A Mexican TV Soap Tries to Clean Up Cops' Image

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Publicity still from El Equipo

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In spite of Calderón's laudable efforts to clean up the constabulary, many federales continue to be accused of working with drug traffickers, extorting businesses and killing civilians during his nearly four-year antinarco offensive. Last year 465 officers were arrested for corruption, including four high-ranking commanders in the violent border city of Juárez. "The public just does not buy this bread and circus," Congresswoman Leticia Quezada of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution says of El Equipo. "You cannot wash an image of bad police with a telenovela. You need real changes and reforms." Quezada this week also filed a complaint with Mexico's comptroller general's office, demanding it investigate the show's use of government assets.

Such a mix of show business and government guns is not new to Mexico — or to the U.S. Hollywood in the past has controversially hired Pentagon hardware for quasi-propagandistic war films like Top Gun, which used two dozen Tomcat, Tiger and Skyhawk fighter jets. But while the 1986 movie came as the U.S. was winning the Cold War, El Equipo comes at a low moment in Mexico's drug war. April was the bloodiest month so far, with the discovery of two mass graves in northern Mexico holding a stunning 390 corpses — an atrocity reminiscent of the world's worst war zones.

On Sunday, the day before El Equipo debuted, tens of thousands marched into Mexico City decrying the violence. Led by poet Javier Sicilia, whose innocent son was murdered in March, the protesters called for the resignation of Public Safety Secretary Genaro García Luna, who heads the same federal police force being portrayed in the soap.

The former head of Mexico's equivalent of the FBI, García Luna has been a key architect of Calderón's offensive, one of whose core strategies is beefing up the federal police to a force of 35,000 heavily armed officers. He has also overseen the construction of state-of-the-art bases and bunkers, packed with hi-tech intelligence-gathering devices, which are shown off in the show. "If anyone has worked for the creation of a civilian police force that is professional, follows the law, is well equipped and has intelligence capabilities that guarantee the safety of the people, that person is García Luna," federal government spokesman Alejandro Poiré said last weekend.

President Calderón also insists the media need to make it clearer that the police are the good guys and the criminals the bad guys. He has criticized magazine articles that seem to exalt gangsters, and the government has banned the radio play of narcocorridos, or drug ballads, that herald the exploits of kingpins. Several telenovelas feature criminal protagonists, including the hit La Reina del Sur, which follows a beautiful trafficking queen. El Equipo's producers say they're trying to show a jaded Mexican public that police should be looked up to instead. Officers "are not only people who serve the community," El Equipo actor Alfonso Herrera said. "They also have families and personal problems. It shows this human side."

Those sides of Mexico's police should of course be appreciated. But until the all too prevalent dark side is reformed, it will take much more than a telenovela to convince Mexicans that their cops are the good guys.

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