Mexico City: President Felipe Calderon said Mexico should consider appointing anonymous judges for drug trafficking trials, an unexpected proposal that he acknowledged contradicts the country's efforts to build a more open judicial system.
Calderon, who raised the idea Thursday during meeting with senators on national security, said Mexico should at least consider the idea as drug cartels stage increasingly bold attacks on public official at all levels.
"I recognize that this goes against ... our legal tradition," Calderon said. "But in all honesty, gentlemen, I have found that citizens, police, judges, prosecutors are at risk, in the sense that they are completely exposed to criminal vengeance."
"We should consider whether this is valid or not, whether anonymous judges would work or not," Calderon said.
It was a surprise comment from the Mexican leader, who has touted an ongoing reform of Mexico's secretive, inquisitorial judicial system. That overhaul, backed by millions of dollars in U.S. aid, will create an accusatory system that puts the burden of proof on prosecutors and establish oral trials to replace proceedings now carried out almost entirely in writing.
A law approved by all 32 Mexican states in 2008 calls for the changeover to be completed by 2016.
Calderon, who gave no plan for carrying out the debate on anonymous judges, is facing mounting complaints from political opponents — and even some allies — that his national security strategy is failing. He has convoked a series of national meetings to address those concerns.
Even if Mexico decides against anonymous judges, Calderon said the country needs to find a way to protect judges, prosecutors and witnesses. He said some federal police have been gunned down just after testifying at trials.
Peru and Colombia have at times used anonymous or "faceless" judges in their wars against guerrilla groups and drug traffickers as a means to protect judges from reprisals for their rulings. The use of such judges has been criticized by human rights groups.
As if to underscore the distance Mexico's justice system still has to go, a government human rights ombudsman on Thursday recommended the removal of the top police official in Tijuana after citizens came forward to say they had been tortured by the border city's crusading public safety chief, Julian Leyzaola.
Baja California state Human Rights Prosecutor Heriberto Garcia told a news conference that the investigators had found evidence to support complaints by five Tijuana residents that they had been picked up without cause following an August 2009 gun fight in Tijuana.
The complainants — whose identities were not released — said they taken to a police station and beaten, partially suffocated with plastic bags or given electric shocks by two policemen and Leyzaola.
"We came to the conclusion that some of them suffered electric shocks that caused wounds on their bodies, others showed contusions, and one in particular had the marks of a blow to his side that is perfectly distinguishable as the mark of a boot," Garcia said. Leyzaola is known for his get-tough anti-crime policies and strong language; his office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
During the meeting with senators, Calderon stepped up his criticism of the U.S. government for not doing enough about drug consumption and the smuggling of guns into Mexico. Mexican and U.S. law enforcement officials both say that many of the guns used by cartels are smuggled in from the U.S.
Calderon said Mexico should mount an international campaign to bring attention "again and again to the irresponsibility of the Americans, even if they get upset and even if it disturbs their (election) campaigns."
"It's unacceptable that the voracity of the weapons industry is fomenting the levels of violence we have here," Calderon said.
Mexico's drug gang violence has reached unprecedented levels since Calderon deployed thousands of troops and federal police to drug-trafficking hotspots in 2006.
More than 28,000 people have since died in Mexico's drug war, while gang attacks have become bolder and more gruesome.
On Wednesday, Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos of the northern Mexican town of Santiago was found dead three days after gunmen disguised as police kidnapped him from his home. Cavazos, who had been shot twice in the head, was found with his hands were bound and his head had been wrapped in tape, suggesting the work of Mexico's brutal cartels.
The region surrounding Santiago, a favorite getaway for residents of the industrial city of Monterrey, has become a battleground for turf between the Gulf cartel and its former allies, the Zetas gang of hit men.
Investigators have not determined a motive for Cavazos' assassination. The mayor, who belonged to Calderon's National Action Party, frequently spoke out against drug violence, but allies have said he had not taken any dramatic security measures that may have angered the cartels.
But Mauricio Fernandez, mayor of the San Pedro Garza Garcia, another town on the outskirts of Monterrey, said Cavazos had received death threats from gangs warning him to stay out of their way. Fernandez said Cavazos had come to him for advice on how to handle the threats.
"He was a little afraid and he was reaching out to people with experience in this sort of thing," Fernandez, an outspoken mayor who has also received threats and last year sent his family to the U.S. for their own safety, said in an interview with Multimedios on Wednesday night.
Officials at the Nuevo Leon state attorney general's office said Cavazos had never informed authorities about any threats. Gen. Guillermo Moreno, who commands troops in Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, told The Associated Press that the army also had never received complains from the mayor or requests for protection.
First Published: Friday, August 20, 2010, 09:53