More concerns have surfaced about the activities of a tactical police unit in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, following the murder of three American citizens and a Mexican.
The four were last seen outside a restaurant near the town of El Control, where witnesses said they had been detained and taken away by members of Grupo Hércules, a special police unit that began operating in July.
Before July was out there were accusations against the unit for abuse of authority. On July 31, a municipal councilor asked Mayor Norma Leticia Salazar Vázquez to follow up on the complaints.
Another councilor charged last month that Hércules was a paramilitary group operating without any legal sanction.
Two weeks ago, the local branch of Canaco, the National Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3,500 businesses in the city, wrote to Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong to complain about abuses by the new police squad.
Complaining of harassment of chamber members, the organization claimed the situation was getting out of control. Grupo Hércules, it said, “was born under a bad star.”
It was the mayor who created the group, composed of ex-Federal Police and soldiers, to bolster security in Matamoros. But it wasn’t until September 7, more than two months after it began to operate, that the mayor officially introduced it. Dressed for the occasion in a military uniform of her own, Salazar Vázquez proclaimed, “We are all Hércules!”
The squad’s purpose, she said, was to prevent crime as well as launch a frontal attack against it, including organized crime.
However, little is known about the force. A state Congressman said this week the mayor should be required to explain to legislators the group’s “real job and legal basis” in light of the allegations concerning the four murders.
Canaco president Enrique Mena Sáenz said there were many instances of abuse and arrogance by Grupo Hércules which, he said, appeared to have been formed to protect municipal officials and harass citizens.
Both Mena Sáenz and a state business leader have expressed concern that the situation could develop into a crisis similar to Iguala, where the mayor and other officials have been accused of killing half a dozen people, wounding many more and ordering the disappearance of 43 students.
“. . . nobody knows who these officers are, there is no list of who they are, there is no transparency, it is secretive . . . .” said Julio César Almanza Armas, head of the state Federation of Chambers of Commerce.
Canaco released crime figures this week showing that Matamoros leads the country in the number of robberies and assaults committed against businesses, and estimated there are at least 10 every week.
If the figures are to be believed, Grupo Hércules hasn’t much to show for its efforts so far.