Friday, September 19, 2014

Witnesses: Mexican Soldiers Killed 21 in June Massacre

It was a suspicious story from the beginning. When authorities announced that 22 people had been killed by army personnel in a June 30 shootout in the state of Mexico, the Associated Press noted with skepticism that all but one soldier had miraculously escaped injury, and that “the warehouse where many bodies were found showed little evidence of sustained fighting.”

Despite the questions over the incident, Mexican authorities have persistently stuck to the official version of events. On July 17, Mexico State Attorney General Jaime Gomez Sanchez assured reporters that there was “no evidence whatsoever” that the 21 victims were executed.

But this story became harder to defend this week, when Esquire Mexico published an investigation into the incident featuring exclusive testimony from a witness who offered a disturbing description of the events. According to alias “Julia,” who officials identified as a kidnapping victim freed in the operation, only one suspect was killed in a shootout, which broke out after soldiers opened fire first. The rest surrendered, but were then killed after being interrogated. A medical examiner who carried out an autopsy on one of the victims, a 15-year-old girl, told Esquire that her wounds were the result of a point-blank execution.

 “Julia” also claims that authorities held her in confinement for one week after the incident, saying that Navy officials, state prosecutors and federal investigators all coerced her to sign documents identifying the victims as criminals.

Alongside Esquire’s report, yesterday the Associated Press published an account from the 15-year-old’s mother, who had allegedly approached the suspected drug gang to try to retrieve her daughter from them. In addition to confirming soldiers’ murder of her daughter, she claims that the army killed two men claiming to be kidnapping victims, as they were apparently unconvinced of their stories.

These reports have caused uproar among international and Mexican civil society organizations alike. As Proceso magazine reports, the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro Prodh) and Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) have called on authorities to carry out a transparent investigation into the incident. Human Rights Watch’s Jose Miguel Vivanco released a statement yesterday calling for a clarification of the facts, as well as describing the testimony as a potential indicator of “the worst slaughter of civilians by the military of this administration.”

The head of Mexico’s Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has also said it is looking into the alleged massacre.

Even if an independent investigation fails to materialize, at the very least the incident casts further suspicion on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decision to continue the military-heavy security policies of his predecessor. Relying on the army for law enforcement, after all, was initially sold to the public as a necessary measure to compensate for the relative corruption among local police forces. But with the military potentially responsible for abuses like those described by the witnesses mentioned above, it’s worth questioning just how incorruptible the Mexican armed forces really are.


News Briefs
  • Yet another poll has been released regarding Brazil’s presidential race. Like other recent surveys, Friday’s Datafolha poll suggests that President Dilma Rousseff is closing the gap between herself and her main challenger Marina Silva. A hypothetical second-round matchup shows the two statistically tied, with 46 percent for Silva and 44 for the president.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro may not be as wildly popular as Hugo Chavez, but he certainly has a knack for making the same kinds of inflammatory statement as his predecessor. Yesterday, for example, Maduro raged against the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald, BBC Mundo and CNN, among other outlets, for reporting on a series of deaths called by what one medical industry figure called an “unknown” illness. Authorities in the country say the cause of these deaths are established and likely due to Chikungunya disease, and Maduro accused the above outlets of waging “psychological warfare” against his government.
  • Laura Capriglione of Brazilian news site Ponte offers a critical look at São Paulo's progressive mayor Fernando Haddad, who has established a name for himself as a champion of alternative drug policies and unique approaches to urban administration. However, the reporter asserts that he has a “dark side,” noting his repressive response to a movement calling for more public housing, and failure to look into police abuses.
  • Also on Guatemala, Plaza Publica profiles an effort by the LIDER opposition party, whose leader Manuel Baldizon is the leading candidate in next year’s presidential elections, to revive an old law that would criminalize investigating companies without prior authorization, a potentially profound limitation of the public’s access to information.
  • The Chilean government announced yesterday that three suspects had been arrested in connection with the recent Santiago subway station bombing. El Mercurio reports that an anarchist group took responsibility for the attack in a statement posted o line yesterday, in which it also claimed that police had been informed about the attack ten minutes beforehand, in hopes that the site would be evacuated.
  • Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa continues to play coy about whether or not he will seek another term in office once his current one expires in 2017. Yesterday in remarks to a group of supporters, the president said he as “not in the least interested in re-election,” even though he has thrown his support behind a reform package that would, among other things, allow for his indefinite reelection.  
  • One day after conflicting  pro-government and anti-government demonstrations were held in main cities around Ecuador on Wednesday, El Comercio reported that Interior Minister Jose Serrano announced that criminal investigations would be carried out into violence he attributed to an opposition student group, the Popular Democratic Movement (MPD).