In this week’s edition of Proceso magazine, award–winning journalist Marcela Turati uses a set of declassified U.S. diplomatic cables from our Mexico/Migration Project collection to shed new light on what she calls “the collusion of Mexican municipal, state and federal officials” with the murders of hundreds of migrants in and around San Fernando, Tamaulipas, by a criminal organization known as Los Zetas.
The declassified reports detail horrifying acts of violence perpetrated by rival Mexican drug cartels in the last several years, including the San Fernando massacres of 2010 and 2011, which took the lives of more than 250 people, most of them migrants on their way to the United States. Scores of migrants and other travelers were kidnapped from intercity buses and later killed as part of a drug cartel turf war in northeastern Mexico, and hundreds of corpses have since been recovered from mass graves in the area.
“The diplomatic reports…show that the cartels controlled part of Tamaulipas, the suffering of the local population, the submission of the press and the pantomime of a government that pretends to hold the reins,” according to Turati’s report, which hit newsstands around Mexico this morning.
A previous report on Migration Declassified revealed Mexican efforts to minimize “the state’s responsibility” for the massacres. These reports described how Zetas gunmen pulled groups of victims from commercial bus lines, killing those who refused to work for the cartels and dumping many of the bodies in mass graves. The Embassy cited information indicating that “migration authorities and local police” in Mexico “often turn a blind eye or collude in” the kidnappings and massacres carried out by the drug cartels. Mexican officials told the U.S. they believed “that the majority of the victims discovered were migrants heading to the US who were intercepted en route and unable to pay what was demanded of them.”
Turati’s report digs into additional declassified U.S. diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement documents describing the inability Mexican military and law enforcement officials to cope with the turf war that erupted in Tamaulipas between the Zetas and its former ally, the Gulf Cartel. Narcotrafficking organizations “operated with near total impunity in the face of compromised local security forces,” according to one of the cables, an April 2010 report from the U.S. Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section.
Others now seem like ominous warnings of the carnage that was to come. A March 2010 report from the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas, said that city “may be the scene of a confrontation in the near future,” and that Matamoros, as “the accepted headquarters of the Gulf Cartel,” was “a high-value target for any future Los Zetas offensive.”
Another document highlighted by Turati shows that the Zetas, many of whom were recruited from an elite Mexican Army unit known as the Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE), maintained ties with the Kaibiles, a Guatemalan Army special forces group that was responsible for unimaginable acts of cruelty during the conflict that consumed that country in the 1980s. Written less than three months before the August 2010 massacre, the heavily-redacted Drug Enforcement Administration report describes a shootout in Tamaulipas that resulted in the deaths of four Zetas and the arrests of four others. “It was determined that some of them were members of the Zetas and the subjects from Guatemala were members of the Fuerzas Especiales de Guatemala (Kaibiles),” according to the DEA report.
The Archive will publish the complete set of San Fernando documents in the coming days on the National Security Archive Website. Watch this blog or follow us on Twitter to keep up with all the new developments in this case.