Monterrey – The young female mayor of the Monterrey suburb of Escobedo told Efe that organized crime can be defeated in her city and throughout Mexico, although she acknowledged that the attacks she has suffered after purging the local police force have made her fearful.
"Of course I'm afraid. It's just that I have the opportunity and the privilege to transform that fear into actions," said Clara Luz Flores, who was elected in 2009 for a three-year term.
The pregnant mayor began her tenure by purging her entire municipal police force, a move that has endangered her own life and that of her family members.
"The toughest problem we all have in Mexico, including me and my family, is crime," she said, blaming that situation on the "corruption among the authorities."
"My own (police) department threatened me when I tried to clean it up. The day of my inauguration, several municipal officials were stopped by police patrols with rifles they shouldn't have had, and that's when the threats began," Flores said.
The cops "wanted to keep working like they had been," in other words, at the service of organized crime, said the mayor of a city of more than 350,000 inhabitants that is part of the metropolitan area of Monterrey, capital of the northeastern state of Nuevo Leon.
"One of the steps I took was to purge 100 percent of the police force" and put a military man at the helm, said Flores, who recalled that a few weeks later she was the target of an armed attack while traveling in an armored SUV.
Several others would follow. In the most recent incident, a group of suspected cartel hit men set fire to one of her bodyguards' SUVs while it was parked outside her home.
"First, the ammunition that was inside the SUV began to explode, but then emergency management officials informed us we should leave the house because a lot of smoke was getting in, which is very toxic. At that moment, I was very afraid for my baby," Flores said.
But the threats and attacks did not affect her decision to rid the police of organized crime influences.
After purging the force, she doubled the new officers' salaries and provided them with bulletproof vests, housing assistance and access to medical services.
She also implemented a program designed by the police force of Castellon de la Plana, Spain, that prioritizes ongoing officer training and seeks to expand citizen participation in security efforts.
The mayor said criminal actions by Los Zetas, considered Mexico's most violent drug cartel, have decreased in Escobedo and the incidence of some crimes has fallen by up to 70 percent as a result of the measures she has adopted.
She said she is convinced the wave of violent crime that has left more than 40,000 people dead in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 can be brought to an end.
"What I want to show is that it can be done. If things changed for the worse, they can also change for the better. If there's a will, there's a way," she said, noting that the current high level of violence in Nuevo Leon did not exist four years ago.
A total of 1,200 organized crime-related murders have been committed in that state so far this year, up from 263 in 2009.
The violence tied to a turf war between the Gulf cartel and its former allies Los Zetas began to spiral in 2010, when 828 deaths were reported.