Student police chief takes on drug cartels
Published 22/10/2010 | 05:00
THEY say if you are good enough you are old enough. As if to prove the point, at the age of 20, Marisol Valles Garcia, has just been handed arguably the most dangerous job in the world.
She has been made police chief of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero, a Mexican town close to the Texas border, where drug gangs have killed public officials and terrified many citizens into fleeing.
Undaunted, Ms Valles Garcia, who hasn't yet finished her criminology degree, has taken the job. She was sworn in on Wednesday to bring law and order to the township of about 8,500 that was a string of quiet farming communities until two rival gangs -- the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels -- began a deadly blood feud for control of its single highway.
The tiny but energetic Ms Valles Garcia says she wants her 12 officers to practise a special brand of community policing.
"My people are out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and (in homes) where there are none, trying to teach values to the families," she said before she was presented to the public.
Whether her decision is courageous or foolhardy, the appointment shows how desperate the situation has become in the Juarez Valley.
Local residents say the drug gangs take over at night, riding through the towns in convoys of SUVs and pickups, assault rifles and even 50 calibre sniper rifles at the ready.
Drug cartels in many drug-plagued parts of Mexico have killed or threatened police chiefs and their departments, buying off some officers and prompting others to quit en masse.
While the bullet holes that pockmarked police headquarters in Praxedis have been painted over, police buildings in other towns in the valley remain empty, with broken windows and few signs of life.
In past months, soldiers and federal police largely took over patrols, but they stuck mainly to the main road, afraid to venture down unfamiliar dirt roads that branch off into the valley and are well-travelled by drug traffickers.
"Let's hope it is not a reckless act on her part," said Miguel Sarre, a professor who specialises in Mexican law enforcement at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.