08/20/12 – In the San Luis Potosí town of Matehula last weekend, the state Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE) detained five police officers in connection with the recent execution-style murders of mayor-elect Edgar Morales Pérez of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) and his campaign coordinator, Juan Francisco Hernández Colunga. The officers are being held under house arrest during the investigation. Family members of the five officers have filed formal complaints of human rights violations against the Attorney General’s Office, alleging that law enforcement agents employed improper and abusive practices during the officers’ capture, and that none of officers had any actual involvement in the crime.
Morales and Hérnandez were leaving a wedding at a private club at around 2 a.m. on August 12 when, about 200 meters into their trip and in front of a local bus terminal, a group of nine armed men opened fire on their Chevy Blazer with AK-47 assault rifles and .223s. The officers under investigation were on security duty outside of the club where the wedding took place. State law enforcement is also investigating persons last known to have contact with Morales to determine whether he may have received any kind of threat, or become involved in any conflict.
PRI officials have condemned the assassination, and urged local authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. To the public’s surprise, San Luis Potosí Governor Fernando Toranzo (PRI) did not attend or send representation to Morales’ funeral services, although he did promptly announce an increased military presence in the state in response to these events.
These homicides occurred in the context of a recent surge of violence in the state, which PGJE officials are attributing to disputes between or within organized crime groups. San Luis Potosí has long been considered to be territory of the Zetas, the organized crime group that separated from the Gulf cartel in 2010 after a leader’s extradition to the United States. The state had been relatively peaceful until January 2011, when the state suffered 21 cartel-related homicides in the third week of the month. The presence of organized crime in the state was underscored the following August with the killing of U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement Officer Jaime Zapata at a fake military checkpoint. Fellow ICE agent Víctor Ávila was wounded in the attack, which was later attributed to the Zetas, who have maintained a strong presence in the state for several years.
Only days before Morales and Hernández’s deaths, the bodies of 14 Coahuila residents were found packed into a stolen pickup truck just off a highway in San Luis Potosí. A surviving witness reported that the deaths resulted from a shoot-out between an armed group and federal police forces. Although state and federal agents managed to detain four gunmen and take down three, the next day a squad of armed men attacked military personnel on another state highway, leading to a three-hour gun battle in which five suspects were brought down. All told, according Grupo Reforma’s running tally of ejecuciones, 25 people were killed in a two-week span (August 4 to 17) in San Luis Potosí as part of narco-related violence, including those mentioned here. The overall rate of organized crime related homicides in the state is on par with last year’s, which totaled 120 through the first 33 weeks of 2011, while 125 have been registered over the same time span in 2012.
The state’s top prosecutor, Miguel Ángel García Covarrubias, announced that San Luis Potosí is “on maximum alert” to prevent continuing violence. He reported that state police forces are preparing for any future incidents to the best of their abilities, and urged the federal government to support the “Safe San Luis” (San Luis Seguro) operation he requested of them last month. Meanwhile, the head prosecutor in the neighboring state of Querétaro, Arsenio Durán Becerra, announced that his state is ratcheting up security at its borders with San Luis Potosí due to the recent violence.
“Ejecutómetro 2012.” Grúpo Reforma. Accessed August 18, 2012.