MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — Several police officers in northern Mexico allowed a violent drug gang to hold kidnap victims in the local jail while ransom payments were being negotiated, a state official said Thursday.
Hours later, the navy reported finding 32 bodies in three houses in the Gulf coast seaport of Veracruz, where just two weeks ago 35 tortured bodies were dumped in front of shocked motorists on a main avenue. The first incident appeared tied to fighting between rival drug cartels, but officials did not immediately say if Thursday's find was drug releated.
The scandal at the northern prison came to light this week when state and federal police freed two kidnapping victims from jail cells in Juarez. Investigators believe that the victims were abducted by the extremely violent Zetas cartel and that the officers were working for the Zetas, Domene said.
Four police officers from Juarez, a suburb of the city of Monterrey, are being held pending further investigation, said Jorge Domene, the security spokesman for Nuevo Leon state.
Local police in northern Mexico have often been bribed or threatened to work for drug gangs by providing them with information, protecting their activities or detaining and turning over members of rival gangs.
Domene noted that last weekend, the Nuevo Leon attorney general's office detained 73 local policemen from a half dozen communities in the state who confessed to having performed various services for gangs, including spying, acting as lookouts, and carrying out killings and kidnappings.
Authorities then conducted background checks on 99 other officers, 21 of whom were fired after refusing to cooperate. Forty-three have passed the checks so far.
The bloodshed in Veracruz appears related to a drug gang's challenge to the Zetas cartel, the violent gang that has been expanding its control of drug markets and trafficking routes, Mexican officials said.
A gang thought to be aligned with the Sinaloa cartel is apparently striking at the Zetas, who took control of the drug trade in Veracruz last year.
President Felipe Calderon decided last week to deploy federal police and security forces to the state of Veracruz.
The Mexician navy said all 32 bodies were found Thursday. it said Veracruz state agents found the first 20 inside a house in a residential neighrbohood. A search in a home at another subdivision yielded 11 more bodies, and the final body was discovered later in a third house.
President Felipe Calderon mentioned the problem of corruption in local police forces during a speech Thursday. A government report in September said many local officers still earn $350 a month or less, despite reform efforts aimed at increasing wages and decreasing corruption.
"We have barely been in time to put the brakes on organized crime in the first stages, but in some towns, in some areas of the country, they have infiltrated authorities in a practically symbiotic relationship," Calderon said during a speech to members of the business community Thursday.
He noted that in some instances, citizens who have filed complaints with police have been contacted immediately after by angry criminals, suggesting they were in league with the authorities.
Calderon ordered a deployment of federal police, soldiers and sailors to Acapulco and other cities in the Pacific coastal state of Guerrero, members of his security Cabinet said Thursday.
Acapulco has seen a surge in drug-related killings in the past year, Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora said.
In Sinaloa state, federal police said they detained two U.S. citizens for allegedly carrying two metric tons of marijuana in their motor home. Officers found the marijuana when they were called to a road rollover Wednesday, a statement said.
A man and woman from San Diego, California, were detained and are in the custody of federal prosecutors, the statement said. It said neither was seriously injured.