Bungled cases show weakness in Mexican judiciary

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.

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