Expired tear gas, blasting devices, flares and homemade irritant gas bombs were used in the March 8 march in Mexico City. The postcards of the demonstration showed an atmosphere charged with different types of smoke and many people affected. Some screamed in pain and rubbed their eyes, others could not contain their nausea. The head of Government, Claudia Sheinbaum, denied the next day that the capital’s police had used these devices, saying that they had only used fire extinguishers. But some of the devices are only accessible to the security forces. The city’s Human Rights Commission and the Marabunta Brigade, a civil organization that mediates the protests, are investigating the evidence they collected that day to determine what was used and who did it.
The 8-M in Mexico left airs of the past. A video that went through social networks that day showed members of the Marabunta Brigade showing evidence that hinted that something had gotten out of control in the most violent march during the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “This is a gas capsule, they launched it and it is not allowed. It was not in their protocol to use this, this operation got out of hand ”, one of the activists was heard saying that he compares what happened with previous six-year terms. What he was holding was an empty tear gas canister. The device was manufactured by Federal Laboratories, a US company specializing in police equipment for protests that closed in 1994.
Daniel Gómez-Tagle, specialist in the use of force, explains that it is a 519 CS capsule. The letters refer to the chemical that produces the tear effect. These devices, says Gómez-Tagle, were out of date. “My bet is that they were over 20 years old,” he says. The factory stopped producing this model when it closed and ended up being bought by another security company that now produces a modernized version of that gas grenade. The specialist comments that these artifacts have five years of expiration, after that they can no longer be used. The gas does not expire, but the operating mechanism does and causes the particles that are released to be more harmful. “Skin lesions, erythema, what was seen are not normal symptoms of CS. They can happen, but they are not normal. That reinforces the idea that it was not in a condition to be used ”.
Product data sheet warns that it can cause “serious injury or death when thrown on other people.” It also warns that it is “only for security agents and military personnel.” Carla Ríos, deputy director of Marabunta, explains that only the security forces can buy this type of item in Mexico. “These gases were used in the country between 2012 and 2015, as documented by the National Human Rights Commission. We know that they are for the exclusive use of the security secretariats. They don’t sell them in stores, people can’t buy them, “he says. Gómez-Tagle adds: “If it was thrown by a civilian, it must have come from an armory and that would mean that there is a black market.”
Another element that was thrown that day were flares, 15-centimeter tubes with a handle that flew through the air on fire. The videos recorded by the Marabunta Brigade and several protesters show how they are thrown from behind the fence that protected the National Palace, headquarters of the Mexican Executive, where the police officers were. Some protesters are also seen taking them in their hands and returning them to the other side of the fence. Gómez-Tagle explains that this device is not designed to be used in demonstrations, and it is more dangerous than tear gas because “they represent a high risk of burns.” Some of the protesters who took the lit flares showed the burns on their hands on social media days later.
Ríos, from the Marabunta Brigade, says that they also recorded the use of homemade devices that were thrown. It is a small bag that has a wick and a yellow powder inside. Once the wick was lit, the package burned, emitting a gas that generated an intense burning in the eyes, nose and mouth. They also collected evidence of the use of black tubes that when exploding generated a roar and of gotcha bullets, after one of the members of the organization was attacked with one.
Given the use of these devices, the organizations have asked the Government of the capital to investigate what happened that day in the Zócalo. The city’s government secretary, José Alfonso Suárez del Real, said that tear gas was not allowed by the security protocol, and that it was necessary to analyze what had happened. However, Sheinbaum categorically rejected that it has been repressed with this type of gas. “What happened on the ground was different from what they say. It would be necessary to investigate where the break was between those who gave the orders and those who carried them out, ”claims Ríos.
The city’s Human Rights Commission has opened its own investigation into what happened and has requested the Secretariat for Citizen Security to hand over the recordings they have of that day and the plan it had designed to attend the march. “We know that there was something, that they were nothing more than fire extinguishers,” says Nashieli Ramírez Hernández, president of the Commission. The agency has protected everything they gathered in the march and has asked experts to help analyze what it is about. “There were many people there and many felt the effects linked to something that was happening. After seeing what was used, we have to determine what happened, how the command line plays in such an action ”, he adds. You have to know what happened, he assures, so that it does not happen again.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.