Mexico's Agents of Terror

As the eyes of the world focus on Afghanistan and the war against international terrorism, a single and horrific act of terror has played out in Mexico.

Human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa was murdered nearly two weeks ago in her downtown office in Mexico City. Ochoa, 38, was a fearless crusader who defended peasants, environmentalists and rebel sympathizers. She was found shot in the head on Oct. 20.

A note left by her assailants warned her colleagues not to follow her path or else risk meeting her fate.

Ochoa's assassination was not only an attack against her but also against anyone else involved in the struggle against the repressive political forces that have dominated Mexico for decades. Her murder also threatens the great aspiration of the Mexican people: To live in a free and just society.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, who will complete one year in office this December, was the first opposition party candidate to win election to the nation's highest post in more than 70 years. He is also widely acknowledged as the first freely elected president in the nation's history.

Backed by that mandate, Mr. Fox has repeatedly proclaimed his determination to reshape Mexico into a full-fledged democracy that respects the civil and human rights of its citizens. Aside from the obvious benefit to its people, achieving that lofty goal would earn the nation new respect on the world stage.

The investigation into Digna Ochoa's murder will test Mr. Fox's commitment to true political reform and show whether he has made progress in cleaning up the nation's endemically corrupt police and courts system.

Toward that end, Mr. Fox has promised to get to the bottom of Ochoa's murder. His government even placed full-page advertisements in leading Mexican newspapers vowing to locate her killer. The ad states that "a democratic government has an obligation to protect human rights."

Mr. Fox also devoted one of his national weekly radio addresses to the topic of human rights, saying that he expects a quick resolution to the investigation.

Nevertheless, the president's critics are justifiably skeptical about the government's commitment to human rights. Ochoa was once kidnapped and tortured by her political foes and she had received repeated death threats over the years. Human rights activists say some of Ochoa's worst enemies are part of the nation's police and military ranks.

Furthermore, members of the corrupt political party ousted by Fox, known as the PRI, remain entrenched in the nation's vast bureaucracy, including its law enforcement agencies.

Which brings us to the police investigation of Ochoa's murder. So far, no arrests have been made.

Although the Mexico City police are leading the formal inquiry into her death, Fox should make use all the proper federal resources available to help solve the case as quickly as possible.

But even if Ochoa's murderers are not found, Fox should work tirelessly to prove that he's committed to curbing repression in Mexico. Failing to do so would weaken the president politically and send a message to the likes of Ochoa's killers that for Mexico's homegrown agents of terror, it is business as usual.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of americanlatino.net. E-mail the writer at jgarcia@americanlatino.net.

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