The use of death squad tactics is the latest of several serious allegations leveled at police in Veracruz in connection with the forced disappearance of at least 15 people during the administration of former governor Javier Duarte.
State prosecutors have filed charges asserting that state police established specialized units that used tactics reminiscent of death squads to abduct, kill and dispose of the bodies of young people they suspected of working as cartel informants and drug traffickers.
Earlier this month, graphic and disturbing testimonies from the survivors and witnesses of police abuse in the state were presented at a hearing into the forced disappearances of 15 people during a seven-month period in 2013.
The latest allegations are made against former senior police commanders who allegedly authorized the disappearances.
According to the charges, police in marked patrol cars would detain young people allegedly working as lookouts or drug dealers for criminal organizations such as the Zetas, but they would fail to keep any record of the arrest.
Instead, they passed the detainees on to the specialized death squads which then interrogated and tortured the youths before executing them and disposing of their bodies. The unit operated at the state’s police academy, the indictment said.
According to testimony given by one witness on February 13, “detainees were kicked, hit with boards [and] given electric shocks” before “they handed them over to los fieles [the loyal ones] to disappear them.”
Los fieles were a group of officers who belonged to the state’s Civil Force, one of the units that used the death squad-style tactics prosecutors referred to in their indictment.
Corrupt police in other parts of Mexico have been known to turn youths and others over to drug cartels.
Municipal police in Jalisco are accused of handing over three Italian citizens to a cartel last month while there were at least five enforced disappearances in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, in the last week of 2017.
The notorious Iguala case, in which 43 teaching students were disappeared and presumably killed, also involved corrupt municipal police.
But the case in Veracruz is notable because of the rank of the officers that have been accused, which suggests that their actions were sanctioned by ex-governor Duarte, who is currently awaiting trial on corruption charges, and his government.
Among the accused and detained are former state police chief Arturo Bermúdez Zurita and the former head of the state’s elite Civil Force, Roberto González Meza.
In total, four high-ranking security officials and 15 police officers have been detained for their alleged involvement in the disappearances while the Veracruz government declared that another former public security chief, José Nabor Nava Holguín, is a fugitive from justice and offered a reward for information leading to his arrest.
A lawyer who specializes in human rights cases told The Associated Press that from a legal point of view the Veracruz case is unprecedented.
“This is the first time they have charged people in significant numbers and of significant rank and demonstrated that there was an organized, structured governmental apparatus that had an agreed-on, systemic method to carry out a policy of disappearing people,” Juan Carlos Gutiérrez said.
“The groundbreaking thing is that prosecutors built a case by demonstrating there was a whole governmental structure that was designed to disappear people,” he added.
The case harks back to the 1960s and 1970s when military and federal police were widely accused of disappearing leftist rebels in the state of Guerrero in a systematic state-sponsored operation.
Most of the victims in Veracruz were young men but two young women and two minors also disappeared and have not been heard from since.
Police brutality also extended to the family members of victims in some cases, according to a witness who testified on February 13.
He said that the wife and 10-month-old baby of a disappeared police officer were abducted by police and taken to a location where the woman was raped by seven officers and the infant was given electric shocks.
Source: Associated Press (en)