Sunday, December 3, 2023

Army makes compensation deal with victims’ families but arrests no one

The Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) has paid compensation to the families of three young men who were shot dead by the army in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, just over a year ago, but no soldiers have been arrested in connection with the alleged extrajudicial killings.

Soldiers killed 12 people in the early hours of July 3, 2020, after they came under attack by armed men traveling in pickup trucks in the northern border city.

Nine of those killed were dressed in tactical gear and are believed to have been members of a cartel hit squad. The other three victims had been kidnapped by the presumed cartel members and were wearing civilian clothing.

The newspaper El Universal published a video last August showing soldiers firing at one pickup truck on a dark street near the Nuevo Laredo airport. Army vehicles had previously come under fire by armed men in three pickup trucks, two of which fled.

Soldiers fired at least 243 shots at the third vehicle, according to El Universal, which published footage recorded by a camera mounted on a soldier’s helmet.

After the shooting stops, soldiers approach the pickup and see that at least one person in its bed isn’t dead. “He’s alive,” soldiers shout to which someone responds, “Fucking kill him.”

The person to which the unidentified soldier was referring is believed to be one of the three young men who had been kidnapped and were in the bed of the pickup with their hands and feet tied.

Two of the kidnapping victims died after receiving single gunshot wounds to their chests while the third man was killed by a single shot to the head. El Universal said that shot was fired from a distance of just one to three meters.

Given that the nine presumed gang members who were killed all had multiple gunshot wounds and the kidnapped men were only shot once each, it appears that the latter survived the army’s initial onslaught but were killed extrajudicially by soldiers.

After El Universal published the video footage it obtained, President López Obrador instructed Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval to investigate the incident, asserting that a probe was needed because his government doesn’t permit the “finishing off” of suspects following a shootout.

In a report published today, El Universal said that 24 soldiers were summoned to make statements about the killings and noted that many of them denied knowing the identity of the soldier who yelled “Fucking kill him.”

One of the three young men killed by soldiers in July 2020.
One of the three young men killed by soldiers in July 2020.

“The soldiers said they weren’t in the area, they couldn’t see because of the scant light or they didn’t know whose voice it was,” the report said.

It is unclear whether the authorities have established the identity of the army member who gave the order for at least one of the three young men to be killed.

El Universal said the families of three young kidnapping victims were contacted last year by soldiers who offered them a compensation agreement. Citing a lawyer for the families, the newspaper said the agreement was based on article 72 of the General Victims Law, which states: “The obtention of subsidiary compensation doesn’t terminate the right of the victim to demand compensation of any other nature.”

After weeks of negotiation, a compensation amount was agreed upon, El Universal said without saying what the amount was.

(News website Animal Político revealed earlier this year that the National Guard offered 1 million pesos (about US $50,000) to the families of two people killed in Nuevo Laredo in April in exchange for withdrawing charges against the security force. The army also offered 1 million pesos’ compensation to the family of a Guatemalan man killed by soldiers in Chiapas in March. )

Two of the families agreed to accept the compensation soon after the amount had been determined, while the third family agreed months later.

Despite the army’s payment of compensation to the victims’ families, no soldiers have been held accountable for the deaths of the three kidnapped men.

“The soldiers involved will continue with their normal work until their responsibility is proven,” said El Universal, which obtained access to investigation files.

The families of all three victims filed homicide complaints against the army with the federal Attorney General’s Office. It is unclear whether they were required to withdraw those complaints as a condition of receiving the compensation payments.

The director of Centro Prodh, a human rights organization, expressed concern about security forces’ payment of compensation to victims and their families.

“Sedena, the navy and the National Guard are starting to move away from what the General Victims Law established. … It’s an institutional practice that is perhaps going to reduce the number of [criminal] complaints [against security forces] but it won’t be effective in generating deterrents to these human rights violations,” Santiago Aguirre said.

The father of one of the slain kidnapping victims remains incredulous as to why soldiers killed his son when the army was no longer under attack.

Identified only as Héctor by El Universal, the man said that he understands that the soldiers were running on adrenalin and were initially acting in self defense but questioned why they killed a person who was motionless and incapacitated, given that his hands and feet were tied.

With reports from El Universal 

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