Mexican President Felipe Calderon has sent a new initiative to his country's Congress that would impose life in prison for those convicted of several categories of kidnapping, including current or former policemen involved in the crime. Mexico has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world and police have often been linked to cases around the country.  VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Mexico City.

In a televised speech Thursday, President Calderon called on the legislative body to take action soon on a proposed reform that would stiffen penalties for kidnapping.

He said he is sending this proposal to the Congress because the Mexican people demand stronger penalties for vicious and cruel crimes. He said he wants to end the impunity enjoyed by many kidnappers, especially those who are law enforcement officers.

He said the sentence of life in prison should be given to police officials and former police officials who are convicted of involvement in kidnapping. He also said the penalty should apply in several other circumstances including cases where the victim is a minor or an invalid and cases in which the victim is mutilated. 

Victims and motives

In recent days Mexican news reports have provided grim details about the death of a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped off a Mexico City street in June. His dead body was found last week. The victim, Fernando Marti was the son of a prominent businessman, who paid the ransom the kidnappers demanded and still lost his son.

Such stories are common in Mexico at all class levels. For many years, kidnappers concentrated on rich businessmen, show business personalities and, occasionally, foreign visitors involved in business investments here. Now, there are cases of relatively poor people being targeted for small amounts of money.

Some commentators here have described kidnapping as an act of terrorism, although in Mexico the motive is generally money rather than politics. There have been cases of victims being tortured and mutilated by their captors. Sometimes the kidnappers will send an ear or finger to the parents of the victim to put pressure on them.

Perpetrators remain at large 

Most kidnapping cases go unsolved and the perpetrators remain at large. In many cases that have been resolved, investigators found that policemen were involved. Prosecutors believe police officials provided information to the kidnappers of Fernando Marti and several police officers have been detained for questioning.

Since taking office in 2006, President Calderon has launched major offensives against organized crime, concentrating for the most part on drug traffickers. The violent criminal gangs have killed hundreds of people in the past few years, including many policemen. This week a high-ranking homicide investigator in Juarez, on the U.S. border, was killed in a hail of gunfire outside his home. He was the fourth officer to die there in the past week.

Public outrage

An indication of the Mexican public's outrage over the crime situation was the muted response here to the execution of Mexican citizen Jose Medellin in Texas on Tuesday.  He was convicted of the brutal rape and murder of two girls in Houston in 1993. The case drew international attention because he was allegedly not allowed to see the consul from his country as called for under international agreements to which the United States is a signatory.

But, in contrast to some similar cases in the past, there were no major protests here. Many Mexicans say they have little sympathy for a man who was a rapist and murderer and sentiment has grown in favor of imposing the death penalty here in an effort to stop violent criminals.