MEXICO CITY -- President Carlos Salinas de Gortari removed yesterday his attorney general, a man whose agency has come under increasing attack for alleged human rights violations.
The move came just days before the U.S. Congress is to take up a key procedural vote in the proposed free-trade agreement with Mexico.
The human rights record of the nation's highest law enforcement agency had come under criticism in Congress, especially the role of its Federal Judicial Police, Mexico's FBI. The police had been linked to rapes and murders, including the death of a prominent human rights activist in the state of Sinaloa.
The presidential announcement said Attorney General Enrique Alvarez del Castillo, 67, would become head of the National Public Works and Services Bank. He will be replaced by Ignacio Morales Lechuga, 44, the Mexico City attorney general.
But some activists are not convinced that the change will make a difference. "Just removing people does not change the structures," said Rocio Culebro of the independent Mexican Commission in Defense and Promotion of Human Rights.
Last Friday, the attorney general's office bought newspaper advertisements to answer 16 charges by the government's National Human Rights Commission, all but one of which linked the federal police to crimes that ranged from torture-murders to kidnapping.
Under Mr. Alvarez del Castillo, the agency won the praise of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for its unrelenting campaign against drug dealers. It made record cocaine seizures and jailed some of the nation's top dealers, including the mastermind of the 1985 torture-murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena.
When he was named attorney general in 1988, Mr. Alvarez del Castillo appointed a tough anti-narcotics chief, who was kicked upstairs in October after four of his bodyguards were charged with rape.
In April, the agency came under fire again when it belittled a complaint by the National Human Rights Commission that its offices had been bugged. The agency later bought full-page ads promising to investigate the matter seriously.