Six police officers are under investigation after they opened fire at a protest in Cancún, Quintana Roo, on Monday, wounding at least two people.
A group of approximately 500 people, mainly women, had gathered outside the municipal palace to protest the femicide of 20-year-old Blanca Alejandrina Lorenzana Alvarado, whose body was found Sunday, a day after she disappeared in Cancún.
Some radical demonstrators were attempting to break into the municipal palace and setting fire to wooden boards that protected its facade when municipal police used tear gas and fired weapons into the air and at the ground to disperse them.
About 20 gunshots can be heard in video footage of the incident.
According to media reports, two journalists were wounded by gunshots, two others were allegedly beaten by police and some protesters were injured during the panicked rush to flee the gunfire.
There were preliminary reports that the police officers – members of a single-command Quintana Roo police force – used rubber bullets against the protesters but a women’s collective said that wasn’t the case.
“Don’t let the media and/or the government deceive you. It’s been circulating that they shot rubber bullets at our colleagues at the municipal palace. Several of them are wounded because the bullets weren’t rubber, they were real. There are several girls and women wounded,” the collective Furias Violetas said in a Facebook post.
The group also said that several protesters had been detained by police, including a young girl.
The mayor of Benito Juárez, the municipality where Cancún is located, said in an interview that she had been told that casings of real bullets were found at the scene but added that she hadn’t corroborated the information.
Mara Lezama rejected any suggestion that she ordered the aggression against the protesters, asserting that police in Cancún belong to the single-command force and receive their instructions from the state government.
“In no way did I order … repression of this nature,” she said.
In an interview with Milenio Television, Quintana Roo Police Chief Alberto Capella described the use of force against the protesters as stupid.
“It’s unacceptable, an enormous act of stupidity that violates the protocols of service and the use of force,” he said.
Capella, who was not in Quintana Roo when the incident occurred, said there was evidence that six police officers had panicked and fired their weapons because they believed the municipal palace was being set on fire and there were people inside.
However, the police chief said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the actions of the police were motivated by their opposition to the enforcement of discipline measures in the single-command force. The use of force might have been an attempt to destabilize the police force and its security strategy, Capella said.
“I have a hypothesis that they did it with the intention of destabilizing the security efforts that are being made in the state,” he said.
The police that committed “this barbarity” could be “the same police who don’t agree with the discipline policy,” Capella said.
“We’re not just annoyed but extremely ashamed because it’s not possible to understand it [the aggression], let alone explain it,” he said.
The police chief said he didn’t know how he could explain to Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín why the offending police officers, “who shouldn’t have been armed,” were not being closely supervised, adding that his resignation was a possibility.
“Resignation always has to be on the table. We take complex decisions every day and an absence of supervision that resulted in such an unfortunate and regrettable situation [is unacceptable],” Capella said.
Governor Joaquín condemned the use of force and asserted that he didn’t order it.
“I condemn the acts of violence that occurred in Cancún tonight. I completely condemn the intimidation and aggression against the protesters. I gave precise instructions of NO aggression and NO weapons in the marches,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I will investigate the irresponsible person who gave different instructions to these and which have caused this complicated situation for Quintana Roo society. I will act firmly so that the law is applied against those who committed this aggression.”
The state Attorney General’s Office contradicted the women’s collective’s claim that protesters had been arrested, saying that no one was detained during or after protests in Cancún and other Quintana Roo cities.
The federal Interior Ministry demanded that state and municipal authorities conduct an investigation into the “repression and armed aggression” against the “feminist protest.”
“As the [department] responsible for the country’s domestic policy with respect to human rights and the defense of freedom of expression, the ministry will be attentive to the course of the case.”
President López Obrador condemned the violence at his morning news conference on Tuesday and called for “rapid justice.”
“An investigation has to be carried out, … the guilty have to be punished, it’s clear that force mustn’t be used. Weapons mustn’t be used, … this has to do with authoritarian attitudes,” he said.