Government and police officials in the Mexican state of Coahuila, on the U.S. border, have colluded in massacres by narco-cartels that constitute “crimes against humanity,” according to a new report by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
The report singled out two separate examples between 2009 and 2012—the killing of approximately 300 men, women and children in the northern municipality of Allende and nearby towns, and the disappearance, torture and murder of 150 individuals inside a prison that served as de facto headquarters for the Zeta drug cartel—to underline what it called the “systemic” problems of drug corruption, violence and official impunity in Mexico.
“These (two examples) bear the hallmarks of crimes against humanity, given the scale and systematic nature with which they were carried out,” said the report, which called for the establishment of an independent international body to investigate the “corrupt networks between public officials and organized crime” across Mexico.
“Such international participation and support will be essential to combatting the political obstruction and partisan interests that currently impede Mexico’s troubled justice system.”
Published just ahead of the July 1 federal elections in Mexico, the report charges that the outgoing government of President Enrique Peña Nieto has presided over a “worsening” climate of murder and corruption. The 2017 toll of 25,000 homicides represents the deadliest single year since drug-fueled violence engulfed the country in 2006, according to the report.
The killings have continued despite Peña Nieto’s pledge to control Mexico’s escalating violence, the report said, noting that “his administration has maintained the same militarized approach (as his predecessors) to a deadly and ill-conceived ‘war on drugs,’ while continuing to target cartel kingpins.”
The report’s findings underline the fear and anger that currently fuels growing public support for presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor who has been characterized as Mexico’s “answer” to U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Open Society report, based on research and interviews with victims and officials with the support of a number of Mexican human rights organizations, said the evidence suggested that police and government officials at senior levels were involved in the planning and cover-up of the incidents in Coahuila, as well as similar “atrocities” elsewhere in Mexico—including the torture and murder of journalists and human rights workers.
A similar study published last month in Spanish by the United Nations Subcommittee to Prevent Torture found “corruption and collusion between criminal groups and penal authorities and personnel” and concluded that “impunity in cases of torture is the rule” in Mexico’s prisons.
The authors of the Open Society study, which followed an earlier report on Mexico’s drug violence three years earlier, singled out systemic corruption as the driving force behind the two incidents in Coahuila, which they said illustrate the transformation of a largely rural state with a population of less than three million that occupies a 318-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border into a “narco state” over the past decade.
During a three-day period in 2011, some 300 individuals were murdered in apparent revenge killings throughout northern Coahuila by assassins from the Zeta cartel. Local officials, including the mayor and police commander, were informed in advance “to ensure they would not intervene,” the report said.
Between 2009-2012, the CERESO Piedras Negras prison, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Tx., was used by the Zeta leadership as “an extermination camp and a base of operations to extend its reign of terror” in Coahuila, with the apparent knowledge and involvement of local authorities, according to the report.
“Further investigation is required to answer the questions [raised by the incidents], and to expose the formal (and informal) networks that appear to exist between Coahuila’s political and economic elite and organized crime,” the report said.
“Indeed, despite numerous cases of embezzlement and money laundering involving public servants in Coahuila’s last three administrations, little has been done to investigate and prosecute such corruption.”
The two incidents were only the most egregious examples of the “complicity” of officials in all areas of the country with human rights abuses committed by powerful cartels, added the report.
“[There are] increasing signs that corruption, and the violent crime it enables, are widespread across a number of states in Mexico—from Veracruz to Tamaulipas, from Guerrero to Chihuahua,” said the report.
“Indeed, there are compelling reasons to believe that the complicity of corrupt public officials in cartel-led atrocity crimes may be a widespread, recurrent pattern.”
The report also comes as concern is rising about stepped-up cross-border heroin trafficking by Mexican cartels in the wake of the U.S. opioid crisis.
Although the U.S. is not mentioned, the researchers’ implicit condemnation of the failure of Mexico’s ruling party—the Partido Revolucionario Institucional—to reign in the corruption of military, police and political officials, indirectly raises questions about Washington’s long-standing financial support and military aid to the Mexican government’s war on drugs.
The report said an “international investigative mechanism” was needed to establish accountability for the corruption and violence prevailing during the drug war.
The investigative body should be based inside Mexico and composed of national and international staff with a “mandate to independently investigate and, when necessary, prosecute atrocity crimes and the corruptive acts that enable them,” said the report, produced in collaboration with eight Mexican civil society and church groups.
“This body would also complement and support credible domestic criminal proceedings at both the state and federal level.”
The full report, entitled “Corruption That Kills,” can be downloaded here.