Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mexico Military Abuses Are Systematic

by Jesús Cantú, Proceso
A memorial on Monterrey Tech's campus to two students
killed by soldiers who were engaged in a shoot-out with criminals.
Soldiers later planted guns on the students' bodies to make
it appear as though they were members of organized crime.

Mexico City, August 25- An analysis of recommendations 36 and 45, issued this year by the [Mexican government's] National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in reference to the death of the two Almanza Salazar children and of the two Monterrey Tech students, makes it clear that in both cases the soldiers who participated committed the same offenses: altering the scene of the crime, apparently to cover up their responsibility in the incidents; planting evidence to try to implicate the victims as members of criminal organizations or, at least, to modify the course of the investigations; and to hinder the national human rights ombudsman's investigations.

The existence of similar conduct in the two distinct cases, which were carried out by soldiers from two different military zones, arouses the suspicion that this is a general policy and not the anomalous personal behavior of those involved.

In particular, recommendation 45, regarding the murder of the two students, is damning [proof of] the military's evidence-planting: utilizing the Defense Ministry's very own documents, [the recommendation] demonstrates that the soldiers planted weapons they had previously seized from criminals on the students.

In this respect, the recommendation points out: "in the e-mail of images annexed in the report from the responsible authority, AR13, commander of the VII Military Zone in Nuevo Leon, said that once the confrontation against members of organized crime had ended, a grey Yukon was inspected, and inside the following was found: (...) an automatic rifle, .308 caliber, Century Arms brand, Cetme Sporter model, serial numbers erased; as well as a carbine, .223-5-56 mm, Bushmaster brand, model XM15-E2S, serial number L262834."

And further on [the recommendation] indicates: "...the public prosecutor's cadaver inspection report compiled by the Forensic Medical Service of the Nuevo Leon State Attorney General's Office states that Javier Francisco Arredondo Verdugo had in his right arm a rifle-style firearm, color black with green and a black strap, with a metallic magazine that did not have any bullets.  The serial number and brand was not observed.  Jorge Antonio Mercado Alonso, on the other hand, had in his left arm ... a black metallic firearm, 223 caliber, model XM15-E2S, Bushmaster brand, serial number L262834."

The recommendation concludes: "...from the report produce by the commander of the VII Military Zone it is deduced that the two weapons found inside the truck when it was searched by soldiers are the same weapons that appeared in the arms of both students at the moment the public prosecutor's office inspected the cadaver, even when a video demonstrated that they [the students] were not traveling in the truck.  [Rather], they were leaving campus and they were unarmed, which leads to the conclusion that these [weapons] were planted with the goal of altering the crime scene."

Martín and Bryan Almanza Salazar's funeral.
In the case of the Almanza Salazar family, the evidence comes from contradictory testimony.  The two most relevant pieces of evidence are the location of the Tahoe truck in which the two dead boys, Martín and Bryan Almanza Salazar, were traveling--it was found between two trucks occupied by members of organized crime--and the bullet holes that were shot in the front part [of the vehicle] to make it appear as though the [family's] truck was caught in the crossfire.

Regarding the truck's location, the CNDH document states: "...in the e-mail of images number 13018, sent on May 5, 2010, by AR3, which appears as an annex to the National Defense Ministry's report provided... to the National [Human Rights] Commission, the following is written:

"...5. At the end of the attack, the scene was searched and three vehicles were found in the order listed below, with the following items inside them:

"a) A dead, unidentified male assailant with military-style clothing in a blue truck; b) a male with injuries in his legs in a black Tahoe truck, who is identified as V6, indicating that he was coming from Nuevo Laredo and heading towards Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and that his family was accompanying him; also inside the vehicle, in the back, was the lifeless body of young Martin Almanza Salazar, who died at the scene, and c) a dead unidentified male assailant with military-style dress in a red vehicle."

The Almanza Salazar family's truck.  The family says
soldiers shot the boys in their parents' arms as they fled
the soldiers' unprovoked attack.

Regarding this detail, the recommendation states: "...the National [Human Rights] Commission observes that work was done to alter the course of the investigations, which is demonstrated by the May 9, 2010 testimony of T2 and T3 (as the witnesses are referred to in order to protect their identities), who state that when they received the call over radio from V1 (identified as Martín Almanza Rodríguez, the boys' father, who was driving the vehicle) that the truck in which they were traveling had been shot by soldiers, they went to the scene of the crime, arriving at approximately 21:30 hours on April 3, 2010, and observed in said place that there was only the black Tahoe truck with its hazard lights blinking, which they clearly identified as V1's vehicle, and, upon questioning the soldiers regarding the passengers, the soldiers told them that the injured had already been transported to Miguel Alemán for medical treatment.  [T2 and T3] went to the hospital in Miguel Alemán... As they were returning to Nuevo Laredo and crossed the bridge [near the crime scene] at about 23:30 hours on April 3, 2010, the say that V1's truck was [parked] between a blue pick up truck and a red vehicle."

(In other military documents that refer to the trucks it is observed that they took exactly the same measures as in the previous case: they used the goods that they seized from the criminals to alter the crime scene and modify the course of the investigation.)

Also, to make it appear as though the family had been caught in the crossfire, once the injured and the bodies had been taken away, the soldiers fired at the truck's windshield and hood.  The CNDH recommendation states: "...in relation to the bullet holes that appear in the front of the truck, they do not coincide with the victim's testimony.  Moreover, the National [Human Rights] Commission's forensic report indicates that, in relation to the bullet holes described in the right front passenger seat, it can be established that the shooter was located outside and in front of the vehicle in question; likewise, that the seat was not occupied by any person due to the absence of biological fluids (blood stains or tissue), meaning that it is very probable that they [the bullet holes] were made once the truck was unoccupied."

In both cases, at the beginning of the recommendations, the CNDH makes a nearly identical observation.  In the students' case, it notes: "[The CNDH] considers it necessary to make evident that during the investigation for this recommendation, there were obstacles and a lack of collaboration on the part of the National Defense Ministry, which denied [access to] some of the information that was requested in order to discover the truth of what happened."

According to the CNDH's recommendations, the behaviors and cover-ups are very similar, despite the fact that the cases, soldiers, and military zones are different, which makes it more difficult to attribute the human rights violations to human error or individual abuses.

Translated by Kristin Bricker.
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