Mexican drug gangs escalate war on security forces; torture in Michoacán

Sonora state police killed 15 in a fierce gunbattle just south of the Arizona border May 16 after tracking into the hills a group of heavily-armed gunmen who earlier that day killed five municipal police in Cananea. Three Cananea residents who had been aducted were freed. Police seized 15 assault rifles following the hours-long shoot-out near the village of Arizpe. Meanwhile in Coahuila, four men in the black unforms and insignia of the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI) kidnapped the state‘s chief anti-kidnapping investigator, Ruiz Arevalo, in Torreon. (El Universal, El Tiempo, AP, May 16)

Suspected drug gang hitmen in Tijuana left a victim’s corpse on a patch of wasteland, wrapped in Christmas gift-wrap. The victim, in his 40s but not yet identified, was found May 13, bundled up in bedsheets. Police unwrapped the sheets to find he had been taped up in festive wrapping paper with a Christmas tree motif. The man’s eyes were taped over and his body showed two bullet wounds and signs of torture and strangulation, typical of the victims of gangland killings that are found in Mexico on a daily basis. (Reuters, May 16)

In Michoacán, soldiers on anti-drug patrol are accused of drugging, beating and raping four teenage girls over several days. José Luis Soberanes, director of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), said he had received testimony of the abuse from the girls and their families in Michoacán, where 7,000 soldiers have been battling gangs and burning marijuana crops.

The victims said that on May 2 they were taken to a military base with bags over their heads and forced to inhale a drug that made them sleepy as the soldiers beat and raped them. They were released three days later with threats that their families would face reprisals if they went to authorities. It was unclear how many soldiers were involved.
A medical examination confirmed that a 17-year-old girl had been raped, Soberanes said. The other three, ages 16 and 17, still were being examined.

The Defense Secretariat said it will fully cooperate with an investigation and seek the maximum punishment for any soldier found guilty of abuse. Soberanes said the CNDH has also received complaints that soldiers tortured, beat and arbitrarily arrested another 48 residents in Michoacán. Residents say they were beaten with rifle butts and had their heads shoved into plastic bags or buckets of water, Soberanes said.

“We want the soldiers to know they are being watched and to avoid this behavior,” Soberanes said. “In the battle against organized crime, you cannot break the law or violate human rights. It’s possible to fight this battle legally.”

Calderón sent the troops to Michoacán, his home state, in mid-December shortly after taking office as part of a force of 24,000 army and federal police that have been dispatched to several states to fight drug cartels. (El Universal, May 16)

See our last posts on Mexico, Michoacán, the border struggle and the narco crisis.