|Veracruz is a common route for drugs and migrants coming from the south [Al Jazeera]|
A Mexican state plagued by drug violence has disbanded the entire police force in the major port city of Veracruz in an effort to stem corruption, with naval marines deployed in its place.
The Veracruz state government said Wednesday’s decision was part of an effort to root out police corruption and start from zero in the state’s largest city.
Gina Dominguez, the state spokeswoman, said 800 police officers and 300 administrative employees were laid-off.
At a press conference, she said those who had lost their jobs could reapply to join the state police force, but must meet stricter standards for an agency with officers “who are better trained and more committed and who can deliver under our current security circumstances”.
Armed marines barricaded the police headquarters on Wednesday and navy helicopters were seen flying above the city where 35 bodies were dumped in September in one of the worst gang attacks of Mexico’s drug war.
The change was agreed on Monday by Javier Duarte, the governor of Veracruz, and Alejandro Poire, the federal interior secretary.
Mexico’s army has taken over police operations several times before, notably in the border city of Ciudad Juarez and the border state of Tamaulipas.
But Veracruz becomes the first state to completely disband a large police department and use marines as law enforcers. There are about 2,400 marines in the state of Veracruz.
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Dominguez said the navy operations would last only until the state could train more of its own police. Duarte already had disbanded a police force in the state’s capital of Xalapa, but in that case state agents immediately replaced city police.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has pushed an ambitious process for vetting all of Mexico’s 460,000 police officers. His administration allocated $331m for 200 cities to train and re-equip municipal police forces.
However, governors have complained they lack the resources to ensure their police forces are clean.
Veracruz is a common route for drugs and migrants coming from the south. It was first dominated by the Gulf Cartel and then its former armed wing, the Zetas, took over after the two split.
The state saw an increase in crime this spring after a government offensive in neighbouring Tamaulipas scared drug criminals away to Veracruz.
But the dumping of the 35 bodies shocked Mexico as it turned the port into a battleground between the Zetas and a gang aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.