Chief who fled Mexico decries attack on police

AP News
Posted: Jun 24, 2011 8:35 PM
Chief who fled Mexico decries attack on police

A young woman who says she left her post as police chief in her Mexican hometown and is seeking U.S. asylum because of death threats calls herself "sad and angry" after a policewoman from her hometown was wounded by assailants.

Marisol Valles Garcia, 21, fled nearly four months ago from the small border town of Praxedis G. Guerrero, where she had been police chief since October. The criminology student had made international headlines when she took the post that had been hard to fill after her predecessor was tortured and beheaded.

Her attorney, Carlos Spector, said Valles Garcia has "a well-founded fear of persecution" because of Wednesday's attack on the female officer. Mexican officials say the officer and her husband and child were stabbed in their home during a robbery, not an assassination attempt.

"What happened to my fellow policewoman could have happened to me. If it didn't, it's because I am here with my family. But I'm nervous this could happen to more people, to police officers," Valles Garcia said at a news conference Friday.

Valles Garcia asked for U.S. asylum, claiming she fears for her life because she has "denounced widespread corruption in all levels of government in Mexico," said Spector.

Mexicans asking for asylum face an uphill battle. The U.S. received nearly 19,000 asylum requests from Mexico since 2005, but granted asylum to just 319 petitioners between 2005 and 2010.

Drug violence has transformed the township of Praxedis G. Guerrero from a string of quiet farming communities into a lawless no-man's-land only about a mile from the Texas border. Between 1995 and 2005, it had a steady population of about 8,500 inhabitants. Five years later, slightly more than 4,500 people live there. Two rival gangs _ the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels _ are battling over control of its single highway, a lucrative drug-trafficking route along the Texas border.

After taking office, Valles Garcia started receiving death threats. She said that when she applied for the job, it didn't cross her mind she'd be a target _ particularly after publicly vowing not to go after the drug cartels that control the zone bordering El Paso county.

"I didn't believe I was a danger for the `narcos,' we were not going after them. We told them in (news) conferences that we would not mess with them," said Valles Garcia who advocated a community police approach for her town, targeting problems like domestic violence and leaving the drug war to federal police and the army.

Still, threats started coming. "I just didn't want to wait for them to call me one day and say: `We're waiting for you outside.'"

Valles Garcia said in a small town like Praxedis, it's not hard to spot strangers with bad intentions. Her officers would constantly call to alert her of suspicious cars driving around.

"One day they parked just outside the office, that's when I thought I would not last that day. I went to my parents and said: `Ma, I don't want to be here anymore' and then and there we planned it, in that instant I took my purse, a diaper for my son and next thing we knew we were here, asking for asylum." She, her husband and son along with her parents and two sisters fled that day.

She now believes the media attention that she brought to her town and the drug trade there was what angered the cartels. Still, she does not regret her time as police chief. "I wanted to do something for my municipality, for my son."

She has to wait until her May 2013 court date to state her case, Spector said. "It's hard to be in a country that is not your own, without work, without a house. You have to depend on your relatives, ask for rides everywhere. It's a difficult life situation."