MEXICO CITY (AP) — The government said Thursday it will give at least 50 million pesos ($3.3. million) to relatives of criminal suspects slain at a warehouse last year by soldiers, paying out under a Mexican law requiring compensation for victims of human rights violations.
A human rights investigation found 12 to 15 of the 22 dead suspects were killed by troops after surrendering.
Jaime Rochin, head of the government Commission for Attending to Victims, said 13 families whose relatives were killed have been identified.
The commission said in a statement it is analyzing how much to award each victim. But to protect the victims, it will not make public how much each person gets. Rochin said one family had already received a payment.
Families of those slain and the three survivors of the incident could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
The army killings first came to light with a press release last June 30 stating that soldiers on patrol near San Pedro Limon in the state of Mexico had come under fire and engaged in a fierce shootout that killed 22 gangsters, but left only one soldier wounded.
The lopsided toll raised questions, and The Associated Press visited the scene several days later, finding little evidence of a gunbattle. The AP discovered instead a series of blood-spattered bullet markings at chest height on the wall of the warehouse where the confrontation occurred, an indication that at least some of the dead were shot at close range.
In September, the AP interviewed a survivor whose 15-year-old daughter was among the dead and who was the first to state publicly that most of the victims had been killed after they surrendered. She declined to allow her name to be used at the time.
Last year, a Human Rights Commission investigation found the victims included three women who survived the attack. Two spoke to the AP and told of being tortured or pressured into supporting the army's version that all 22 suspects were killed in a shootout. Two of the women were jailed on weapons charges and released five months later. Rochin said the survivors would be compensated separately.
Some have criticized payments to the families of criminal suspects when soldiers who die in the line of duty don't receive as much. But it appears many of the 21 men and one young woman who were shot at the grain warehouse were foot soldiers or raw recruits, not high-ranking drug cartel members. Some of them died in an initial firefight with soldiers, though there are differing accounts about how many.
Of the two survivors and several relatives of victims interviewed by the AP, it was clear many are living in poverty.
One of the survivors, who was jailed after the shootings and later released, said she did not have enough money to pay the Internet and telephone bills her family amassed trying to defend her.
Some of the victims' relatives live in one- or two-room tin-roofed houses. Because of the young age of the victims, many of their families lost a main breadwinner.
Some of the men left orphaned children, and Rochin said payments to those families would be higher.
Victims' rights activist Isabel Miranda de Wallace said she was disappointed that the suspects' families were getting compensation well before relatives of kidnappings and other crime victims, who in some cases have been waiting for years.
"What bothers me is that the Commission for Attending to Victims is reacting to pressure from the news media, to look good in public opinion," Miranda de Wallace said, referring to coverage the killings have received since the AP first cast doubt on the army's version of events in July.
The killings have become known as the Tlatlaya shootings, after the township where they occurred.
"There are thousands of victims from before Tlatlaya who have requested compensation and haven't received one," Miranda de Wallace said.
In most cases, the government will not authorize victims' payments until the perpetrators are convicted and sentenced, which in Mexico's clunky legal system often takes years. The difference is that in the Tlatlaya case, the National Human Rights Commission ordered reparations for the victims, which apparently boosted them to the front of the line.