Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mister, They Could Use A Man Like General Villa Again

To Root Out Dirty Police, Mexico Sends In a General (WSJ-sub req):

His grandfather was the cross-eyed cousin of Mexico's legendary revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Like his famous ancestor, Carlos Villa is a hard-charging general who is charismatic, foulmouthed and not afraid to use his gun.

And some say he is just what Mexico needs as it wrestles with the corruption and violence spawned by the country's powerful gangs of drug traffickers.

Retired Gen. Villa is the 61-year-old police chief in Torreon, an industrial city in Mexico's violent northern badlands—a central drug-running route currently being fought over by two of Mexico's biggest cartels.

Since taking over as the city's top police officer in January, Mr. Villa has battled not only the city's drug lords, but also his own police force, which was on the payroll of a powerful cartel.

In March, nearly the entire force walked off the job to demand the general's ouster. The mayor faced a choice: Fire nearly every officer and leave the city at the mercy of drug gangs, or dump the general and keep corrupt police on the street. He fired the officers.

"It was the best decision I ever made," says Mayor Eduardo Olmos. "It's not that our cops weren't fighting the bad guys—they were the bad guys."

Crime nearly tripled in Torreon during a summer that saw some of Mexico's bloodiest drug-related crimes, including the massacre by gunmen of 17 civilians at a party in August. But the mayor and his soldier-turned-police chief are building a new force and seeing some success against crime.

"He's the best police chief we've had," says Father Jose Rodriguez, a 73-year-old Torreon priest. "The Bible says you shall know them by their works, and I know the general from his works."

If Mexico hopes to win its war against the cartels and have its people sleep well again, it's going to need a lot more rough men like General Villa willing to do violence on their behalf. Unfortunately, such warrior leaders seem to be short supplies these days and not just in Mexico.