A special police unit in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and marines were responsible for the disappearance and deaths of four people, three of whom were U.S. citizens, in 2014, an investigation has found.
Érica, Alex and José Ángel Alvarado Rivera, siblings from the city of Progreso, Texas, disappeared in the small town of El Control near Matamoros on October 13, 2014 while visiting their father. A Mexican citizen, José Guadalupe Castañeda, also disappeared with them.
The bodies of all four were found two weeks later with bullet wounds to the head. The three Americans were all aged in their 20s while the Mexican man was 32.
According to a report released yesterday by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), its investigators determined that Matamoros city officials and marines as well as state and federal police all lied in subsequent statements they made in order to cover up the seemingly arbitrary killings.
The report said the last time the four were seen alive was in the custody of marines and the so-called Grupo Hércules, which provided security for the border city and its mayor at the time, Leticia Salazar, but had also been the subject of complaints of abuse of power.
The nine officers who made up the Hércules team were technically members of the Tamaulipas state police, the report said, although in practice the mayor and her close associates maintained complete control over them.
On the day they disappeared, witnesses told investigators, the four victims were at a taco stand in El Control when they were approached by marines and Hércules members.
An official city motorcade also stopped, witnesses said. The mayor had attended an event in El Control earlier in the day.
According to witnesses, the three siblings and their Mexican acquaintance were forcibly put into white pickup trucks and taken away.
However, the CNDH charged that no investigation was made into the incident, “much less arrest orders or a complaint against” those responsible.
The CNDH report also said that its investigators had spoken to men in prison who said that they too were arrested the same day that the four people went missing.
According to several prisoner accounts included in the report, they were taken to an empty lot where they were beaten and interrogated.
The same prisoners told the human rights investigators that they heard three people speaking with American accents and sometimes whispering among themselves in English in the empty lot. They also said that the fourth victim, José Guadalupe Castañeda, was present.
In addition, the CNDH report said that prisoners testified that at one stage the mayor showed up at the site where they were being subjected to brutality by the marines and the Hércules team.
Salazar allegedly ordered the security forces to turn over the detainees to prosecutors but while most of them were, the three Americans and their Mexican friend were not, the report said.
Salazar’s term as mayor ended in 2016 and, according to an Associated Press report, her whereabouts are currently unknown.
The CNDH report added that the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) still lists the case as active and called on state and local authorities, including the Federal Police and the military, to cooperate in the investigation.
The former are implicated because some of its officers witnessed the illegal arrests but did not intervene, the CNDH report said.
In a statement released last night, the Tamaulipas state government said it accepted the commission’s recommendations and was taking steps to act on them.
The Navy said the same. One recommendation is to open a case against the marines involved, who according to the CNDH have not yet been investigated.
The lawyer for the siblings’ mother said the CNDH report had furthered her resolve to seek justice.
“We are very satisfied with this statement but we will never be at peace until the people who massacred these kids are brought to justice,” Gerardo Acevedo Danache said.