Top official in Mexican drug war resigns

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. A leading player in Mexico's fight against the drug cartels has resigned. Arturo Chavez is stepping down as Mexico's Attorney General after just 18 months on the job. He says he is leaving because of urgent personal issues. Chavez was seen as a weak link in the Mexican government's antidrug effort. His resignation comes after the release of a WikiLeaks cable, in which US Embassy officials described his original appointment as unexpected and inexplicable. Drug-related violence in Mexico has killed almost 35,000 people since a government crackdown began in 2006. Reporter Frank Contreras is in Mexico City. Frank, Chavez says he left the job because of personal issues. Is there more to it than that? How effective was he, actually?

Frank Contreras: There's a strong sense, here in Mexico, Marco, that actually the man was seen as absolutely ineffective. Not just by his own Mexican government, but also buy US officials. The resignation comes just shortly after President Felipe Calderon had a meeting in Washington, and they discussed some very pressing political issues surrounding the drugs war. One was the issue of the US Ambassador to Mexico, who ended up resigning shortly after Calderon's visit to Washington. And now comes this high profile resignation of this Cabinet member, a very important member in fighting the drugs war, but somebody who is seen as unable to stop the increasing power of cartels here in Mexico.

Werman: Did the WikiLeaks cables hasten his demise? I mean, a US Embassy official describing his appointment as unexpected and inexplicable. It doesn't sound like a very good endorsement.

Contreras: That sure didn't help. But, before the cables became public, people in Mexico were already questioning this man's appointment. He was, by the way, the attorney general in the state of Chihuahua. That's where Ciudad JuÃ? ¡rez is located. You'll remember, that's one of the world's most violent cities. You know, thousands of murders have occurred there since President Felipe Calderon took office. And some of those murders took place while Chavez was in the driver's seat in the Attorney General's office at the state level. But he was also there when a good number of women were killed. Remember, JuÃ? ¡rez was also known before the drugs war, as a location where a large number of women were being murdered. In some cases, it seemed, inexplicable. Why were so many women being targeted? But it appeared to a lot of activists here, and even family members and the larger public, that this man didn't do very much back then. So that's why it seemed politically inexplicable, as the former US Ambassador to Mexico wrote.

Werman: What do we know about Marisela Morales? She's the woman that President Felipe Calderon has chosen to replace Chavez.

Contreras: She is a sub Attorney General here, in the special office to fight organized crime. She's been praised by the United States government. She went recently to Washington and received a high profile award from Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State there, and from the first lady Michelle Obama, for being a woman who's kind of standing out as somebody willing to put her life on the line. But, from the Mexican viewpoint, Marco, that was all seen as sort of a political show, a sort of theatrical preparation, if you will, to make her ready for this new transition that was to come just short weeks after she was given that prize in Washington. And so, from the Mexican viewpoint, the idea that she has been doing a great job in terms of fighting organized crime, that's highly questionable. Five major cartels are still operating and fighting each other here. And the amount of bloodshed that has taken place since she was named to that important office, that amount of bloodshed has steadily increased, really. People are wondering, what kind of Attorney General might she really make.

Werman: So you're saying that Mexicans confidence in Marisela Morales, is somewhat split.

Contreras: Well, people who know her work wonder whether or not she's actually going to be the right person for the job. But, in all the years that I've been covering Mexico, Marco, I would say that the Attorney General's job on the cabinet is, by far, one of the most difficult jobs. It's a job that nobody wants to have. That's because of the endemic corruption that exists here. And the person who generally takes the blame is the Attorney General, and that's what's been the case here.

Werman: Reporter Frank Contreras, in Mexico City. Good to speak with you Frank. Thank you.

Contreras: Thank you, Marco.