February 9, 2009 / 11:45 PM / in 10 years

Mexico arrests police chief over general's murder

By Jose Cortazar

CANCUN, Mexico, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Mexican anti-drug troops arrested Cancun’s police chief on Monday in connection with the murder of a crime-fighting army general in the Caribbean resort where drug crimes and kidnappings are soaring.

Former Gen. Mauro Enrique Tello was tortured and shot dead last week, a day after he took on the job of forming an elite police unit to fight crime in Cancun. Tello is one of the highest-ranking officials killed in Mexico’s brutal drug war.

Authorities, including the local governor of Quintana Roo state, Felix Gonzalez, blamed the murder on city police working with violent drug gangs using Cancun to store South American cocaine before moving it through Mexico to the United States.

Soldiers took over Cancun’s police headquarters and arrested 36 officers, including police chief Francisco Velasco, who was flown to Mexico City for questioning on the orders of Mexico’s special organized crime investigation unit, SIEDO.

"This shows the need for a real clean-up of Cancun’s police," Governor Gonzalez said on local radio.

Tourists have yet to be targeted by drug gangs in Mexico’s white-sand Caribbean resorts. But officials worry the violence could scare off foreign currency earnings just as Mexico heads into a recession dragged down by the U.S. economic crisis.

Police in Cancun, which draws thousands of American and European tourists every year, are accused of being among the country’s most corrupt, involved in crimes ranging from prostitution rings to offering protection for drug cartels.

Of the city’s 2,100 officers, more than 800 active duty cops are under criminal investigation, Cancun police admitted last year.

President Felipe Calderon has made cleansing Mexico’s corrupt police force a key task in his army-backed war on drug cartels, but low police pay, entrenched corruption and escalating violence are severely complicating his crackdown.

Some 5,700 people died in drug violence last year across Mexico, as rival drug cartels fight each other and security forces, vying for control of the lucrative smuggling routes into the United States. (Writing by Robin Emmott, editing by Anthony Boadle)

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