MONTERREY, MEXICO – The police chief of the northern Mexican city of Piedras Negras was killed on Saturday by assailants who fired at him with high-caliber weapons as he was leaving his home, the state prosecutor’s office of the border state of Coahuila said.
Arturo Navarro Lopez, a former member of an elite unit of the Mexican army, had assumed his post at the beginning of this month and immediately set out to overhaul the police force under his command.
Coahuila prosecutors said Navarro Lopez was killed with assault rifles – the weapon of choice of drug cartel enforcers – as he was leaving his home and getting into his car on Saturday morning.
One of his first actions as new police chief was to remove the top officers of the local police force, prompting close to 40 municipal police to step down. On Tuesday, some 50 police officers staged a protest demanding Navarro Lopez’s resignation, saying he was being unfairly strict.
Piedras Negras, a city of about 140,000 people across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas, is considered by authorities to be a new strategic crossing point for cartels trying to smuggle cocaine and other drugs into the United States.
The overhaul in Piedras Negras was part of a nationwide trend that has seen the army and federal police officers take over law-enforcement duties until local police have been properly vetted and deemed able to carry out their duties.
A study by the lower house of Congress’ National Audit Office, published in March, found that more than 50 percent of Mexico’s municipal police officers “are not qualified to effectively carry out their duties.”
President Felipe Calderon, who has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers nationwide to battle the drug cartels since taking office in late 2006, says the use of the army for law-enforcement duties is a stop-gap measure and that local police will take over again when they are ready.
The decision to deploy the military to crack down on the cartels has thus far failed to quell the violence, as armed groups linked to the cartels murdered around 1,500 people in 2006, 2,700 in 2007 and 5,630 in 2008, according to a tally by the Mexico City daily El Universal.
So far this year, more than 1,750 people have died.
Separately, nine people – including one federal police officer – were killed on Friday in different points of the southern state of Guerrero.
In the city of Zihuatanejo, the bodies of five men were found inside an SUV along with a note indicating the killings were carried out by Los Zetas, a band of Mexican army veterans and deserters who became hired guns for drug lords and are now thought to be running their own trafficking operations.
The victims had their hands tied and were killed with AK-47 assault rifles.
In Ciudad Altamirano, a town near the border of the neighboring state of Michoacan, authorities found the bodies of two men killed with AK-47 assault rifles and 9mm handguns.
Threatening messages also were found at that crime scene indicating that the killings were part of a turf war between rival cartels.
In Iguala, a city in the northern part of the state, a member of the Federal Investigations Agency, Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI, was killed while driving his car by assailants traveling in another vehicle. The victim’s traveling companion was rushed to the hospital.
In the major seaport of Acapulco, another man was found dead of bullet wounds, although authorities have not yet determined the motive.
Guerrero, which has an extensive Pacific coastline and is of strategic importance as an arrival point for shipments of cocaine from South America, is the scene of a turf war among rival cartels.
In recent weeks, analysts have said that the two groups battling over that area of the country are the Beltran Leyva gang and the La Familia drug mob.
The public safety secretary of Guerrero, Heriberto Salinas Altes, said Wednesday that 97 drug-related killings have occurred in that state thus far this year.