were able to regain control after the initial surprise. At least 12,000 troops were transported to the scene. Officials announced that 120 deaths had resulted, although church officials said 400 lives had been lost. Five rebels apparently were executed while bound, and other deaths may have been the result of extrajudicial executions. Many disappearances of peasants were reported, and there was indiscriminate strafing of hamlets. The government declared a unilateral cease-fire after twelve days and announced several goodwill gestures as a prelude to reconciliation talks with the rebels, who were represented by their masked leader, Subcommander Marcos.

    According to government sources, the EZLN, commonly known as the Zapatistas, is not a purely indigenous movement, but is instead an alliance of middle-class intellectuals and radicalized indigenous groups dating from the early 1980s. The EZLN began as an offshoot of the National Liberation Forces (Fuerzas de Liberación Nacional--FLN), a Maoist guerrilla group that had been largely dormant since the 1970s. At the start of the Zapatista rebellion, command of the Zapatista army was jointly held by FLN veterans from Mexico City and a "clandestine committee" of Chiapas Indians representing the various ethnic groups residing in the area.

    In February 1995, on the eve of a new offensive against rebel strongholds, the government identified Subcommander Marcos as Rafael Sebastián Guillén, a white, middle-class graduate in graphics design from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México--UNAM). In the initial January 1994 Zapatista raids, the charismatic guerrilla leader had become an international media star, quickly assuming the status of a folk hero among many Mexicans. Capitalizing on his newfound fame and his proximity to the rebel army, Marcos is believed to have wrested control of the EZLN from its Mexico City leadership.

    Despite a formidable government offensive involving approximately 20,000 army troops venturing into Zapatista-held territory, Subcommander Marcos and his rebel force eluded capture. By late February 1995, a second cease-fire had been declared. Soon thereafter, the government and the rebels embarked on a second major round of peace talks. In early 1996, the Zapatistas declared their willingness in principle to lay down their arms and become a legal political party pending major reforms of the political system. Despite their ability to grab headlines and attract international support, the Zapatistas remain a marginal political force and are not considered a serious military threat outside of Chiapas.

    Police and Law Enforcement Organizations

    A number of federal, state, and local police and law enforcement organizations exist to provide for internal security. Their responsibilities and jurisdictions frequently overlap, a factor acknowledged in 1984 when the government created a national consulting board designed to "coordinate and advise police forces" throughout the country. The senior law enforcement organization in Mexico is the Federal Judicial Police, which is controlled by the attorney general. The plainclothes force acts as an investigative agency with arrest power for the Office of the Attorney General. The foremost activity of the Federal Judicial Police is carrying out investigations and making apprehensions related to drug trafficking. Espionage, arms trafficking, and bank robberies also fall under its purview. The Federal Judicial Police serves as the government's liaison with the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). Its role can be compared to a combination of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

    The jurisdiction of the Federal Judicial Police encompasses the entire nation. For control purposes, its jurisdiction is divided into thirteen zones with fifty-two smaller detachment headquarters. Under the coordination of the local federal prosecutor, each zone is headed by a second commandant of the Federal Judicial Police, who in turn directs the group chiefs in the outlying detachments. Individuals arrested by the Federal Judicial Police are placed at the disposition of the local federal prosecutor, who appoints subordinate attorneys to assess each case.

    Although it remains one of the smaller law enforcement agencies, the Federal Judicial Police tripled in size between 1982 and 1984, from 500 personnel to an estimated 1,500. In 1988 an assistant attorney general's office for investigating and combating drug trafficking was formed with an additional 1,500 Federal Judicial Police agents. In 1990 the office was expanded and given interagency coordinating functions in the battle against narcotics.

    The principal Mexico City police force, the Protection and Transit Directorate, also known as the Traffic Police, consists of some 29,000 officers organized into thirty-three precincts. It is the largest law enforcement organization in Mexico. More than 100 serious crimes are reported each day in Mexico City, and on average in the Federal District in the first quarter of 1997 one police officer was killed and one injured weekly. A sense of insecurity prevails among many citizens because of the lack of confidence in the police and the fear of police misbehavior and crime.

    The Federal District police are poorly paid; in 1992 they earned between US$285 and US$400 a month. Double shifts are common, although no extra pay for overtime is provided. Incomes can be supplemented in various ways, including from petty bribes (mordidas ) from motorists seeking to park in restricted zones. Police are said to be obliged to pay for more desirable assignments where the possibilities of extorting payments from drivers in lieu of fines is greater. However, junior officers are forced to pass along a daily quota of bribes to more senior officers. In one case, a tow truck driver admitted that he had paid more than US$1,000 for his lucrative job and said that he had to contribute US$32 daily to his superior. In 1992 after a number of officers expressed their objections to the system, the mayor of Mexico City set up offices to receive and investigate citizen complaints.

    A number of smaller law enforcement bodies exist at the state and local level. Each of the country's thirty-one states and the Federal District has its own judicial police--the State Judicial Police and the Federal District Judicial Police. State police are under the direction of the state's governor; the Federal District Judicial Police fall under the control of the Federal District attorney general. The distinction between crimes investigated by State and Federal Judicial Police is not always clear. Most offenses come under the state authorities. Drug dealing, crimes against the government, and offenses involving several jurisdictions are the responsibility of the federal police.

    Cities and municipalities have their own preventive and municipal police forces, which are responsible for handling minor civil disturbances and traffic infractions. The Federal Highway Police patrols federally designated highways and investigates traffic accidents. Highway police are assisted by military personnel on national holidays.

    Both state and municipal forces operate from precinct stations, called delegaciones . Each delegación has an average of 200 police officers attached to it. The ranking officer is known as a comandante , equivalent to a first captain in the military. Most of the remaining personnel hold the ranks of first sergeant, second sergeant, and corporal.

    Immigration officers, directed by the Mexican Immigration Service under the Secretariat of Government (Secretaría de Gobernación), have the right to detain suspected undocumented aliens and, under certain conditions, to deport them without formal deportation proceedings. Customs officers, controlled by the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público), Crédito are deployed at borders and at international airports to interdict contraband entering Mexico. The Bank of Mexico also operates its own security division, which is charged with enforcing banking and monetary laws, including cases of counterfeiting, fraud, and money laundering.

    A number of unofficial paramilitary groups incorporating various police officials have existed in the past to deal with rural and urban guerrillas and illegal groups. The most notorious paramilitary group was the White Brigade (Brigada Blanca) whose existence was officially denied, although it was known to be active from 1977 until 1980, when the government dismantled it. The White Brigade consisted of a group of officers from the army and the police forces that used illegal tactics to destroy guerrilla movements. Published reports held that the White Brigade was responsible for the "disappearance" of several hundred leftists, most of whom the government claimed were killed in fights between rival leftist groups. Politically motivated "disappearances" tapered off sharply during the 1980s, but were once again being reported in the mid-1990s in connection with the unrest in Chiapas.

    The government has repeatedly denounced abuses and corruption by the Federal Judicial Police and other police forces. Numerous reforms have been announced, personnel shifted, and codes of procedures adopted. Allegations of police brutality have declined, but torture, wrongful arrests, and involvement in drug trafficking have not been eliminated because abuses are so deeply rooted in the police agencies, and violators for the most part have been able to act with impunity (see Human Rights Concerns, this ch.).

    In 1991 Attorney General Enrique Álvarez del Castillo, who was reported to have impeded several human rights investigations against the police, was abruptly removed from office and replaced by Ignacio Morales Lechuga. Morales quickly announced a crackdown on corruption, including a reorganization of the Federal Judicial Police, the creation of special anticorruption and internal affairs units, as well as a unit to protect citizens against crimes committed by the police. In addition, all federal police units were placed under the control of a civilian deputy attorney general. New high-level officials supervised police activities in sensitive border areas. These reform measures were announced soon after a jailed drug lord took over a prison in Matamoros, claiming that agents of the Federal Judicial Police aligned with another drug lord were threatening his life.

    Despite Morales's reputation as an upright official prepared to dismiss police agents and government prosecutors suspected of ties with drug traffickers, he was replaced in early 1993. Later reports accused some of Morales's subordinates of drug-related corruption. The new attorney general, Jorge Carpizo MacGregor, was a respected human rights activist. Carpizo acknowledged in a detailed report the close relations between criminals and law enforcement agencies and produced his own program to eliminate deficiencies and corruption among the police. His reforms brought some progress; some members of the security forces were charged and sentenced, and human rights violations declined, but the so-called "culture of impunity" still prevailed. Carpizo resigned as attorney general in early 1994 and was replaced by Diego Valádez.

    The 1994 assassinations of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta and PRI Secretary General José Francisco Ruiz Massieu shook the highest levels of federal law enforcement. After failing to make significant progress in investigating the Colosio case, Attorney General Valádez was replaced in May 1994 by Humberto Benítez Trevino. Initially declaring that the Colosio assassination was the work of a lone gunman, the Attorney General's office later revised its theory based on videotape evidence that suggested a conspiracy of up to six individuals working in concert to allow the alleged gunman to approach the candidate during a crowded campaign rally. The post of attorney general underwent yet another change in early 1996 when incoming President Zedillo replaced Benítez with an opposition congressman, Fernando Antonio Lozano Gracia. Lozano's tenure was significant because it was the first time a non-PRI official held the post.

    Late in 1994, the assassination of José Francisco Ruiz Massieu prompted a special investigation headed by Deputy Attorney General Mario Ruiz Massieu, brother of the slain politician. After calling dozens of PRI officials to testify, Ruiz resigned abruptly in November, accusing high-level PRI functionaries of complicity in the killing and of impeding further progress in the investigation. In early 1996, the investigation still had produced no results.

    Data as of June 1996

    NOTE: The information regarding Mexico on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Mexico Police and Law Enforcement Organizations information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Mexico Police and Law Enforcement Organizations should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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