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Column 020204 Thompson

Monday, February 2, 2004

 

Top-secret “secret police” exposed in Mexico City

 

By Barnard R. Thompson

 

“Already operational secret police return to the Federal District” — the front-page banner headline of the Mexico City daily El Heraldo de México, on January 27, literally jumped off the page.

 

The lead continued: “At least 90 plainclothes and armed officers of the Public Security Secretariat (SSP) of the Federal District, using unmarked vehicles, are part of a select group named the ‘Grupo Marte’ (Mars Group).”

 

Another of several sidebar pieces, also by lead reporter Raúl García Araujo (in what turned out to be a two-day exclusive exposé), was even more startling: “90 undercover agents of the SSP are violating the law.”

 

So the secret police are back — in Mexico City at least, in a nation that still suffers from vicious memories of the “dirty war.”  And this justified by a metropolis on the verge of becoming a perpetual criminapolis.  However while crime is rampant, and understanding that the mafias certainly must be fought, schemes and agents of repression should not be employed to suppress democratic will or legitimate political opposition to the regime or its leaders.

 

The latter is a fear.

 

Hermenegildo Lugo Lara, the Internal Affairs Operations Director of the SSP, told El Heraldo “the secret agents are right now carrying out operations and making arrests on the streets of Mexico City.”  He explained that the agent’s work includes intelligence gathering, as well as the detection and detention of criminals.  Lugo said that their intelligence work led to the arrest of 452 suspects in 2003.

 

The Grupo Marte is working mainly in upscale neighborhoods, like Polanco, based on an internal study that identifies those areas as the most frequent targets of organized gangs, Lugo said.  The most frequent crimes occurring in those areas are muggings, robberies, home burglaries, forced use thefts from bankcard and ATM cardholders, the sale of narcotics and kidnappings.

 

While the officers may sound more like undercover policemen than agents of a secret service, there are questions and doubts as to the real motives behind the creation of the Grupo Marte, and because so little is known about its responsibilities, assignments and activities.  As well, due to the Grupo Marte having been covertly formed by the Mexico City government (apparently sometime ago), and as its secret tasks have not been legally sanctioned, the suspicious entity and its modus operandi are in violation of the Mexican Constitution.

 

After news about the existence of the Grupo Marte broke even a deputy attorney general of the Federal District denounced its illegitimacy.  According to Renato Sales, police undercover operations by the Grupo Marte are illegal as their orders have not been issued or approved by a duly authorized district attorney, a requirement of the Mexican Constitution.

 

Fernando Coronado Franco, of the Human Rights Commission of the Federal District, denounced the undercover police for operating outside of their legal areas of responsibility.  Calling the situation outrageous, he said that all criminal investigations in Mexico come under the responsibility of state or district attorneys.  But police agencies operating outside of the parameters use collected data and evidence directly, without the involvement of a district attorney, and that is unconstitutional, Coronado said.

 

In defense of the Grupo Marte and its activities, and while acknowledging certain legal anomalies, SSP secretary Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón said that the presence of this “specialized group” has brought about the arrests of a large number of criminals.  He also justified the group’s presence due to “the Judicial Police not having a sufficient infrastructure in order to investigate the hundreds of crimes that are committed in the Federal District every day.”

 

In March, the SSP will send a number of constitutional reforms to the Federal District Legislative Assembly and to Congress, so that agents of the Grupo Marte can legally perform their duties, Ebrard told journalist García Araujo.  In the meantime the Grupo Marte will keep on working.

 

A curious omission in the series of articles was any mention whatsoever of Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and while the Mexican system provides a degree of autonomy between law enforcement and city administrations, López Obrador is still the man in charge in the Federal District.

 

And it is precisely López Obrador and his possible interconnection with a secret police that troubles many.

 

López Obrador is campaigning to be Mexico’s next president and at this early stage he is a favorite, especially with the less fortunate classes.  Conversely, many of his most vocal opponents are among the upper classes, most of which live in upscale neighborhoods — such as Polanco.