Wednesday, May 25

The Mexican Army again detains the military implicated in the ‘Tlatlaya case’

The warehouse where the military executed civilians in Tlatlaya.
The warehouse where the military executed civilians in Tlatlaya.B. RODRIGUEZ / AFP

The Mexican military linked to the Tlatlaya massacre are once again in prison. Their capture responds to the order of a unitary court, which in October 2019 decided to detain them again, overturning previous judicial decisions that had released them. According to journalistic versions, the Army itself was in charge of the arrest and admission of the accused to the military prison in mid-March. Four of the seven, accused of improper exercise, left jail shortly thereafter. The other three, a sergeant and two soldiers accused of murder and cover-up, remain in prison.

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In June 2014, a military convoy was shot by a group of armed civilians in a community in the municipality of Tlatlaya, in the State of Mexico. 22 civilians were killed and one soldier was injured. The Ministry of Defense initially reported that civilians had been killed in the shooting. Despite the testimonies collected at the scene, the State of Mexico Prosecutor’s Office avoided raising suspicions about the military version. Already in September, a witness, Clara Gómez, mother of Erika Gómez, one of the deceased, reported in the media that after the initial shooting, soldiers had executed the survivors.

Criticism of the Army intensified and provoked a reaction from the Secretary of Defense, Salvador Cienfuegos, who even gave interviews to discuss the case, something strange for an Army chief. The case also tarnished the brilliance of the Government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), which until then proudly paraded the energy or telecommunications reforms. First Tlatlaya, but then the Ayotzinapa case and later the White House scandal ended the alleged luster of the last PRI government.

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At the end of 2014, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) took up the case and concluded that the military had executed at least eight of the 22 victims. In its own investigation, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) raised the figure to between 12 and 15. In October of that year, the military was captured. The PGR accused two soldiers and a sergeant of the murder of the eight and of altering the scene of the events. He accused the lieutenant who led the convoy and the other three of improper exercise.

The case seemed to be proceeding diligently, but between 2015 and 2016, the judges estimated that the PGR had not provided elements to support their accusations and released the seven. The scandal was fueled when Clara Gómez’s lawyers found in the case file a military document that included the orders under which the military should act in that area of ​​the State of Mexico. The document read that “the troops must operate at night en masse and during the day reduce activity in order to kill criminals in hours of darkness.” This order was in effect on the day of the executions.

Over the years, Gómez’s lawyers, members of the Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Center, have criticized the prosecution’s lack of diligence in investigating the chain of command in the Tlatlaya case. Just in 2020, the lawyers were able to question for the first time the military commanders that made up the military hierarchy on the night of the events, June 30, 2014. In the case of General José Luis Sánchez León, in charge of the Army in the south of the State of Mexico, his statements revealed, for example, that he had known about what had happened since the early hours of the morning of June 30, shortly after the executions. Until then, the general had said that he was on vacation that day and that he only learned about what happened through news reports. Despite the novel data that the lawyers found, the Prosecutor’s Office shelved the matter days later, as EL PAÍS reported then, estimating that there were no indications to “exercise criminal action” against anyone.

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The main investigation, which seemed stalled since the 2019 unitary court ruling to re-arrest the military, is now moving again. Based on the evidence, the court considers it probable that soldiers Fernando Quintero and Leobardo Hernández and Sergeant Roberto Acevedo entered the warehouse from where the civilians had fired after the shooting. That once there, the survivors were shot and killed. And then they moved bodies and weapons.

In a statement released this Thursday, the Pro Center pointed out that “the re-apprehension of those responsible is relevant. It would not have happened without the perseverance of the victims and without the control of the judiciary over the investigation. At the same time, it does not exhaust the pending of justice in the case: it is still essential that the number of victims be fully determined and that the chain of command of the kill order be investigated ”.

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