MEXICO CITY, (Reuters) – An investigation into a child’s disappearance is bungled, a senior politician’s kidnap is unsolved and the prime U.S. suspect in a murder is allowed to slip back to California in murky circumstances.
A rash of mishandled criminal cases in recent months has exposed gaping deficiencies in Mexico’s judicial system at a time when President Felipe Calderon faces his strongest challenge yet from brutal drug cartels.
Calderon, who has pinned his presidency on a war against drug gangs in which more than 26,000 people have died since late 2006, announced far-reaching reforms to the justice system more than two years ago to weed out corruption and speed up delays.
But recent gaffes by police and prosecutors in high-profile criminal cases have highlighted the festering justice system in a major emerging economy with modern financial, manufacturing, mining and telecoms industries.
Last month, the man who oversaw a botched investigation into the disappearance of 4-year-old Paulette Gebara was named attorney general of the populous State of Mexico. Police were ridiculed when they said they found the girl dead in her own bed in Mexico City a week after they had searched the entire house and launched a nationwide campaign to find her in March.
Former Senator Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a former presidential candidate and prominent leader in the ruling National Action Party, has been missing since May 15 when his abandoned car was found near his ranch with bloodstains by it.
Despite pressure by Calderon to solve the case, authorities abandoned their investigation at the request of the family, who are believed to be using private ransom negotiators, in a further mark of broken confidence in the justice system.
Concerns at the way investigations are conducted peaked last month after Bruce Beresford-Redman, a former producer of the hit U.S. television show “Survivor,” sneaked home to California under unclear circumstances despite the fact Mexican authorities had named him prime suspect in his wife’s murder.
“Lack of accountability has left an injured society without answers,” said Jose Ortega, president of the Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Penal Justice, which helps individuals file complaints about the justice system. “People have stopped raising their voices to demand more of their government.”
The stakes for getting the justice system to work have never been higher for Calderon, a lawyer by profession.
Last month, a gubernatorial candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was gunned down by suspected drug cartel hitmen in the northern state of Tamaulipas, in Mexico’s highest profile political killing in 16 years.