Remembering the Allende Massacre

The destruction of the 2011 Allende massacre is still evident to this day. Source: ProPublica

The destruction of the 2011 Allende massacre is still evident to this day. Source: ProPublica

6/27/2017 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa)- Over six years ago, a small ranching community near the Texas border of Mexico bore witness to the vengeful assault of Las Zetas, one of Mexico’s historically violent drug trafficking organizations. A recent publication by Ginger Thompson, a Pulitzer distinguished senior reporter at ProPublica, offers a unique account of the Allende massacre. Titled “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico”, the article was co-published by ProPublica and National Geographic. The article is centered around eyewitness testimonies on both sides of the tragedy, including families of the Allende victims, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents, and ex-Zetas informants, reverberating the voices of Allende.

The publication follows how the Zetas cartel descended upon Allende and neighboring towns in the northern state of Coahuila. The Zetas were acting upon rumors that Jose Luis Garza, Jr., affiliated with the cartel, had snitched to U.S. authorities. The Garzas were one of the oldest Allende families, owning multiple livestock ranches in and around the region. Armed Zetas arrived in Allende on the evening of March 18, 2011, and began by targeting the Garza ranches. Then, the Zetas moved north of the region, pillaging, kidnapping and killing those unfortunate to cross their path. Emergency management personnel from the region were pressured by the cartel to ignore cries for help. Evaristo Treviño, Allende’s fire chief at the time, said, “The only thing we could do is stand down, out of fear of the threats we faced… We were afraid for our lives. We couldn’t fight bullets with water” (ProPublica).

As specified by Thompson’s publication, the Zetas’ violent retribution can be traced back to premature information sharing by the DEA and institutional corruption in Mexico. Several months before the Allende massacre, the DEA persuaded Jose Vasquez, Jr., a Zetas operative, to submit the personal identification numbers (PINs) of Miguel and Omar Treviño’s cell phones. The Treviño brothers were powerful Zetas leaders, highly sought after by the DEA. After Vasquez procured the PINs, the information was released to a DEA supervisor in Mexico, who regrettably shared it with a Mexican police force with a reputation of collaborating with criminal organizations.

It was not difficult for the Zetas to trace the leak to Allende, due to the small number of people with access to the Treviños’ PINs. Although the Zetas misidentified Garza as the leak, Vasquez also held ties to Allende. Both Garza and Vasquez fled Allende into the U.S. in return for cooperating with U.S. law enforcement, leaving the town to bear the brunt of the Zetas’ wrath. Still today, the Allende massacre is testimony to the importance of information security in a country fraught with institutional corruption. In a recent email correspondence, Thompson commented, “I worry that this story, and the accountability issues it raises for American security agencies working in Mexico, could be lost.”

Accountability for Allende

Thompson’s fears are not unfounded. The Allende massacre was left largely unacknowledged and uninvestigated by the Mexican government. Three years after the fact, Rubén Moreira Valdés, governor of the state of Coahuila, finally launched an investigation into the Allende massacre. However, families of the victims in Allende touted the overdue government efforts as a publicity stunt. Victim associations report about 300 people dead or missing from the Allende massacre. Whereas, according to a 2016 interview of Coahuila attorney general Homero Ramos Gloria, the Mexican government has identified only 28 human remains and 54 disappearances in relation to the Allende massacre.

The failure of Mexican institutions to hold the Zetas accountable for the violence in Allende did not go unnoticed. Renowned Mexican human rights activist, Sergio Aguayo, actively led a research campaign in 2016, highlighting the institutional corruption that both perpetuated and obscured the violence in Allende. Soon after, former Governor of Coahuila, Humberto Moreira Valdés, sued Aguayo for defamation of character due to an opinion piece labeling Moreira as “corrupt”. Aguayo publicly postulated that Moreira was attempting to indirectly intimidate him for his investigation into Allende.

Six years later, the violence and corruption that led to the Allende massacre is un-abated. As reported by The Guardian, government statistics disclosed a record-breaking number of 2,186 homicides in May of 2017, eclipsing the previous high of 2,131 in May of 2011. Additionally, Mexico has experienced an approximately 30% increase in homicides this year, in comparison to January-May of 2016. These numbers are significantly impacting the popularity of current Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, who campaigned on the promises of reducing violence. Viridiana Ríos, a Wilson Centre analyst, remarked, “The increase in violence is a clear sign that the strategy Enrique Peña Nieto sold us has failed” (The Guardian).

Although the 2011 massacre is a sore reminder of violence and corruption in Mexico, commemorating the voices of Allende is an important step in addressing the institutional problems Mexico faces still today. In the words of Thompson, “[The Allende] story [is] about the permeability of the border… of what it’s like when a cartel infiltrates your town and most of all, what it’s like to live in a country where you don’t trust anyone enough to help.”


Ginger Thompson. ProPublica.

Former Governor sues Mexican academic and activist Sergio Aguayo for editorial.” Justice in Mexico. August 9, 2016.

Martinez, Marcos. “¿En qué está la investigación de la masacre Mexicana de Allende, en la que mataron a 300 personas?” Univision. August 15, 2016.

Malkin, Elisabeth. “Report Criticizes Mexican Officials for Ignoring 2011 Masscre.” New York Times. October 9, 2016.

Thompson, Ginger. “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico.” ProPublica. June 12, 2017.

Agren, David. “Mexico’s monthly murder rate reaches 20-year high.” The Guardian. June 21, 2017.

Former Governor sues Mexican academic and activist Sergio Aguayo for editorial


Renowned Mexican journalist and social activist, Sergio Aguayo, has been sued by former Governor of Coahuila and former President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Humberto Moreira Valdés, for alleged moral damage to his reputation from an opinion piece published by Aguayo in January 2016.

Renowned Mexican journalist and social activist, Sergio Aguayo, has been sued by former Governor of Coahuila and former President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Humberto Moreira Valdés, for alleged moral damage to his reputation from an opinion piece published by Aguayo in January 2016.

8/9/16 — On July 15th, renowned Mexican journalist and social activist, Sergio Aguayo, was sued by  former Governor of Coahuila and former President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Humberto Moreira Valdés, for alleged moral damage to his reputation from an opinion piece published by Aguayo in January 2016. The article, which called Moreira corrupt and an “example of impunity,” was published shortly after Moreira was arrested in Spain for alleged ties to organized crime and money laundering. Moreira was released a week later by Spanish authorities due to lack of evidence.

Sergio Aguayo is a well-known Mexican journalist and human rights activist who grew up in Guadalajara. He has taught at various universities in Mexico, Europe, and the United States, including ties to the University of California-San Diego and Harvard University. He appears regularly on television programs to discuss politics and publishes articles weekly for several newspapers in Mexico including Reforma. He is well known for his academic work on Mexican politics and law enforcement, including his books La transición en México and La Charola.

The former Governor submitted a petition on June 28, 2016 demanding $555,000 (USD) and a public apology from Aguayo for publishing the opinion piece. The petition was admitted by the 15th Civil Court of Mexico City (Juzgado 15 de lo Civil del Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Distrito Federal (TSJDF)) on June 30, 2016. Aguayo hypothesized on his personal website that Moreira has come after him because he is researching the 2011 Allende massacre that occurred in Coahuila. Moreira was Governor of the State of Coahuila from December 1, 2005 –  January 4, 2011. The massacre led to the disappearance of more than 300 people as a result of Los Zetas organized crime activity in the area. On Sergio Aguayo’s website, he also questions why the former Governor brought charges against him nearly six months after the article’s original publication and why Moreira targeted him when several other journalists have made similar assertions about Moreira’s character. Aguayo claims Moreira is using the lawsuit as an intimidation tactic.

Political pressure and violence targeting journalists in Mexico has attracted significant attention in recent years. High profile journalists like Carmen Aristegui have been fired due to critical investigations of the Mexican government. Also, Mexico is frequently cited as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. More than 11 journalists have been murdered since 2014 and many others are regularly intimidated, censored, and directly attacked. The lawsuit against Aguayo has been denounced by numerous academics and several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Freedom House, claiming that it is unacceptable to use intimidation tactics to hinder freedom of speech by journalists.

The Mexican online forum El Palenque has started a petition for those interested in supporting Sergio Aguayo, and a legal defense fund has been created by Justice in Mexico in Aguayo’s name for those who wish to help defray the cost of legal fees incurred by the lawsuit.


Gang violence, overcrowding, corruption underpin deadly Topo Chico prison riot

Topo Chico prison

Families and friends of inmates in Topo Chico waited anxiously to hear updates on their loved ones following the February 11 riot. Photo: Daniel Becerril, Reuters.

03/06/16 (written by kheinle) – A prison riot last month in Monterrey left 49 prisoners dead and more than a dozen others hurt, five of whom suffered serious injuries. The fight broke out in the Topo Chico prison in Monterrey, Nuevo León on Thursday, February 11. It took a combined effort between the Mexican Army (Ejército), Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR), and Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) to get the brawl under control, which lasted more than an hour. The brawl allegedly began between prisoners from rival factions of the Zetas criminal organization vying for control of the prison, some with allegiance to Los Zetas’ leader Jorge Iván Hernández Cantú, “El Credo,” and others to leader Juan Pedro Saldivar Farías, “El Z-27.” Reports indicated that prisoners carried knives, razors, bats, clubs, and other homemade weapons; they also set fire to part of the prison.

The deadly riot was the worst such incident in the last three decades in Mexico, and the latest in several smaller uprisings just in Nuevo León alone in recent years. In September 2015, a leader of Los Zetas was stabbed to death in the Topo Chico prison where he was serving time; 11 other inmates were also injured in the fight. Several years prior, 44 prisoners were killed in a fight that broke out in the Nuevo León prison of Apodaca in 2012 between inmates from rival cartels, Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo, CDG). In 2011, 11 more inmates were killed in Apodaca, although that incident was allegedly not related to organized crime violence, and another 11 prisoners were killed in the Cadereyta prison in Nuevo León that same year. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), 82% of the 1,737 violent incidences that occurred in prisons throughout Mexico in 2014 were due to infighting among inmates.

At the time of the February 11 fight, Topo Chico was 35% overpopulated, with nearly 3,800 inmates incarcerated. Prison overcrowding is a serious issue in Mexico, which fuels the environment for riots and deadly brawls like the Topo Chico fight. A report published by the Center for Studies on Impunity and Justice at the University of the Americas in Puebla, the “Global Impunity Index (IGI),” found that state prisons in Mexico are overcrowded by 30%, while the world average is 17%. Prisons are thus understaffed to accommodate the number of inmates. As translated by Mexico Voices, the IGI reports, “the ratio of prison staff responsible for caring for inmates in state rehabilitation centers [in Mexico] is only 20 guards per 100 prisoners. The average for [all] IGI countries is 47 per 100.” Mexico therefore has almost double the amount of prison overcrowding compared to all other IGI countries studied while have less than half the number of prison staff to safely and effectively manage the prisons.

Topo Chico prison

Prisoners set fire to one of the buildings in Topo Chico prison during the brawl. Photo: EPA.

In addition to prison rioting and overcrowding, staggering levels of impunity and corruption further undermine Mexico’s penitentiary system. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI) ranks Mexico 58th of 59 countries studied for highest levels of impunity in its 2015 ENVIPE survey (Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública), adding that perpetrators in only 1% of all crimes in Mexico are held accountable. INEGI further argues that impunity is one of the ten most pressing issues Mexican society faces today. Even the perpetrators of crime and violence that are found guilty and serve time are not all held to equal standards, a reflection of the corruption that underpins the prison system with prison wards and administrators often bought out by inmates with deep pockets and/or criminal connections. This was the case in the Topo Chico prison, which was unearthed following the brawl in February when it was discovered that the prison was filled with “luxury cells” for incarcerated organized crime group (OCG) leaders including El Credo and El Z-27, reported BBC News. Such inmate cells allegedly include king-size beds, large TVs, mini-bars, air conditioners, mobile saunas, and more.

Since the deadly brawl in Topo Chico, 233 prisoners have been transferred to other prisons in Mexico to reduce the overcrowding and to allow authorities to investigate the incident. Several administrators and guards have also been released or arrested for abuse of authority or charges of homicide, the latter of which is being pressed on one guard who allegedly killed an inmate during the fight. While such actions are steps towards addressing the specific situation at Topo Chico, the fight between rival incarcerated Los Zetas factions that left 49 inmates dead in a prison 35% overpopulated that ultimately led to the discovery of “luxury cells” is indicative of a much more serious problem facing Mexico with its corrupt penitentiary system operating in a climate of impunity. “We are living through tragedy due to the conditions in the prisons,” lamented Nuevo León Governor Jaime Rodríguez Calderón. The former Nuevo León public security secretary added, “The problem is that the majority of Mexican prisons are out of control. They are run by organized crime and the prisoners themselves.”


“Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública.” Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. September 2015.

Mexico Institute. “Mexico’s Security Review 2016: Assessing the Outlook for the Rule of Law.” Conference. Woodrow Wilson Center. January 21, 2016.

Centro de Estudios sobre Impunidad y Justicia. “Índice Global de Impunidad México: IGI-MEX 2016.” Universidad de las Américas Puebla. February 2016.

Centro de Estudios sobre Impunidad y Justicia. “Índice Global de Impunidad México: IGI-MEX 2016; Resumen ejecutivo.” Universidad de las Américas Puebla. February 2016.

“Mexico Justice System: 99% Impunity for Crimes.” Translation. Mexico Voices. February 4, 2016.

Malkin, Elisabeth. “At Least 49 Inmates Killed in Mexican Prison Riot.” New York Times. February 11, 2016.

Paullier, Juan. “49 muertos en enfrentamiento en la cárcel de Topo Chico en México.” BBC News. February 11, 2016.

“Mexico dismantles ‘luxury cells’ in Topo Chico riot jail.” BBC News. February 15, 2016.

“No solo en Topo Chico…también en Apodaca hay lujo y droga.” CNN Expansión. February 18, 2016.