• Directory of Taiwan

Mexican mayor: Army will stay to fight cartels

 Jose Reyes Ferriz, mayor of Ciudad Juarez, speaks during an  interview in New York, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Ferriz said Juarez needs to double its poli...

Mexico Juarez Mayor

Jose Reyes Ferriz, mayor of Ciudad Juarez, speaks during an interview in New York, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Ferriz said Juarez needs to double its poli...

The mayor of one of Mexico's most troubled border towns said Tuesday he expects to keep army troops in place to fight drug violence even after a revamped police department resumes its duties.
About 5,000 troops moved into Ciudad Juarez in March and took over police operations in the violence-scarred town on the border with Texas. The effort is part of a larger move by the government of President Felipe Calderon to send 45,000 troops to patrol territories long ruled by narcotraffickers.
Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said in an interview with The Associated Press that he expects about 2,000 army troops to remain in Juarez permanently "so that the army can maintain a presence against organized crime."
The troops are Mexico's last and best hope to gain control over the drug cartels and the violence that claimed more than 6,000 lives countrywide in 2008 alone.
Of those, 1,600 were killed in Juarez, a city of 1.3 million, and a major center for much of the violence, Reyes Ferriz said. By comparison, fewer than 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war there began in March 2003.
Reyes Ferriz, who has been in office for a year and a half, said he has worked with the Mexican government to clean up a corrupt and understaffed police force, where more than half the officers quit, retired or were fired last year alone, and to recruit new ones.
"At the end of the year we will have a robust police department with at least 3,000 officers," Reyes Ferriz said. He said the city needs a total of 4,000 officers, noting that organized crime preys on towns along the U.S.-Mexico border. Juarez is well positioned for drug trafficking since it lies on the other side of the Rio Grande from El Paso.
The mayor said moves to root out police corruption in Juarez include annual polygraph tests for police officers and a new command structure run by active duty military officers "that will help us maintain a police department that is acting within the law."
The city also has stepped up recruiting as well as screening efforts, increasing the police officers' salaries with bonuses _ they now earn more than the city's district attorneys _ and guaranteeing their bank loans so they can get new homes when they start as police officers, the mayor said.
The mayor said crime is down 90 percent since the army moved in in March. But, tensions flared early on as army troops showed clear distrust for the police force _ especially after three police cars were discovered filled with drugs, Reyes Ferriz said.
Calderon, who took office in 2006, launched a campaign against the organized crime gangs that move cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin to a vast U.S. market.
Reyes Ferriz said he has a chance to succeed in part because the new U.S. administration understands that drug trafficking is a problem that must be solved at both ends.
Mexico is the main hub for cocaine and other drugs entering the U.S., and the U.S. is the primary source of guns used in Mexico's drug-related killings.
"We've seen a tremendous change in the United States' attitude towards Mexico _ towards the border in particular," Reyes Ferriz said, noting that President Barack Obama sent 100 federal agents to help fight crime on the border with Mexico.
"Whereas with the previous administration, the attitude that we had from them was 'Well, there are some problems in Mexico, let's build a wall so that we'll keep the problems with Mexico,'" he said.
The Obama administration has asked Congress for $350 million that could fund emergency military operations along the border, but the money has not been approved, and no final choices have been made about how to spend it if it comes through.
Associated Press writer Claudia Torrens contributed to this story.