Thursday, July 2, 2015

Still no justice a year after Tlatlaya (July 2, 2015)

A year after the so-called Tlatlaya Massacre in southern Mexico authorities charged seven police officers with torturing three women who survived a confrontation in which soldiers apparently executed at least a dozen suspected gang members after they surrendered, reports the AP.

Four of the officers have already been detained, and warrants are being issued for the other three, according to Proceso.

The three women came forward to say they were tortured and threatened by agents of the Mexico State prosecutor to support the army's version of the events.

The June 30, 2014, incident initially was announced as a gun battle between an army patrol and criminals that began when the soldiers were fired on. The army said 22 suspects died during a fierce firefight, while only one soldier was wounded.

But testimony and forensic evidence disprove this version of the events. (CNN México has a step by step summary of the case.)

In September of last year Esquire published an interview with one of the surviving woman, who testified that only one of the victims died in the shootout, the others surrendered, were interrogated and later killed. 

The whereabouts of the three women were unclear, according to CNN, which says that two were initially accused of being accomplices to the suspected gang members. A judge ordered their release in December, but the whereabouts of two of the surviving women's are still unknown, reports La Jornada.

The fact that only one soldier was wounded in what was supposed to be a long and protracted gun battle raised suspicions reports the BBC. The AP reports that a visit to the warehouse where the shootout occurred showed bullet holes in the walls that seem to indicate executions. 

The Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) later concluded that at least a dozen and up to 15 people were executed. 

Last week La Jornada reported, based on the prosecutors' investigation, that eleven of the victims were basically executed, while five others were killed carrying out "instinctive self-defense maneuvers" and there is no information regarding how the others died. Soldiers shot at least 160 times, while the suspected gang members shot back only 12 times. The soldiers hit their mark 60 times, mostly on the victims' thoracic area, according to the investigation.

Yet justice is slow. Seven soldiers and one officer involved in the shootout were detained in November of last year, but since then the case has been stagnant, reports La Jornada in an article from yesterday.

The reasons include legal recourses from the defendants' lawyers, the fact that victims' families have not been located in order to give testimony, and that military personnel and officials from investigating agencies have appear at the trial.

There is still little consensus regarding what actually happened at the warehouse, while the CNDH says 15 people were executed, the prosecutor's office says it has evidence for only eight executions.

Not one of the seven soldiers has been convicted, and only one victim's family has received reparation payments from the government, reports the AP. Even the Secretary of Defense has complained about the pace of the trial, saying that the soldiers must be convicted if guilty or released if innocent.

Yesterday's charging of prosecutors follows a recommendation of the CNDH, according to Proceso. 

The three survivors are not yet eligible for reparation payments, though one lost her daughter in the shootings and the two others spent months in jail on weapons charges that were later dropped, according to the AP. 

The state government said it is considering payments to the women, while the federal Commission for the Attention of Victims will pay about $3.2 million to the families of all 22 victims.

Vanguardia has a piece on the anniversary and how nobody in Tlatlaya feels comfortable discussing last years' events. Residents are fearful of the soldiers who allegedly committed the crime, but also hope the army will maintain its presence, reports the piece.

Rights groups question how far up the army chain of command the killings and cover up went. "It is fundamental that all military personnel responsible, including by chain of command, be brought to justice," wrote Perseo Quiroz, director of Amnesty International Mexico. Human Rights Watch and the U.N. have also voiced concern and called for a deeper investigation into the matter.

News Briefs

  • The Dominican Republic agreed to an Organization of American States (OAS) inquiry into its migration policies, reports the BBC. The international organization will send a team to Santo Domingo to investigate the migration of thousands of people who left the DR for Haiti in recent weeks. While the DR says they left voluntarily after a registration program for undocumented migrants expired, Haitian authorities accuse their Dominican counterparts of using force. (SeeJune 17th's post.) In a report Human Rights Watch calls on the Dominican government to "halt expulsions of denationalized Dominicans, to promptly restore their citizenship, and to respect their right to a nationality." The report goes over the complicated bureaucratic mess faced by Dominicans of Haitian descent who are trying to prove their nationality and "arbitrary expulsions and questionable legal procedures that various government entities have carried out in contravention of the law’s stated goals." Last week, the Haitian prime minister, Evans Paul, warned that the DR's crackdown on migrants was creating a humanitarian crisis, reports The Guardian. (See last Friday's briefs.) This week Haitian officials reiterated the warning, saying the flood of refugees could pose a regional security threat, reports AFP.
  • Guatemala's Constitutional Court agreed to hear a motion to delay presidential elections, scheduled for Sept. 6 to allow for the implementation of electoral reforms prior to the voting, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. The request was presented by the New Republic Movement, whose presidential candidate, Anibal Garcia. His party is requesting that the polls be postponed until November.
  • The U.S. and Venezuela have embarked on their most extensive dialogue in years in an attempt to improve their acrimonious relations, according to a senior U.S. administration official quoted in Reuters. It might be a sign of the wider diplomatic effects of the U.S. Cuba detente. "He realized that if we can talk to the Cubans, we can talk to him," the official told Reuters, adding: "We approached it very carefully because we had seen this before, but there was also U.S. concern that the relationship was reaching such a dangerous point that it risked breaking completely." The head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, is in Caracas, where he is holding meetings with government and opposition representatives, official and opposition sources, along with local media, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • U.S. President Barak Obama said yesterday that the reestablishing of full diplomatic relations with Cuba -- including the reopening of embassies in each others' capitals later this month --  "... is not merely symbolic. ... With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people. We’ll have more personnel at our embassy. And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island. That will include the Cuban government, civil society and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life," reports theLos Angeles Times. Reestablishing diplomatic ties with the island has been a major foreign policy goal of Obama's since his 2008 presidential campaign. Cuban TV took the unusual step of broadcasting Obama's Rose Garden remarks live. Local newspapers, which often wait for official government pronouncements, blasted front-page headlines about the embassy openings early Wednesday, reports the LATimes.
  • Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. official currently in Cuba, is on the short-list to be named ambassador there, reports the AP. But Republicans in Congress have threatened to block the appointment of an ambassador to Havana and hold up funding for the embassy.
  • But Cubans greeted the latest step in the ongoing restoration of diplomatic relations with the U.S. with cautious warmth, reports the New York Times. While many were euphoric last December when Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro announced rapprochement, many are now realizing that the pace of change will be slow. The impact of increased American funds and interest is being felt, but among a privileged elite, according to the piece, maintaining a dichotomy that goes back before the December announcement.
  • U.S. officials asked Switzerland to extradite seven FIFA officials arrested in May on charges of corruption, reports the BBC. They are among the 14 Fifa officials from around the world (but mostly Latin America) indicted on charges of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption.
  • Puerto Rico's power company was forced to sell bonds in order to obtain capital and avoid defaulting on a $415 million debt payment due yesterday, amid a worsening debt crisis on the island, reports the AP.
  • Pope Francis is taking his "church for the poor" on tour this month, visiting three of South America's poorest most peripheral countries, reports the AP. Indigenous peoples will take center stage during much of Francis' July 5-13 visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, while the Francis' own Jesuit order will be in the spotlight for its role in evangelizing the continent centuries ago and even today.
  • Ecuador is ready to receive its first papal visit in 30 years, but protesters who are angry at President Rafael Correa and a proposal to increase inheritance taxes are creating disturbances that threaten to mar the country's image, reports the Miami Herald. Today demonstrators will march for the fourth consecutive week. (See last Friday's post.) Correa has said the government had "clear indications" a coup will be attempted when opposition protestors march in the capital, reports AFP.
  • Brazilian police arrested the fourth Petrobras executive to be detained in relation to corruption allegations, reports the Wall Street Journal. Jorge Zelada, a former top executive of Petrobras, was arrested on suspicion of corruption and money laundering.
  • In the meantime, Nestor Cerveró, a former director of international operations at Petrobras, who is serving five years in prison for his role in the massive corruption scheme authorities are investigating, is in talks with prosecutors in a bid to shorten his sentence, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Bank of Mexico rescheduled its monetary policy decisions for the rest of the year in order to follow those of the U.S. Federal Reserve, giving the Mexican body a chance to respond to potential U.S. rate increases with increases of its own, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A century after his death, some Mexicans are trying to honor former dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose repressive regime between 1877 to 1910 sparked the Mexican Revolution. The government of Diaz's home state of Oaxaca planned concerts, readings and art installations starting Thursday to mark the anniversary of his death 100 years ago and some people are asking that his remains be returned with honors to the country, reports the AP.
  • Brazil and Argentina have launched a system that will permit retirees from either country to receive their pensions in the reciprocal country in local currency. The system, implemented by the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic and the Brazilian Central Bank, lets Argentine retirees who are permanent residents in Brazil receive pension payments in reais and Brazilian retirees living in Argentina to do the same in pesos, reports EFE.
  • Donald Trump's comments on Mexican immigrants -- he said they are "drug dealers" and "rapists" -- have led a growing number of companies to divest from his businesses. The latest is Macy's, reports Animal Político. The department store said it was disappointed by the presidential candidate's statements and that it will no longer be carrying his menswear line. Univisión, NBC Universal and the Mexican Grupo Televisa have all declined to air Trump's Miss Universe and Miss U.S.A. beauty pageants. TIME reports that Mexican pageant authorities have decided not to send a contestant to the Miss Universe competition. And hosts Thomas Roberts and Cheryl Burke have also decided not to participate.

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