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Mexico Confronts Violent Crime Wave

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is pushing his congress for tougher sentences for a number of categories of crime related to kidnapping, in an effort to fight the criminal organizations that have made Mexico one of the worst countries in the world for that crime. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Mexico City, ordinary citizens are demanding action to stop the crime that plagues their nation.

Eleven citizens' organizations have announced massive nationwide marches to condemn Mexico's crime wave. Organizers say the August 30 marches will represent a demand by the citizenry for effective government action against kidnappers and other violent criminals.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, Alberto BazBaz, the Attorney General for the state of Mexico, near Mexico City, announced the arrest of members of a kidnapping gang. Such successes merit media attention because they are rare.

In Mexico, confidence in the police is very low, partly because of petty corruption experienced by people every day and partly because of the low rate of police success in solving crimes. In many cases involving drug smugglers and kidnappers, active or former police officers have been found to be the perpetrators or to be aiding the perpetrators.

Reforma newspaper columnist Sergio Sarmiento, a former kidnapping victim, expresses doubt about President Calderon's life-sentence proposal, although he lauds the president for good intentions. Sarmiento and many crime experts argue that what Mexico really needs is effective and reliable police.

Reforma published an article Sunday showing that, even in high-profile cases in which police officials have been murdered, investigators have had little success in bringing the perpetrators to justice. The article highlighted 16 cases involving the death of 29 high-ranking police officials this year. Investigators detained suspects in only three of the cases.

In an effort to create a more professional police force on the federal level, the Mexican Attorney General's office has boosted salaries of agents and police officials in an effort to make them less susceptible to bribes from narcotics traffickers and other criminal gangs.

The chief of intelligence for the federal Secretary of Public Security, Luis Cardenas Palomino, says agents in elite federal anti-kidnapping forces are also carefully evaluated.

He says the federal and state governments have set up data bases under what is called Plataforma Mexico - or the Mexican Platform. This program, which went into effect August seventh, links the data bases of the 32 Mexican states and the federal data base, allowing police to keep track of criminals around the country.

President Calderon has relied on the Mexican military for many of the anti-organized crime operations he started shortly after taking office in 2006, but violence has continued in many of the northern states where drug trafficking is a multi-billion dollar business.

One of the more notorious and violent drug gangs operating in the border region is a former Mexican military unit called the Zetas. U.S. sheriffs along the Mexican border with the state of Texas have complained of intrusions by what they describe as Mexican military units protecting drug shipments, something Mexico has denied.

Last week, a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas was held at gun point by men he described as heavily armed Mexican soldiers. When other Border Patrol units came to the scene the men dressed as soldiers slipped back across the border.