Mexicans on Sunday took to the streets in numerous cities to call for the release of four soldiers accused of murdering five young men in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, late last month.
The soldiers were detained and ordered to stand trial after opening fire on a pickup truck in the early hours of Feb. 26. Five men including a United States citizen were killed in the incident and one other man was wounded.
The victims, reported to be returning home from a party, were apparently unarmed, and there didn’t appear to be a motive for the attack.
Despite that, citizens in at least 15 cities including Mexico City, Nuevo Laredo, Oaxaca, Cuernavaca, Querétaro, Puebla, Acapulco and Veracruz participated in demonstrations to show their support for the four soldiers involved in the Nuevo Laredo incident as well as other members of the armed forces imprisoned on charges or convictions that they acted illegally in the line of duty.
The protests were promoted on social media using the hashtag #AlEjércitoNoSeToca (Don’t touch the army), a play on the #ElINENoSeToca (Don’t Touch the INE) slogan around which marches in defense of the National Electoral Institute were organized in late February.
Current and ex-soldiers and their family members were among hundreds of people who marched from the Angel of Independence monument to Mexico City’s central square, the Zócalo.
Among the messages on signs they carried through the streets of the capital were: “Release our soldiers”; “We demand more support for soldiers and fewer human rights for organized crime; and “In memory of the soldiers who died waiting for an order to shoot that never came.”
The demonstrators also shouted for “freedom” and “justice” for imprisoned military personnel and advised soldiers in a chant that “the people are with you.”
Rosalio López, a retired military man and leader of the Mexico City march, declared that protesters were “defending the ideals of the people of Mexico” and condemned President López Obrador for not doing the same.
“You are the supreme commander of the armed forces, you should be looking out for the interests of the people, of the Mexican army, but you’re not,” he said.
In a swipe at the federal government’s non-confrontational “hugs, not bullets” security strategy, López said that if the president doesn’t want the armed forces to protect people they shouldn’t be given weapons.
“Give them a comb and some scissors so that they can go and cut hair. Don’t give them weapons,” he said.
López Obrador last Friday condemned the planned march in Nuevo Laredo, saying that its aims were not at all “right” or “healthy.”
“It’s supposedly to defend the army, no! Don’t anyone be fooled, it might even be promoted by [organized] crime itself,” he said before adding to his criticism by claiming that none of the organizers had identified themselves.
The president, who has relied heavily on the military for public security and a range of other non-traditional tasks, has frequently defended the conduct of the armed forces during his government, asserting that the kind of human rights abuses perpetrated in the past are no longer tolerated.
But the head of the Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee claimed after the Feb. 26 incident that “the Mexican army is out of control.”
“Prosecutors have to clear up what happened and the president must stop protecting [the soldiers],” added Raymundo Ramos, an alleged victim of army espionage.