MEXICAN PRESIDENT: It appears that the soldiers executed five men and they will face trial
Mexico City – Mexico’s president called the killing of five men caught on surveillance cameras an apparent “execution” by soldiers, and vowed Wednesday that the perpetrators will face justice.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a staunch supporter of the armed forces, insisted that under his administration they abandoned any previous approach to human rights abuses. He said on Wednesday that the killings that took place in a northern border city last month were not allowed and that the soldiers involved were being handed over for trial.
Video from a store security camera released this week showed a black pickup truck crashing at full speed into a wall in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. An apparently pursuing Mexican military truck arrived shortly thereafter and crashed into the passenger side of the pickup.
The occupants of the truck were dragged outside, kicked and forced against a wall. They are later found dead.
“It appears that this was an execution, and this cannot be allowed,” López Obrador said in his daily media briefing. Those responsible are about to hand them over to the relevant authorities.
López Obrador has given the military an unprecedented role in everything from law enforcement to infrastructure projects, as well as running trains and airports. He has vigorously defended the integrity of the military, but the military is still haunted by complaints of human rights abuses, particularly in Nuevo Laredo.
The Defense Department issued a statement Tuesday night saying it was cooperating with civilian prosecutors in the case, and had launched an investigation into possible violations of military law. Under Mexican law, abuses committed by soldiers involving civilians are subject to civilian courts.
The video, reported by US-based newspaper Univision and Spanish newspaper El Pais on Tuesday evening, is what appears to be security camera footage showing the incident that took place during the day in Nuevo Laredo.
After chasing down and crashing into the pickup truck, the soldiers pull five men out of the truck, disarm and kick them, then line them up against a wall.
Then the soldiers returned to the road and appeared to be shooting. Their attackers appear to be out of frame. Some soldiers take cover behind the truck, pointing their rifles at the men against the wall.
Later, the soldiers quietly walked around the place. The first, using a red bag—apparently to avoid leaving fingerprints—carries handguns and places them next to the corpses.
A Tamaulipas state law enforcement report on the incident stated that the initial call arrived at the command center at 2:41 pm on May 18 as one injured and several dead.
State investigators and forensic workers arrived at 3:11 p.m. and found two white pickup trucks and several shell casings on the ground around them. Sixty meters away, a shop appeared, separated by a concrete wall. Against the wall was the black van with the four doors open. There were four dead bodies nearby with injuries.
At the hospital, a fifth victim is found. The man was hit by three bullets.
Nuevo Laredo is a drug cartel-dominated city in the Northeast, and shootouts between cartel gunmen and rival soldiers or gangs are common.
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an assistant professor at George Mason University who studies borders, said the soldiers were apparently trying to alter the crime scene to make it look like there was an armed confrontation.
“It appears that the intention was to leave these corpses with weapons to make it look like a confrontation between armed groups of civilians, as had happened before,” Correa Cabrera said.
The killings appear to call into question López Obrador’s strategy of relying almost exclusively on the military for law enforcement.
“It is clear that the armed forces are involved in security in this city, and this city has never become safe,” she said. “As long as we have soldiers performing (law enforcement) duties on the streets, this will continue.”
It would be at least the second apparent extrajudicial killing in Nuevo Laredo this year. On February 26, soldiers killed five young men who were riding in a car.
The men appear to have been unarmed and in report, MexicoThe government human rights agency said the soldiers fired at the car without giving it verbal orders to stop. Angry neighbors attacked the soldiers, beating some of them.
In April, federal prosecutors charged four soldiers with murder.
In the same month, a human rights organization in Nuevo Laredo sent an official complaint to López Obrador. In it, a man said Mexican National Guard forces fired on his car in Nuevo Laredo killing his 15-year-old pregnant girlfriend and 54-year-old boyfriend and wounding two others. A law enforcement crime scene report of the incident largely corroborated the account of the shooting contained in the complaint.
López Obrador claims that the military has changed and has tried to portray incidents like the recent killings as isolated acts by evil soldiers, but this does not convince many.
“It doesn’t look wrong,” Correa Cabrera said. “Here, this looks very organized.”