MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Mexico’s embattled president unveiled sweeping reforms Thursday to dissolve corruption-plagued municipal police forces nationwide amid an outcry over the role of gang-affiliated authorities in the presumed slaughter of 43 students.
More carnage hit Mexico hours before President Enrique Pena Nieto’s announcement, with the discovery of 11 beheaded bodies in the troubled southern state of Guerrero – the same region where the students were attacked in September.
“Society has raised its voice to say enough is enough,” Pena Nieto said, echoing the anger of Mexicans who have joined a wave of protests over a case that has highlighted the country’s struggle with police corruption.
“Mexico must change,” said the president, who is facing the biggest challenge of his two-year-old administration, in a speech at the National Palace before congressmen, governors and civil society groups.
Pena Nieto said he would send a set of constitutional reforms to Congress on Monday to allow federal authorities to take over municipalities infiltrated by drug cartels.
He said the measures also include the dissolution of the country’s 1,800 municipal police forces, “which can easily be corrupted by criminals.”
Police duties would be taken over by state agencies in the country’s 32 regions.
Critics said Pena Nieto was rehashing old ideas.
“It appears that the government merely reissues the same product with a different packaging,” said the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco.
An official said the overhaul would first take place in four of the country’s most violent states – Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Michoacan and Guerrero – by 2016.
It was in the Guerrero city of Iguala where the 43 students vanished on September 26 after they were attacked by local police.
Prosecutors say Iguala’s mayor ordered his police force to confront a group of students over fears they would disrupt a speech by his wife.
Guerreros Unidos gang henchmen confessed to killing the students and incinerating their bodies after officers turned them over.
In the latest massacre, 11 burned, decapitated and bullet-riddled bodies were found Thursday on a road near the Guerrero town of Chilapa following reports of a shootout, state and municipal officials said.
A note was left near the bodies with a message addressed to the criminal group “Los Ardillos” (The Squirrels), with the words “Here’s your trash,” a state government official said.
The victims appeared to be in their 20s.
Chilapa is 40 kilometres east of Ayotzinapa, where the teacher-training college of the 43 students is located.
Pena Nieto announced that he would ramp up the presence of federal forces in a gang-plagued region known as Tierra Caliente (Hot Land), which straddles Guerrero and Michoacan.
Pena Nieto took office in December 2012 promising to reduce the everyday violence plaguing Mexicans. He said cartel-linked murders were down 36 per cent over the past year.
But he maintained the controversial militarized strategy of Calderon, adding a long-term crime-prevention program and a 5,000-strong militarised police unit.
The president’s chief of staff, Aurelio Nuno Mayer, acknowledged that the government had given priority to economic reforms that drew international praise.
“What we have done in the security, justice and rule of law agenda has clearly been very insufficient” Nuno told reporters. “This agenda is again a priority of the country.”
Pena Nieto is not the first Mexican president to propose a security overhaul.
Some 400,000 active federal, state and municipal police forces across the country have undergone anti-corruption exams with polygraph tests – a system that began under his predecessor, Felipe Calderon.
The interior ministry said this month that 13 per cent of municipal officers failed the exam, compared to 10 per cent of state and six per cent of federal forces.
Common Cause, a non-governmental organisation pushing for security reforms, said this week that 42,214 federal, state and municipal police staff are still working despite failing the “control de confianza” (trust test).