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In October last year, a 20-year-old student was sworn in as police chief of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero, a township of only 8.500 people but know as one of the most violent places in the country. The border town is victim of the intense drug war that plagues several areas of Mexico but which is especially present around the northern borders as well as some pacific states. Marisol Valles Garcia, who was studying for a criminology degree, was allegedly given the position because “she was the only person to accept,” according to an official.
Her task was difficult from the beginning. Alongside 12 police officers, Valles intended to confront narco-gangsters who had been battling for control over the town’s single highway. The violence had seen bodies piling up around the region and everything from police officers to a former mayer had been killed – one of Valles predecessors had even been decapitated.
The young woman attracted worldwide attention as the bravest woman in Mexico and claimed that she did not carry a gun or wear a uniform to avoid provoking the drug gangs that operated in the area. She also said she would leave major crimes to bigger authorities and when asked why she had taken the position, she told the BBC that she took the role despite the risks involved because she felt Mexican citizens had a responsibility to try to improve security.
The city of Praxedis is close to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s most violent city, where more than 3.000 people were killed in drug-related violence in 2010 alone, according to the BBC. The brutality of the region is due to the lucrative smuggling routes into the US, and the power of the cartels grew as the US stepped up anti-narcotics efforts. It is estimated that as much as 90% of the cocaine consumed in the US arrives through Mexico.
Marisol Valles Garcia went missing after having ask for a three-day leave to take care of her baby son – when she didn’t show up for work, the mayor of Praxedis, G. Guerrero, fired her, according to the New York Times.
After some initial speculation of her whereabouts, it turned out that Valles and her family had crossed the bridge into El Paso and was now seeking asylum in the US after apparently having received death threats. The US Customs and Immigration Enforcement agency (ICE) confirmed that Ms Valles was in the country; “She will have the opportunity to present the facts of her case before an impartial immigration judge,” and ICE official told Reuters. The town officials, however, had been curiously unalarmed by their police chief fleeing the country, a position which Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, a state human rights ombudsman, has criticized as an “act of abandonment” to the New York Times.
Despite Ms Valles dismissal, it is hard to blame her for her actions. When the Mexican government unveiled a new database which catalogues murders presumed to be linked to organized crime, it listed a total of 34.612 people having been killed over the past four years in drug-related violence. 2010 was especially bloody with 15.273 murders alone.
Many Mexicans are starting to doubt President Felipe Calderon’s strategy towards the illegal drugs trade because violence have escalated ever since the crackdown on the cartels began in 2006.