Student, 20, heads police in Mexico drug corridor

A 20-year-old woman who hasn't yet finished her criminology degree was named as Mexico's new police chief.

Marisol Valles Garcia was sworn in yesterday to bring law and order to a township of about 8,500 that has been transformed from a string of quiet farming communities into a lawless no man's land. Two rival gangs — the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels — have been battling for control of its single highway, a lucrative drug trafficking route along the Texas border.



The tiny but energetic Valles Garcia, whose only police experience was a stint as a police department secretary, says she wants her 12 officers to practice a special brand of community policing. In fact her plan is to hire more women — she currently has three — and assign each to a neighbourhood to talk with families, promote civic values and detect potential crimes before they happen.



"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 in her first official appearance yesterday. "The project is ... simple, based on values, principles and crime prevention in contacts house-by-house."



She has been assigned two bodyguards but won't carry a gun. She says she leave most of the decisions about weapons and tactics to the town's mayor, Jose Luis Guerrero.



Whether her decision is courageous or foolhardy, the appointment shows how desperate the situation has become in the Juarez Valley, a lucrative trafficking corridor along the Texas border.



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 caliber sniper rifles at the ready. The assistant mayor of nearby El Porvenir and the mayor of Distrito Bravos were killed recently even after they took refuge in nearby Ciudad Juarez.



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 sign of life.



"Let's hope it is not a reckless act on her part," said Miguel Sarre, a professor who specializes in Mexican law enforcement at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. He said that "a municipal police force cannot protect itself against such powerful forces."



Local residents like farmer Arturo Gomez are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.



"This is a town without law," Gomez said. "It is not likely things will change from one day to the next, but let's see what a woman can do ... things can't get any worse."



Drug cartels in many drug-plagued parts of Mexico have killed or threatened police chiefs and their departments, buying off some officers and prompting some others to quit en masse.



In past months, soldiers and then federal police largely took over patrols in the Juarez valley, but they stick mainly to the main road, afraid to venture down unfamiliar dirt roads that are well-travelled by drug traffickers.



"Here, everybody is afraid, and anything that can be done to remove that fear would be good," said Fidel Vega, a 46-year-old gas station employee. "You can see that this girl has a desire to get things done."



But question whether a young inexperienced chief can handle a problem that has stumped even Mexico's federal government: how to cope with the drug cartel threat and underpaid, untrained local police, who are easily corrupted by criminal gangs in Mexico's roughly 2,022 municipal police forces.



President Felipe Calderon has recognised the problem faced by local police forces, whose officers earn average monthly salaries of only 4,000 pesos (about $300). Most of them have completed less than 10 years of schooling and are either at basic education levels or illiterate, according to the report.



In some cities and towns, entire municipal forces have been fired or arrested for allegedly cooperating with drug gangs, and officials say their low wages and poor weaponry — most use shotguns and pistols, while drug gangs have assault rifles — make them ineffectual or worse.

Calderon has proposed a "unified command" structure in which Mexico's 32 state governments would have state police take on the main responsibility, backed up by federal officers and soldiers where needed.



While the cartels have been more than able to penetrate much tighter security details — killing mayors and police chiefs throughout northern Mexico — Valles Garcia says she isn't afraid.



For residents, her personal courage may not be enough.



Amalia Garcia, 58, had to send her five children to live in Ciudad Juarez for their own safety, and now lives in Praxedis with her husband.



"Whoever is here, man or woman, things are not going to change," said Garcia. "Things are bad here and nobody pays any attention." '

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
video
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions