Murder of Journalist Puts An End To Feared Intelligence Police
Jun. 28, 1989
MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Mexico City's intelligence police had weathered accusations from ordinary citizens of extortion, kidnapping, torture, even murder - surviving repeated calls for its dismantling.
But the unit could not overcome the ugly, politically charged scandal of the 1984 murder of Manuel Buendia, a front-page columnist and author who specialized in exposing wrongdoing in high places.
Mayor Manuel Camacho Solis ordered the intelligence police disbanded Tuesday after three commanders were charged in the tangled assassination plot.
He called their involvement ''intolerable.''
The three commanders served under the alleged mastermind of the Buendia killing, Jose Antonio Zorrilla Perez, former director of the now-defunct Federal Security Administration.
Zorrilla, whose FBI-like agency was disbanded for corruption in 1985, is accused of ordering Buendia killed to stop the columnist from exposing his links to drug lords.
The commanders - Juventino Prado Hurtado, Sofia Naya Suarez and Raul Perez Carmona - have all said they were tortured into confessing their participation in what was code-named ''Operation News.''
Corruption and brutality are old, agonizing and acknowledged problems among the low-paid, poorly trained Mexican police. When reputed drug kingpin Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo was arrested earlier this year, the entire local police force in his hometown of Culiacan was rounded up along with him.
But even in a country where some fear cops as much as criminals, Mexico City's intelligence police were regarded as particularly dangerous.
Critics said their main business was extortion.
''This is the fundamental reason they detain people,'' Rep. Victor Orduna, chairman of the Justice Administration Committee of the capital's city council, said in a recent interview.
Orduna and Rep. Ramon Sosamontes, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, say scores of citizens complained of detention in clandestine jails, torture and extortion.
Human rights organizations and lawyers reported similar complaints.
Some were verbal, others were filed with the city or the courts. All were still pending when Camacho Solis finally ordered the unit dismantled.
Critics of the intelligence police had been hoping the taint of the Buendia murder, a crime that shocked the nation and galvanized a timid press into prodding two successive administrations for justice, would accomplish what the complaints of ordinary people failed to do.
''They are virtually gone,'' human rights lawyer Maria Teresa Jardi told the AP after Zorrilla was indicted.
By most accounts, the Intelligence Division was a crime-fighting idea that went badly awry.
High-ranking police sources who insisted on anonymity said some of the roughest agents and officers in Zorrilla's disbanded Security Administration were chosen for the intelligence police.
The sources admitted privately that the attempt to harness those elements had created a monster.
''In Mexican police circles there is this idea to control delinquents, you need a worse delinquent,'' Orduna said. ''But this division became a social problem for the city.''
The intelligence police had image problems from it outset late last year. Its original director was Miguel Nazar Haro, Zorrilla's predecessor at the Security Administration and a veteran of the harsh political repression of the 1970s.
The appointment created an uproar.
The Mexican Academy of Human Rights produced several people who testified that Nazar Haro had personally tortured them. The press pointed out that he was still wanted by authorities in Calfornia on a federal indictment alleging he was in a ring that stole hundreds of autos and smuggled them across the border.
Officials of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's new administration staunchly defended Nazar Haro as a smart veteran cop and tough crime-fighter.
''We're simply trying to fight crime,'' Police Chief Javier Garcia Paniagua said at the time. ''And we will be forceful.''
The division's image took another sharp blow when its agents helped quell a December prison riot 500 miles from Mexico City, in Tepic. A videotape viewed by The Associated Press revealed that six inmates died after surrendering.
Nazar Haro resigned in late February but the intelligence police were back in the headlines within weeks after agents detained nine women on the way home from an illegal abortion clinic.
Several of the women say they were beaten and their doctor was tortured before their release without charges 14 hours later.
Sosamontes and Orduna said the incident, which the police refused to discuss, was designed to extort ''protection'' money from the elderly doctor. They say he paid a substantial sum.
The March abortion clinic incident prompted more demands for the division's disbanding. City officials agreed instead to close its infamous jail, Tlaxcoaque.
Orduna said the closure created even more problems.
''Before, I knew where to look for people,'' he said recently. ''Now I don't know where to go. They say there are four new clandestine jails, but we don't know precisely where they are.''