Federal Authorities Arrest Military Officials for Past Violence

04/29/21 (written by scortez) – In two separate cases, military personnel have been arrested for their alleged involvement in past abductions and murders. On April 9, the Mexican Navy reported that they had turned over 30 marines to federal prosecutors for their alleged involvement in the 2018 string of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. In another investigation, seven soldiers of the Mexican Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) were arrested on April 1 for their involvement in the 2014 Tlatlaya massacre.

Marines patrolling the streets of Nuevo Laredo. Photo by: Dylan Clark.

In the 2018 case, it is alleged that the marines are responsible for the forced disappearances of 36 individuals, including at least five minors. The marines were part of an anti-crime operation in which they rounded up individuals suspected of being involved in organized crime. Ericka Janeth Castro, a witness to the case, recounted that the marines raided a party with gunfire and forcefully abducted several men, including her husband who was never seen again. This is just one of the 47 disappearances that had been carried out in 2018 by this group of marines. At the time, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the crimes as “horrific” and urged the federal government to investigate. It has been difficult for witnesses and family members to come forward because of their fear of retaliation from the military. According to Amnesty International, witnesses and family members of the disappeared have received threats, harassment, assaults, and abductions after filing complaints with the authorities. 

Not often seen, the Attorney General of Mexico (Fascalia General de la República, FGR) and Secretary of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) collaborated to execute the arrest and detention of the 30 soldiers involved. The soldiers of the elite armed forces group known as the Center for Analysis, Intelligence, and Studies of Tamaulipas (Centro de Análisis, Inteligencia y Estudios de Tamaulipas, CAIET) were arrested on charges of carrying out acts that were contrary to their duties. This event is not an isolated incident in the group’s history. Since then, other marines of the same elite armed forces group have been arrested for violent crimes. In January 2021, 12 marines were arrested for the massacre of 19 migrants in Camargo, Tamaulipas. The CAIET marines have had a frequent capacity to act above the law in the state of Tamaulipas. 

Rearresting the Suspects behind the 2014 Tlatlaya Massacre

Just over a week before the 30 soldiers were detained in Nuevo Laredo, seven soldiers of the army were arrested on April 1 for their involvement in the 2014 massacre of 22 suspected kidnappers in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex). The altercation began as a shootout between the suspects and soldiers that ended with the killing of the 22 suspects. Despite the fact that the suspects had already surrendered, the military executed the remaining eight individuals. In addition to the extrajudicial killings, the soldiers also tampered with the scene to conceal their involvement. 

Initially, the Mexican Army publicly denied the allegations that the soldiers executed the suspects and insisted that the victims were killed in the shoot out. After receiving public outcry, however, the army implemented the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) in response to the human rights violations that had occurred. For example, in 2015, the involved officers were arrested, but were then quickly released after a federal judge ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to connect them to the crime. Rarely are armed forces held accountable in Mexico, a country with a notoriously high rate of impunity. Like prior presidents, the Peña Nieto Administration (2012-2018) was not known for holding the military responsible for crimes committed against civilians, as was the case with the Tlatlaya massacre. 

Nevertheless, in 2019, a court ordered that the soldiers be arrested again. It has taken the Mexican Army 16 months to turn them over to federal authorities. The Center for Human Rights Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez), which represents a woman whose daughter was killed in the massacre, confirmed that the soldiers had been arrested and the case against them remains open. In 2019, the human rights group said, “This ruling confirms what survivors and rights organizations have been saying for five years, that there were illegal executions…” The re-arrests are a step in the right direction towards imparting justice in the Tlatlaya massacre.

Learning from his Predecessors, AMLO Seeks Accountability

These arrests are part of continued efforts by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, to hold military personnel accountable for past crimes. These arrests are the most high-profile since January 2021 when members of the Mexican Army were arrested for their involvement in the 2014 Ayotzinapa disappearances. 

Since President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched the crackdown on the drug cartels in 2006, the army and the navy have played instrumental roles in carrying out the government’s security strategy. Yet this has not been without significant consequence to the protection of civilians’ human rights, as exemplified in the Nuevo Laredo and Tlatlaya cases. What more, the public security strategy across the presidential sexenios has failed to control the country’s notoriously high levels of crime and violence. Between 2006 and April 2021, 85,000 people disappeared in Mexico and in 2020 alone, there were over 34,000 victims of intentional homicide. 

In an effort to break with his predecessors, AMLO is working to slowly phase out the Mexican Army’s and Navy’s involvement in public security since he took office in December 2018. Under his leadership, the newly-formed National Guard (Guardia Nacional) is now charged with countering the cartels. The creation of the National Guard, however, was arguably just a rebranding strategy that put the military and police under a different name. It has been over three years since the 2018 Nuevo Laredo disappearances, and over seven years since the Tlatlaya massacre occurred. The AMLO administration’s arrests and re-arrests of suspected military officials in the two cases are an important step forward. 

Sources

“Mexico: Authorities’ claims of progress on disappearances in Nuevo Laredo ring hollow.” Amnesty International. July 31, 2018.

Stevenson, Mark. “Mexican court orders soldiers re-arrested in army massacre.” Associated Press. October 17, 2019.

Ferri, Pablo. “El Ejército mexicano detiene de nuevo a los militares implicados en el ‘caso Tlatlaya’.” El País. April 2, 2021.

“Búsqueda e Identificación de Personas Desaparecidas.” Subsecretaría de Derechos Humanos, Población y Migración. April 8, 2021.

“Mexico’s navy turns over 30 marines in disappearances cases.” Washington Post. April 12, 2021.

“Mexico arrests 30 marines over disappearances in Tamaulipas.” BBC News. April 13, 2021.

Pradilla, Alberto. “Víctimas esperaron tres años por la detención de 30 marinos señalados por desapariciones.” Animal Político. April 13, 2021.

“Mexico charges 30 marines over forced disappearances in border city.” Reuters. April 15, 2021.

Mosso, Rubén. “FGR califica de ejemplar la colaboración de Ojeda Durán para detener a 30 de Marina.” Milenio. April 15, 2021.

12 Police Officers Arrested for Alleged Role in Migrant Massacre

03/02/21 (written by scortez) – In the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, 12 police officers were arrested on murder charges for the killing and burning of nearly 20 people. On January 22, the bodies of 19 people were found inside two cars in the municipality of Camargo. The events occurred on the side of a road that is commonly used by migrants attempting to reach the United States. At least 14 of those found in the vehicle were Guatemalan migrants, as well as two Mexican citizens—speculated to be the ‘coyotes’. Three victims remain unidentified because of the severity of their burns. According to the Washington Post, the truck was a part of a large convoy of vehicles transporting migrants from Central America across the U.S-Mexico border. The attorney general of Tamaulipas, Irving Barrios Mojica, charged 12 police officers of the Grúpo de Operaciones Especiales (Special Operations Group),commonly known as GOPES for their involvement in the massacre. The newly-formed GOPES is an elite police unit established to act as a fast-responding armed force to address the rising rates of organized crime and kidnappings in the state. In 2020, the group had been trained by US authorities to be able to deliver an immediate response. 

According to Animal Político, investigators had initially presumed that the events occurred at a different location because of the lack of shell casings at the scene of the crime. Meanwhile, the vehicles holding the bodies were riddled with over 100 bullet impacts, creating suspicion that the casings were removed and that perhaps the police officers tending to the scene were involved. In addition to a tampered crime scene, investigators received statements from police officers that contradicted original police reports. Investigators began to believe that the officers that provided varying reports could have been involved in the massacre and removed the shell casings to avoid being implicated. According to a report in Milenio, officials also examined-with the authorization of a judge-call logs, geolocations, and video surveillance to determine their alleged involvement. The speedy investigation led to the attorney general announcing just a few weeks after the bodies were discovered that GOPES police officers were indeed involved. The 12 officers have been arrested on charges of homicide, falsification of reports, and abuse of power.

Before arresting the officers, authorities had also discovered that the charred truck in which the bodies were found was previously seized by immigration officials for attempting to traffic 66 migrants in the neighboring state of Nuevo León, according to reports by Reuters. The vehicle was released to one of the identified victims that was found in the massacre. According to the Associated Press, the National Immigration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) announced that eight immigration agents had been terminated for allowing the vehicle to be released. Olga Sánchez Cordero, the Secretary of the Interior of Mexico, confirmed that the agents had been fired, but did not elaborate on the details of their involvement.

GOPES’s History of Violence

GOPES has been previously accused of committing violent crimes in Tamaulipas. The Associated Press reported that prosecutors in 2019 accused the same state police unit, formerly known as the Tamaulipas Center for Analysis, Information and Studies (Centro de Análisis, Información y Estudios de Tamaulipas, CAIET), for allegedly dragging eight people from their home in Nuevo Laredo, forcing them to put on garments to appear as criminals, and executing them. In the same article, Raymundo Ramos, a human rights activist, criticized the handling of previous investigations into this group in which 40 officers were implicated  and only two were charged for their involvement. The group faced no real consequence for their large-scale involvement in the 2019 massacre; rather, they received a name change. Ramos stated that the latest massacre fits into the style of tactics that the group employs—concealing their presence and leaving no witnesses behind. 

The Associated Press article further speculates that the migrant group may have been caught in between a territory dispute between the Northeast cartel, a remnant faction of the Los Zetas, and the Gulf Cartel. GOPES was working for the Northeast cartel when they encountered the small caravan of migrants. In the same article, Oscar Hernández, an anthropologist at Colegio de la Frontera Norte, commented, “It’s not news that some police units get involved in this kind of thing, not justice violence, which is the most visible, but other things like aiding and abetting, and corruption.” A federal legislator went as far as issuing a non-binding resolution in Mexico’s Congress in January to protest the violence and atrocities that the group has been suspected of committing. Nevertheless, the police unit was left intact to patrol the streets of Tamaulipas even after well-documented allegations leveled against them.  

As such, the arrest of the 12 police officers signals a delayed response to injustices that the group has had a history of committing. It took a change of the group’s name and another massacre for the state of Tamaulipas to begin holding the police unit accountable. The 19-person massacre also illuminates the peril that migrants endure in attempting to reach the United States. Without the pursuit of justice, migrants will continue to experience the corrosive impact of corruption that  endangers their safety and security.

A charred vehicle found by the Army with a burned body inside. The truck was discovered on the side of the road commonly used by migrants and traffickers near the U.S.-Mexico border. Source: Archyde.

Sources

Hernández, Antonio. “EU entrenó a nuevo equipo policial de operaciones especiales de Tamaulipas.” Milenio. August 8, 2020. 

“Tamaulipas:Hallan calcinados los cuerpos de 19 personas asesinados en el noreste de México” BBC Mundo. January 24, 2021. 

Reuters Staff. “Mexico investigates possible involvement of officials in killings of suspected migrants.” Reuters. February 1, 2021.

“Fiscalía de Tamaulipas reconoce participación de policías estatales en masacre de Camargo: hay 12 detenidos.”Animal Político. February 2, 2021.

Peña, Alfredo. “Dozen state police charged in the massacre of 19 in Mexico.” Associated Press. February 3, 2021.

Sieff, Kevin. “Mexican police charged in massacre of Guatemalan migrants near U.S. border.” Washington Post. February 3, 2021.

López, María. “ Abren proceso a 12 policías de Tamaulipas por asesinato de 19 personas en Camargo.” Milenio. February 8, 2021.

Pena, Alfredo and Mark Stevenson. “History of abuse for Mexican abuse unit in Migrant Massacre.” Associated Press. February 10, 2021.