Border situation still uncertain despite changes

Winter Texans who already are starting to trickle into the Rio Grande Valley and others interested in crossing into Mexico might be alarmed at some of the latest news coming out of Mexico. Then again, they might be relieved.

President Felipe Calderon last week sent Mexico’s Congress a proposal to do away with the country’s local police forces. Neighborhood patrols would still exist, but they would be employed by the states and answer to federal authorities. Tamaulipas reportedly already has started changing its police structure in southern regions of the state.

Calderon says the federalized forces would be better controlled, and better compensated, in an attempt to reduce the lure of drug money that has corrupted so many local officers. More than half of the nation’s local police officers receive fewer than 4,000 pesos (around $320) a month.

“This is one of the most important reforms in the fight for Mexicans’ security,” the president said in announcing his proposal Oct. 7. He noted that municipal police often “don’t have the faculties, infrastructure, systems, protection, mobility or stability that would guarantee security for Mexicans.

“Municipal police are the most vulnerable, the easiest to find, the easiest to co-opt, the most subject to intimidation and, of course, vengeance,” he added. “It’s necessary to change course.”

Many Valley residents know just what Calderon is talking about, having been shaken down by local police on their trips across the border. Many police have turned out to be cartel members who infiltrated the force; others are simply corrupt individuals who take advantage of the current instability and prey on people for their own benefit.

Will tighter control, and better pay, improve the situation? In the case of cartel members wearing uniforms, it’s unlikely that any compensation would cause them to become honest. Rogue individuals might or might not respond to better compensation; they’ve already demonstrated a propensity for dishonesty. We can only wait to see if more stringent supervision and testing will bring success.

But many people have voiced their support for the changes, saying that the current situation clearly isn’t working, and any attempt to clean things up is welcome.

The battle with drug cartels already is a federal matter. The military investigates and pursues reported drug activity, neither informing nor seeking help from local authorities, since any of them could be an agent for a criminal enterprise. By taking over routine police duties, the federal government basically is declaring local control useless.

The change certainly doesn’t look good for Mexico; it’s a de facto militarization of the country. Many would argue, however, that the country essentially has been in a state of martial law since Calderon officially declared war on the drug cartels in 2006.

Only one thing is certain: This adds one more element of uncertainty for Valley residents and visitors who increasingly are wondering if going into Mexico for shopping, entertainment and medical care continues to be worth the trouble.