Mexico: army exonerates itself in Tamaulipas atrocity

Mexico's prosecutor general of Military Justice, José Luis Chávez, announced May 1 that following a joint investigation with civilian prosecutors, it was determined that drug cartel gunmen, not soldiers, were responsible for the deaths of two children during a confrontation in the northern state of Tamaulipas. The incident took place April 3 on the Reynosa-Nuevo Laredo highway near Ciudad Mier, where a family of 13 traveling in an SUV was apparently caught in a crossfire between army troops and cartel gunmen. Bryan and Martin Almanza Salazar, ages 5 and 9, were killed and seven other family members wounded. The survivors said that the troops opened fire without provocation.

At a Mexico City press conference, the chief military prosecutor, Chávez said the soldiers were sent to the road following an anonymous tip about a battle between rival narco gangs. Chávez said the troops found six bullet-riddled SUVs abandoned at the scene, then continued down the road until they encountered a convoy of seven SUVs traveling in the opposite direction—whose occupants opened fire on the soldiers. Four of the seven SUVs fled and the Almanza Salazar family’s vehicle ended up between two of the fleeing vehicles, Chávez said.

Autopsies determined the two children were killed by shrapnel from a launcher-propelled 40 caliber grenade that struck the back of the family's vehicle. Chávez denied that the Mexican army uses this kind of munition. He acknowledged, however, that some rounds fired by the soldiers did hit the Almanza Salazar vehicle.

But the human rights ombudsman in Nuevo Laredo, Raymundo Ramos, took the side of the Almanza Salazar family, saying: "The Señor Prosecutor of [military] Justice is lying." He asserted that five survivors who were in the SUV all testified that the troops oppened fire without provocation. "It seems that it is the intention of the federal government to weaken the facts," Ramos charged. (EFE, May 2; El Universal, May 1)

The affair recalls a similar incident at Sinaloa de Leyva in Sinaloa state in 2007.

Meanwhile in Michoacán, on April 24 gunmen armed with high-caliber weapons ambushed the state's Public Security Secretary Minerva Bautista Gómez, wounding her and killing at least four others. Bautista Gómez had just left ceremonies launching a state fair in Morelia, the state capital, which she attended with the governor and other high-ranking officials. Within a mile, her armored SUV and bodyguard esco