Mexican president talks tough on kidnapping

August 08, 2008|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEXICO CITY - Amid broad outrage over the slaying of a 14-year-old kidnap victim, Mexican President Felipe Calderon urged Congress yesterday to toughen punishments for convicted kidnappers to include up to life in prison.

The proposal would make kidnapping in some cases subject to the harshest criminal sentence in Mexico, which formally abolished its long-dormant death penalty three years ago. Kidnappers currently face up to 60 years in prison, or 70 years when they kill the victim. Murderers face a possible maximum of 60 years.

Calderon, a conservative who has made the fight against organized crime a centerpiece of his administration, proposed toughening sentences for kidnappers more than a year ago. The measure has gone nowhere.

The issue vaulted to the forefront following the case of Fernando Marti, a wakeboarding enthusiast whose decomposed body turned up in the trunk of a car here last week even though his wealthy parents had reportedly paid millions of dollars in ransom.

The case has dominated the news, striking a nerve among Mexicans who have seen a growing wave of kidnappings. The official tally rose more than a third last year to 438, but the actual number is assumed to be much higher.

Emilio Gamboa, a congressional leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, Mexico's former ruling party, called this week for reinstating the death sentence in kidnapping cases. A poll published yesterday in the Reforma newspaper found that 71 percent of respondents in liberal Mexico City favored executing kidnappers; 72 percent said they did not trust the police.

Calderon's proposal takes aim at abductions by police and those in which minors are seized. In addition, kidnappers who gravely injure or kill their victims would face a possible life sentence.

Two of the three men arrested so far in the Marti case are Mexico City police officers, and investigators are reportedly looking into possible involvement by members of the federal police.

"There is no greater offense than a crime that goes unpunished, and it is even more outrageous when the kidnappers, the criminals, are police officers or protected by police," Calderon said.

But some anti-crime activists accused Calderon of playing to public opinion.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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