A year after Mexico army slayings, calls for justice mount

AP News
Posted: Jun 30, 2015 7:18 PM
A year after Mexico army slayings, calls for justice mount

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A year later, many people say justice still has not been served in the case of soldiers killing at least a dozen suspected gang members who had surrendered after a confrontation at a grain warehouse in southern Mexico.

None of the seven soldiers detained has been convicted in the case and only one victim's family has received government reparation payments.

None of the detectives and prosecution agents accused of trying to cover up the case by torturing survivors has been fired. None has been charged, although about 20 are under investigation, the Mexico State prosecutors' office said.

The case against the soldiers has been so slow that even the defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, is frustrated. "The request is for the trial to start," Cienfuegos told the newspaper El Universal. "I think there has been enough time for this to take place, and be wrapped up."

The June 30, 2014, incident initially was announced as a gunbattle between an army patrol and criminals that began when the soldiers were fired on. The army said 22 suspects died during a fierce firefight, while only one soldier was wounded.

Questions about the killings, known as the "Tlatlaya case" after the rural township where they occurred, were first brought to light by an Associated Press story in July on apparent contradictions in the army's account.

AP journalists who visited the warehouse three days later found little evidence of an extended shootout. Bullet holes in the walls showed the same pattern: One or two closely placed bullet pocks, surrounded by spattered blood, giving the appearance that some of those killed had been standing against a wall and shot at about chest level.

The Mexican government's Human Rights Commission later said its investigation determined that at least 12 and probably 15 people had been executed at the warehouse.

In November, three soldiers were charged with aggravated homicide and four others, including a lieutenant, were charged with "actions improper to the public service" for failing to report the killings. Mexico's creaky legal system, changes in the defense team and slowness by prosecutors are all believed to have contributed to lack of progress in trying the case.

Three women who survived the brief initial shootout and subsequent executions came forward to say they were tortured and threatened by agents of the Mexico State prosecutor to support the army's version. None of those agents have been fired or charged, though the prosecutors' office said in a statement that the investigation is close to being wrapped up.

The three survivors are not yet eligible for reparation payments, though one lost her daughter in the shootings and the two others spent months in jail on weapons charges that were later dropped.

The state government said it is considering payments to the women, while the federal Commission for the Attention of Victims will pay about $3.2 million to the families of all 22 victims.

The case was serious enough to be cited in the U.S. State Department's 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. That report said that "significant human rights-related problems included police and military involvement in serious abuses, such as unlawful killings, torture, disappearances, and physical abuse."

Rights groups say the government has to do more to get to the bottom of the case, that there are unanswered questions about how far up the chain of command the killings, and subsequent cover-up, went.

"It is fundamental that all military personnel responsible, including by chain of command, be brought to justice," wrote Perseo Quiroz, director of Amnesty International Mexico.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said, "Only once it acknowledges the magnitude of the problem, can the Mexican government begin to effectively address it."