MEXICO CITY (AP) — Local police in the city of San Fernando in northern Mexico were involved in the 2011 massacres of 193 mainly Central American migrants whose bodies were found in mass graves, according to federal prosecutors.
The claim appeared in a memo sent by Mexico's Attorney General's Office to the National Security Archive, a Washington D.C.-based research organization that solicited the information under Mexican transparency laws. It published the memo on its website on Monday and highlighted the similarities in the case to what happened with the 43 teachers college students who disappeared in southern Guerrero state in September.
The students were abducted by local police linked to a drug cartel in the city of Iguala and handed over to the members of the Guerreros Unidos gang who after killing them are believed to have burned their bodies and dumped the remains into a river, according to Mexico's government.
The case has generated angry protests in Mexico and abroad over the alleged involvement of police and corrupt officials. Reports have emerged of mayors and police forces in cities in parts of Mexico being on the payroll of cartels.
In San Fernando, a city of 60,000 inhabitants in Tamaulipas state near the Texas border, local police worked as lookouts for the brutal Zetas drug cartel, as well as turning a blind eye to cartel activity, according to members of the Zetas cited in the memo.
The Zetas were fighting for control of human trafficking networks with the Gulf Cartel. In 2011 there were many cases of the mass kidnapping of migrants heading north to try to cross illegally into the United States. Officials have said that most of the bodies found in and around San Fernando belong to migrants kidnapped off buses and killed by the Zetas, some because they refused to work as drug mules.
In the memo, detained Zetas told authorities that local police helped in the "intercepting of people."
This is the first time the Attorney General's Office has declassified documents related to the mass killings of migrants in northern Mexico in recent years. These are the killing of 72 migrants in San Fernando in August 2010, the discovery of at least 193 bodies in 47 clandestine graves in San Fernando between April and May of 2011, and the discovery of 49 human torsos in Cadereyta in the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon in May 2012.
The Foundation for Justice and the Democratic Rule of Law, a group that advises relatives of the victims in San Fernando, had already denounced the alleged participation of authorities in the crimes.
The group's director, Ana Lorena Delgadillo, told The Associated Press that the memo confirms "the degree of participation by the police."
"This is a very important step toward finding the truth," said Delgadillo, lamenting that the declassified memo didn't give much more information than that 18 local police officers were being investigated.