Human Rights

Three Years Later, Still No Justice for 2011 San Fernando Killings

The U.S. 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.

The U.S. 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.

On April 1, 2011, Mexican authorities discovered the first of several mass graves in Tamaulipas state that all told would contain the bodies of nearly 200 people. The victims, many of them migrants headed toward the U.S-Mexico border, were pulled from intercity buses and executed by the Zetas criminal organization with the alleged complicity of local police and government officials.

Now three years later, not a single individual has been sentenced in the case.

The results of numerous Freedom of Information Act requests filed on the case are detailed in previous postings on this blog as well as in a comprehensive Electronic Briefing Book published on the main website of the National Security Archive. Many of these records were also highlighted in Proceso magazine by award-winning journalist Marcela Turati.

To mark the third anniversary of this gruesome discovery, we’re here highlighting some of the most important declassified documents from those collections. Some of these are among the evidence being presented in a pair of legal actions aimed at forcing the Mexican government to provide more information about the case and to explain why the perpetrators and facilitators have not been brought to justice.

  •  Four months before the feared Zetas drug cartel kidnapped and murdered 72 migrants under similar circumstances in August 2010, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said that narcotrafficking organizations in that region operated with “near total impunity in the face of compromised local security forces.”
  • As the date of the 2010 massacre drew nearer, another U.S. agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), reported new evidence linking the Zetas to soldiers from the Kaibiles, an elite Guatemalan special forces known for spectacular acts of cruelty and brutality during that country’s civil war.
  • Regional highways had become killing zones for the rival gangs that controlled both the drug trade and “the business of illegal migration,” according to a U.S. Embassy report written during the height of the violence in 2011. 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.
  • One U.S. intelligence report from the period just before the 2010 massacre cites “corroborated and reliable information” on the widespread use of roadblocks along highways in the region.
  • Mexican authorities also deliberately tried to minimize the extent of the carnage following the April 2011 discoveries. “Tamaulipas officials appear to be trying to downplay both the San Fernando discoveries and the state’s responsibility for them,” according to a report from the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros. Mexican officials, “speaking off the record,” told the Consulate that the bodies of victims were “being split up to make the total number less obvious and thus less alarming.” Mexican officials “avoided publicly drawing attention to the level of violence in Tamaulipas,” according to the Embassy, despite having identified “highway violence” as “their top concern.”

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