Can a tough former border cop save violence-plagued Cancun?

Julian Leyzaola must use a wheelchair due to injuries suffered in a criminal attack. (PHOTO:

CANCUN — There are stars in security and law enforcement just as there are in the ranks of organized crime, and Julián Leyzaola is one of them, writes Deborah Bonello on Once considered one of Mexico‘s toughest cops, he was recently brought on as an advisor to help improve the imploding security situation in the tourist mecca of Cancún. But can, and will, he repeat his unsavory methods on a shoreline crowded with foreign visitors, or is his appointment just public relations bluster?

A retired military colonel, Leyzaola served as a police chief in both Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez during some of the worst years of violence in Mexico‘s contemporary drug war. He is widely credited with having reversed the homicide rate, chronic insecurity and crime during his tenure in both border towns. A well-known figure in Mexico, Leyzaola has often made the headlines himself, most memorably when he was attacked by gunmen while sitting in his car in Ciudad Juárez (after his stint as police chief), an aggression that has left him confined to a wheelchair.


Julian Leyzaola must use a wheelchair due to injuries suffered in a criminal attack. (PHOTO:

His security victories in both Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana came at a high cost. Leyzaola earned a reputation for using brutal, confrontational methods to achieve his goals. On his arrival in Tijuana, he told the press, “If the cartels understand only the language of violence, then we are going to have to speak in their language and annihilate them.”

Journalist William Finnegan recounted a particularly disturbing episode in a profile on Leyzaola in the New Yorker: “Arriving at the scene of a shoot-out where one of his men had died, [Leyzaola] punched the corpse of a cartel gunman in the face.” More cops died under Leyzaola’s watch than during the five previous years, according to the writer.

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