This post was originally published by Campus Progress.
A 20-year-old criminology student, Marisol Valles Garcia, just became the chief of police in one of the most dangerous towns in Mexico. She was appointed by the town’s mayor, Jose Luis Guerrero, after no one else applied for the position—and she might be young, but she’s definitely got guts.
Valles Garcia’s home town of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero, just south of the Texas border, has long been the site of drug-related violence. The AFP reports that more than 28,000 people died in the state of Chihuahua due to drug wars over the past four years.
The fear of being killed off by drug magnates—a very real concern, considering the previous mayor was killed in June, and the town saw eight drug-related murdersin the past week alone—is one that prevented others from offering themselves up for the job. Valles Garcia isn’t going to let that stop her.
Valles Garcia is finishing a degree in criminology at the Centro Cultural Universitario in Ciudad Juarez, one of the most violent cities in North America. One of her professors assured the New York Post that she wasn’t being foolhardy when she took the job, and knew what she was getting into:
"[She’s] very brave and very intelligent," he told the Post, fighting back tears as he talked about the trouble she faced. "It was a difficult decision for her. She has said so, but she also said that all of us are afraid of the situation that’s happening now in Mexico.
"She’s in some danger, and she knows it," he added. "But she’s very prepared and intelligent and going to do her new job in the best way possible."
Valles Garcia has a buck-stops-here attitude about the violence plaguing her town. "I took the risk because I want my son to live in a different community to the one we have today," Valles Garcia said in a press conference after being sworn in Monday. "I want people to be able to go out without fear, as it was before."
The media have paid a lot of attention to what an unlikely candidate Valles Garcia is for the job, but she has serious ideas about policing, ones that impressed the mayor so much he offered her a job in the police department once before. She wants to build trust in the police force, in an environment where police corruption has been a serious problem in the past, and prevent crime by learning about and addressing the social problems behind it. One of her main goals is to build up the social fabric of her hometown by setting up school programs, giving classes on family violence, and encouraging neighbors to watch out for each other. She also wants to bring more women onto the force.
Valles Garcia’s story drives home the culture of fear besetting Mexican border towns. Border security is a big campaigning point in American politics, but it’s important to remember that beefed-up enforcement alone doesn’t really get to the root of the problem. South of the border, there are folks like Valles Garcia who face tougher challenges.
The Obama administration approved an infusion of $600 million in late August for border security operations that was supposed to curb drug-related violence from moving into the US, but so far it has barely made an impact on the drug cartels’ cash flow and overall power on either side of the border.
As Elise Foley reported for the Washington Independent:
Stemming the flow of cash is vital to efforts by the U.S. and Mexico to take down drug cartels, Bob Killebrew, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told TWI in a recent interview. Drug cartels depend on cash from wholesale drug sales to gangs in the U.S. Without it, they become more desperate and branch out into money-making measures with a less visible paper trail, such as kidnapping, he says.
“We need to reduce the money going to the cartels,” said Killebrew, the author of a CNAS report on national security and criminal drug networks that will be released in September. “As they strain to make more money, they’re more visible to law enforcement and can be knocked off.
Campus Progress’ own Julissa Treviño summed up the big picture point here in a post over the summer:
There are a lot of problems in Mexico, but let’s not forget where part of the cartel violence comes from: U.S. drug consumers provide Mexican drug cartels with $31 billion each year to carry out their business, according to a Dissident Voicearticle. A problem of violence in Mexico is also a problem of drugs.