11/17/14 (written by ggoana-hernandez) — Over a month after three U.S. citizens were kidnapped and killed in Tamaulipas, investigations continue to determine what role local security officials played in the incident. On October 13, three siblings from Texas—Érica Alvarado Rivera (26), Alex (22), and José Ángel (21)—were kidnapped in the Mexican border city of Matamoros, while visiting their father. They were last seen at a taco shop on their way back to the United States. Just over two weeks later, their bodies, along with that of José Guadalupe Castañeda Benítez (32), Érica’s boyfriend, were found in “an advanced state of decomposition,” with their hands and feet bound, and each with a gunshot to the head, reported Tamaulipas’ State Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la Justicia del Estado, PGJE). The siblings’ father identified the four bodies.
The case picked up national and international attention, not just because the victims were U.S. citizens, but also because of the suspected role that local officials played in the kidnappings and homicides. According to several witnesses cited in Excélsior, brothers Alex and José Ángel arrived to the taco stand and saw their sister and her boyfriend being assaulted by members of a tactical security group known as Grupo Hércules. When the brothers intervened, all four victims were handcuffed with bags placed over their heads and escorted away. Grupo Hércules, for its part, is an elite branch of the local security that was created in September by Matamoros Mayor Norma Leticia Salazar Vázquez of the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) and placed under joint direction with Public Security (Seguridad Pública) Chief Joe Mariano Vega Rodríguez. After allegations broke of Grupo Hércules’ involvement in the siblings’ disappearance, and the orders for which allegedly came from Mayor Salazar, nine of the group’s members were brought in for questioning, though all were eventually released. Meanwhile, the siblings’ parents, Pedro and Raquel, denounced Mayor Salazar and Grupo Hércules for their suspected role in the case.
While investigations continue, politicians have spoken out in support and against the mayor and the security group. Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre Cantú claimed, “We will apply the full force of the law and zero tolerance,” while State Congressman Jorge Osvaldo Valdez Vargas of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido Revolucionario Democática, PRD) and other congressman have demanded tougher investigations into Mayor Salazar and Grupo Hércules, and an official response from the mayor. To date, Salazar has yet to publicly comment on the allegations. In her defense, the PAN Secretary General Rodrigo Monreal Briseño argued that authorities need to conclude their investigations before any accusations and blame is laid; yet he simultaneously requested that the law be equally applied to any suspect in question.
As reported by CNN, given the cross-border nature of the case, the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros has aided the Alvarado family, while the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is assisting with the investigations in the United States. The U.S. State Department explained its involvement, saying, “We have been in contact with Mexican officials both in Washington and in Mexico to find out further details of the case, and will take appropriate action (if necessary) once more is known about the circumstances.” Meanwhile, according to Milenio, Grupo Hércules continues operating despite the ongoing developments.
The Alvarado siblings’ death and potential corrupt involvement in Matamoros coincided with the kidnapping and murder of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero at the end of September by local police forces, who then allegedly turned the students over to organized crime group Guerrero Unidos. Read more about that case here.