Sergio Estrada, the governor of the central Mexican state of Morelos, ordered the suspension of all 552 detectives on the state police force Monday, the Associated Press reported. The mass suspension came days after the head of detectives was arrested on federal drug trafficking charges.
Federal agents and military personnel will replace the detectives, Estrada said. The suspended detectives make up a quarter of the state police force. Beginning now, said Estrada, all officers on the force will have to submit to drug, alcohol, and lie detector tests. "We have to work to create an authentic investigative police force that respects the law and human rights," Estrada said.
Jose Agustin Montiel, the Morelos detective head, was arrested by federal agents last week and deposited in the maximum-security Palma prison. According to Mexican drug czar Jose Vasconcelos, Montiel headed a smuggling operation where Colombian cocaine shipments landed at the Cuernavaca airport and were driven to a neighboring Mexico state in police cars. Vasconcelos also accused Montiel of protecting the Juarez cartel, a leading Mexican drug organization. More arrests are planned, he said.
And now Gov. Estrada is in the bulls-eye himself. The Mexico City newspaper El Universal reported on Monday that two witnesses in the Montiel case had implicated Estrada, elected under the banner of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party. One witness, arrested drug smuggler Marco Yepez, told El Universal Estrada was getting payoffs from the Juarez cartel, while former police officer Idelfonso Ortiz reported that Estrada was romantically linked to the daughter of a high cartel figure.
Thus, hours after announcing the suspension of the detectives, Estrada found himself defending himself from similar allegations. "I have a clean conscience," Estrada told reporters at a news conference late Monday. "I deny any link with drug traffickers."
The government of President Fox began its term with a series of pronouncements from high officials that suggested Mexico was rethinking its endless, US-inspired war on drugs, but Fox quickly fell into line with US drug war orthodoxy, especially after September 11, 2001. Since then, the Mexican government has pursued drug trafficking organizations remorselessly, managing to disrupt several. But the net result has been more violence as drug organizations seek to reconstitute themselves, and no diminution of the flow of drugs north into the US. The corruption of public officials has continued apace, and now the rot threatens to spread to the National Action Party itself.
And that's how it goes in Mexico, where successive governments have effectively accommodated themselves to a business that nets between $3 billion and $30 billion a year for the drug organizations, according to estimates cited by AP. Historically in Mexico, the government has worked not to suppress the drug trade but to manage it. Is the Fox administration turning out to be more of the same?