Cracking Down On Mexican Violence
SCOTT SIMON, host:
There's growing frustration in Mexico with the crime wave that has killed almost 3,000 people this year. Kidnappings have also spiked. Mexico's president has denounced the upsurge in violence as a cancer on society. Last weekend, about 150,000 people marched in cities across the country calling on the government to do more to address the deteriorating situation. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Each morning, crime is splashed all over the streets of Mexico City. Tabloids waving like laundry outside of news kiosks recount the last violent episode. On this morning, all the papers are running front page photos of the sidewalks strewn with bloodied, handcuffed kidnappers who've just been caught by the federal police. Last week, two images dominated the papers: a pile of 11 decapitated bodies in the Yucatan and Sylvia Escalera pleading with kidnappers to return her 18-year-old daughter.
Ms. SYLVIA ESCALERA (Mother of Kidnapped Child): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: I beg you to return my child, Escalera said at the press conference. I'm only interested in getting her back. She added that an offer by her family to pay an almost 300,000 dollar ransom was still in effect. Escalera's husband is a successful businessman who during the Fox administration headed the national sports commission. In a calm voice, wearing an understated beige suit, Escalera appealed to the religious faith of the kidnappers.
Ms. ESCALERA: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Do the right thing, and God will reward you, she said. There's still time. Save your soul, return my daughter, and we can all be in peace. Escalera's daughter was kidnapped almost a year ago. The kidnappers broke off negotiations when the family asked them to prove the teenager was still alive. Escalera's disclosure of her daughter's abduction came just days after the discovery of the body of Fernando Marti. The 14-year-old was the son of a well-known Mexican fitness club mogul. He was snatched out of an armored car at a fake police roadblock.
A single chrysanthemum, the calling card of a group known as the Flower Gang, was found next to his slain driver and bodyguard. The Marti family paid a ransom, according to local media reports, in the millions of dollars, but never saw their son alive again. Adding to the public outrage over this case, two police officers have been arrested in connection with the killing. But it's not just the rich who are being plagued by kidnapping gangs.
Mr. DANIEL MARTINEZ FREGUSO(ph) (Farmer): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Daniel Martinez Freguso is a 70-year-old farmer whose son was kidnapped three years ago. Unlike the Marti family, which hired a private security firm to negotiate with the kidnappers and investigate their case, Martinez says he has no money. And he went to the public authorities.
Mr. FREGUSO: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: They've done nothing, he says. He has taken the case to local, state, and federal officials, and he says none of them have done anything. Worst yet, Martinez, like many Mexicans, believes the local authorities are under the control of organized criminals and will never pursue his son's abduction. Sitting in a wheelchair with a white cowboy hat jutting from his head, Martinez says he wants the federal government to impose the death penalty for kidnapping.
Mr. FREGUSO: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Apply the death penalty, Mr. President, he says. If you wear trousers, apply the death penalty. It's not fair that our family is suffering this way. He says he has lost the ability to walk since his son was taken. Do something, he cries. President Felipe Calderon has tried to do something. Since he took office 20 months ago, Calderon has launched an all-out war against the nation's drug smuggling cartels. Other syndicates run kidnapping and extortion rackets. Calderon has sent tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police to fight the gangs. This week, the Mexican president presented his state of the union address, and much of it focused on crime.
President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Since my first day as president, Calderon said, security has been the highest priority of my government. There is no other issue to which we dedicated as much attention and resources to resolve. The federal government is attempting to clean up and professionalize the Mexican police. To root out crooked cops, the government has started issuing lie detector and drug tests to all federal police officers.
President CALDERON: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Nothing offends people more than corruption, the president declared. And particularly when the corruption is in the police. Calderon noted that his war on crime has also taken a toll on honest, dedicated cops. More than 100 officers have been killed since he took power, including the chief of the federal police. Calderon said the country is in the midst of a difficult battle against powerful criminal forces, but he said it's a battle Mexico is going to win. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.
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