Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rudy to Clean Up Mexico City

MEXICO CITY -- Back in 1519, Hernando Cortes, a foreigner with some fairly severe ideas about law enforcement, came to clean up this city, vowing to "chastise evildoers." He wound up destroying the city to save it.

Now, no one here is comparing Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's policing strategies to the Spanish Inquisition. But the news that the city will pay Giuliani and his new consulting firm $4.3 million to help bring law and order to this decidedly disorderly capital has set off a curious cultural clash across the city and around the country.

"Giuliani says he can stop crime and corruption. These problems have gone on for centuries," Marcela Yturria of Monterrey wrote in a letter to the editor of El Norte, a regional newspaper. "No Mexican leader has stopped them."

Giuliani feels he can, and the eye-popping statistics of his eight-year mayoralty -- crimes, including murder, fell by roughly two-thirds -- have duly impressed the city fathers.

So "zero tolerance," the idea that no crime is too small to prosecute, is coming next month to Mexico City.

He says the similarities between Mexico City today and New York a decade ago are striking. "Sure, there are differences,'' he said. "But I'm not sure those differences are relevant."

Others wonder. "It's a different place," said Manuel Camacho Solis, a former Mexico City mayor. "They are going to have to adapt their ideas to reality."

The reality is that, in some ways, this place makes New York City look like Lake Placid. Most neighborhoods have their prostitutes, hustlers, unlicensed vendors of innumerable goods and services -- and legions of squeegee guys. All are tolerated in a live-and-let-live manner.

Since half the 20 million people who live in the city and on its fringes are dirt poor, locking up peddlers, prostitutes, pickpockets and petty thieves may only "fill the jails with poor folks," said Rafael Ruiz Harrell, Mexico's leading criminologist.

Mexico City's new and well-regarded police chief, Marcelo Ebrard, is not thinking of arresting every miscreant. But he would like to arrest many minor criminals -- and all the major ones.

"We're not going to arrest everybody," he said "But we have to change the rules of the game" and "adapt to the real world we live in."

The harshest reality of that world is that the police are among the biggest criminals.

"The police," said Alejandro Gertz Manero, the federal public security chief, "are a force that the people fear," and for all the wrong reasons.

The average officer makes about $200 a week. Many supplement that salary by committing robberies and conspiring with kidnappers, for example.

Inevitably, a certain amount of skepticism has crept into the discussion. A blistering editorial in the daily La Jornada denounced "atrocities committed by the Big Apple's guardians of law and order against their favorite suspects -- blacks, Hispanics, poor people of every color.'' Alongside ran a file photo of Giuliani dancing in drag with the Rockettes.

Nevertheless, many in Mexico City are applauding Giuliani's arrival.

The editorial writers of Reforma, a centrist Mexico City daily, predict that even if Ebrard adopts every aspect of "Giuliani's famous zero tolerance," it will be foiled by bad laws, corrupt police officers and crooked judges.

"Either way," they wrote, "we applaud Ebrard's fine efforts and splendid intentions and, hoping for a miracle in this beat-up city, we wish him all the luck in the world."