The PGR in Mexico recently declassified a document that shows suspected collusion between police and organized crime in the Mexican city of San Fernando. The new document together with existing declassified US documents, including a number of cables from the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey (along with a few diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks) reveal eerie similarities between the mass disappearance of normalistas in Ayotzinapa and 2 other cases of mass disappearances in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas in 2010 & 2011. The following article is republished in full via The National Security Archive
Washington, DC, December 22, 2014 – With the Mexican government facing widespread public outrage over the alleged role of police and other officials in the September forced disappearance of 43 students, and the killings of at least six others, from Ayotzinapa Normal School, the country’s federal prosecutor (PGR) has for the first time declassified a document on the suspected participation of police in the kidnapping and massacre of hundreds of migrants in San Fernando massacres of 2010-11.
The new revelations, along with key U.S. documents on how violent drug cartels gained control of local police forces in parts of Mexico during the last decade, are the subject of “San Fernando-Ayotzinapa: las similitudes” (“San Fernando-Ayotzinapa: the similarities”), an article published online today in Mexico’s Proceso magazine in collaboration with Michael Evans and Jesse Franzblau of the National Security Archive.
According to declarations from members of the Los Zetas drug cartel named in the newly-declassified “Tarjeta Informativa” (“informative note” or “information memo”), the police acted as “lookouts” [“halconeo”] for the group, helped with “the interception of persons,” and otherwise turned a blind eye to the Zetas’ illegal activities.
Those crimes included the summary execution of 72 migrants pulled from intercity buses in San Fernando in August 2010 and an untold number of similar killings that culminated in the discovery, in April 2011, of hundreds more bodies in mass graves in the same part of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The victims were mainly Central American migrants making their way to Texas, which borders Tamaulipas to the north. The state’s highways are at once primary avenues for migrants and highly-contested narcotrafficking corridors.
One of the police detainees cited in the memo, Álvaro Alba Terrazas, told investigators that San Fernando police and transit officials were paid to deliver prisoners to the Zetas:
I know that police and transit officials in San Fernando help the Zetas organization, because rather than take detainees to the Pentágano, which is to say the municipal jail, they would deliver them to the Zetas. The truest one [“mero bueno”] is an elderly police officer and another named Óscar Jaramillo, who receive money from the organization to collaborate.
If the facts surrounding the San Fernando case seem eerily familiar, it is because they follow pattern seen over and over again in recent years. Like the Ayotzinapa case, the San Fernando massacres are symptomatic of the dirty war of corruption and narcopolitics that has consumed parts of Mexico over the last decade. Killings like these are disturbingly common, and the forces behind the mayhem—usually drug cartels counting on the collaboration of, at a minimum, local police—are remarkably consistent.
This relatively limited release of new information from the PGR also leaves many questions unanswered. What happened to the police officials detained in connection to the San Fernando massacres? Where are they now? Why didn’t the prosecutor’s office locate and release any more responsive documents? And how to explain the fact that two of the people listed as among the 17 detained police officials, Álvaro Alba Terrazas and Oscar Jaramillo Sosa, were subsequently listed in media reports as members of the Zetas?
Human Rights vs. Investigative Files
Nevertheless, the release of even one document from the San Fernando case file marks a huge step forward for transparency on human rights violations in Mexico, and on this massacre case in particular. The prosecutor has long refused to release any information from the file, claiming protection under an exemption in Mexico’s transparency law that permits agencies to withhold information pertaining to an ongoing investigation.
But these protections are overridden by another provision in the law requiring the release of information on grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law and barring agencies from invoking any of the exemptions to deny information in such cases. This is the central issue in a pair of access to information cases that will soon come before Mexico’s Supreme Court.
The Foundation for Justice, which represents some of the victims in the case, and the Mexico City office of Article 19, which defends freedom of expression, are asking the prosecutor to produce a “releasable copy” of the investigative files relating to the San Fernando cases, arguing that the events at issue—by virtue of their scale and the likely involvement of state officials—clearly constitute human rights crimes. The problem is that, until recently, no Mexican federal agency had declared the massacres to be violations of human rights.
But earlier this year, and in response to an information request from the National Security Archive, the National Migration Institute (INM) made its first declassification on the case. Now, in releasing this document to the Archive, the prosecutor seems to have accepted the argument—now also ratified by Mexico’s panel of federal information commissioners (IFAI)—that it is obliged to release human rights information, even when those records form part of an ongoing investigation.
Still, the declassification by PGR in this case leaves much to be desired. The agency even withheld the case file number (“A.P. [Redacted]”) despite the fact that the information commissioners ordered INM to release the case number from the 2010 San Fernando massacre earlier this year.
Declassified U.S. documents, including a number of cables from the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey (along with a few diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks), provide an intriguing look at how the Zetas established control over the police and other officials in the state of Nuevo Leon (which borders Tamaulipas to the east) and how corrupt police officers were often the main targets of the rival cartels. Indeed, the available documentation leaves little doubt that municipal police in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Ciudad Juárez and elsewhere were in many cases little more than cartel enforcers, caught up in—and often the main casualties of—the inter-cartel violence that plagues northern Mexico. Some of these documents were published in “Mexico’s San Fernando Massacres: A Declassified History,” the source files behind a previous Archive collaboration with Proceso and journalist Marcela Turati.
Highlights from the documents listed below include:
- In April 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office in Little Rock, Arkansas, requested that the Bureau open a “control file” to “administratively capture information about the Los Zetas organization.” [DOCUMENT 01] A subsequent FBI report said the Zetas had “established control over Nuevo Laredo, Mexico” and “effectively controlled the city’s police force.” [DOCUMENT 02]
- The staff at the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey had front-row seats as the Zetas went on to consolidate control over other parts of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León. By 2010, Monterrey was “Zeta territory,” according to a Consulate cable from February. The city was a “safe-haven, source of revenue (mainly from extortion), and supply center for the Zetas.” The Consulate said it had “long connected former Nuevo Leon Director General of State Investigation Hector Santos (now serving in the same post in Coahuila) with the Zetas, and many other local and state police and government officials have ties to organized crime.” [DOCUMENT 12]
- A separate report from the U.S. Consulate described a chaotic atmosphere in Monterrey, with Zeta-controlled police forces under attack by the rival Gulf Cartel trying to force them to “switch sides” in the inter-cartel conflict. The Consulate’s Emergency Action Committee said, “It is now clear that the ongoing war between the Gulf and Zeta drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) has reached Monterrey.” [DOCUMENT 13]
- In March 2010, the Consulate noted that the governor of Nuevo Leon had suspended 81 police officials after admitting “that the Zeta drug trafficking organization (DTO) had co-opted some state and police officials” in setting up roadblocks around the city. [DOCUMENT 14]
- In April 2010, the U.S. Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section said that Mexican authorities had failed to manage the widening conflict, highlighting how “[Drug Trafficking Organizations] have operated fairly openly and with freedom of movement and operations…In many cases they operated with near total impunity in the face of compromised local security forces.” [DOCUMENT 16]
- An April 2010 cable from Monterrey noted an alarming increase in narcotics-related killings in Nuevo León, reporting that drug trafficking groups “have targeted military, state, and municipal police by killing corrupt officers affiliated with the opposing cartel, or as retaliation for military operations against them.” [DOCUMENT 17]
- In May, just five months before alleged Zetas members executed 72 migrants pulled from an intercity bus line, the Monterrey Consulate issued a prescient warning about the dangers of highway travel in northeastern Mexico, noting that, “Intense fighting between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas has made travel chancy on roads north from Monterrey to the U.S. border.” Of particular concern to the Consulate were the high levels of official corruption in Monterrey, where “165 out of approximately 1,000 state police have been dismissed in recent months due to ties to [drug trafficking organizations].” The problems facing Monterrey were “typical of those faced by…neighboring municipalities,” according to the Consulate, which cited several other instances where police officials from Monterrey and other towns participated or assisted in kidnappings and killings perpetrated by organized crime. [DOCUMENT 18]
- Three months after the August 2010 San Fernando massacre of 72 migrants, FBI authorities in Mexico report information connecting police officials in Saltillo, Coahuila, to the Zetas and to “drug trafficking and homicides.” A list of officers who “provided support and information to Los Zetas” is redacted from the document. [DOCUMENT 26]
- Summing up information taken from official sources, the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reports that a total of 36 grave site containing 145 bodies had been discovered in the San Fernando area and that 17 Zetas and 16 members of the San Fernando police have been arrested in connection with the deaths. The police officials are being charged with “protecting the Los Zetas TCO members responsible for the kidnapping and murder of bus passengers in the San Fernando area.” [DOCUMENT 33]
- Off the record, Mexican officials tell Matamoros consular staff that “the bodies are being split up to make the total number less obvious and thus less alarming.” Consulate officers also comment that, “Tamaulipas officials appear to be trying to downplay both the San Fernando discoveries and the state responsibility for them, even though a recent trip to Ciudad Victoria revealed state officials fully cognizant of the hazards of highway travel in this area.” [DOCUMENT 33]
- A June 2011 Embassy report notes the sacking of seven top INM officials “amid allegations that some agents had been involved in the kidnapping of migrants.” It adds that “Immigrants from Central America (namely from El Salvador and Guatemala) accused the immigration agents of pulling them off buses and handing them over to drug gangs in the state of Tamaulipas.” [DOCUMENT 37]
- In a message transmitted through the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, the DEA reports in October 2011 on the arrest of a “Zeta plaza boss” who was formerly a police officer in two different municipalities of Nuevo León. [DOCUMENT 39]
April 22, 2005
Los Zetas; ITAR – Violent Gangs
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, memorandum, classification unknown, 2 pp.
An FBI official in Little Rock, Arkansas, requests that the bureau open a “control file” to “administratively capture information about the Los Zetas organization.” The memo notes that, “The original Zetas are former members-turned-deserters of Mexico’s elite Airmobile Special Forces Group (GAFE), trained in the U.S. at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA. The Zetas’ organizational structure includes counterintelligence, intelligence and tactical enforcement units.”
The memo cites allegations “that members of Los Zetas are responsible for numerous murders along the Nuevo Leon-Tamaulipas/U.S. border over the last two years” and “numerous other crimes the Zetas are likely involved in, to include money laundering, racketeering and public corruption.”
July 15, 2005
Los Zetas: An Emerging Threat to the United States
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Assessment, Unclassified/For Official Use Only, 15 pp.
As far back as 2005, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had reliable information indicating that the Los Zetas group was “undermining Mexican law enforcement officers in Nuevo Laredo,” which the FBI said was “the primary location of recent drug-related violence.” In the face of extensive corruption among local officials, the FBI intelligence assessment, dated July 15, 2005, expressed doubt that the Mexican government would be able to restore order:
In June 2005, the Government of Mexico sent federal forces to Nuevo Laredo to restore order to the city. As Los Zetas has corrupted many Mexican public officials in the Nuevo Laredo area, the government will likely achieve limited success at controlling their activities.
“Los Zetas has established control over Nuevo Laredo,” according to the FBI, and “effectively controlled the city’s police force.”
The FBI also explores the origins of Los Zetas in 2002 as part of an effort by the Gulf Cartel to establish control over the state of Tamaulipas: “The Gulf Cartel’s leader… hired a small group of Mexican military deserters as assassins and security specialists. Known as Los Zetas, they quickly developed into well-trained, brutal cartel enforcers.”
Los Zetas emerged from the Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE), a Mexican army unit created in the mid 1990s to combat drug trafficking organizations along the US/Mexico border. The GAFE received special training in tactics and weapons. The US military provided some of this instruction at Fort Benning, Georgia. These elite counter-drug troops learned to use sophisticated intelligence-gathering equipment, advanced weaponry, and specialized tactics to combat drug traffickers. They fought to limit the escalating warfare among traffickers in Tamaulipas after the 1996 arrest of Juan Garcia Abrego, the Gulf Cartel’s leader at the time. An unknown number of GAFE soldiers under the command of Arturo Guzman Decena deserted and joined the Gulf Cartel in early 2002. Reports differ on exact figures but range from 31 to 67 deserters. They dubbed themselves Los Zetas after Decena’s GAFE radio call signal, “Zeta 1.” Subsequently in a March 2002 shootout, group members helped a [excised]elude capture by Mexican authorities. In May 2002, Los Zetas delivered control of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico to [deleted]by murdering his primary rivals Dionicio Roman Garcia Sanchez and Juvenal Torres Sanchez.
November 7, 2005
Los Zetas Using Kaibiles to Train New Members
Extract from DIA [redacted]Intelligence Summary-EH for 04 November
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Summary, Top Secret, 5 pp.
A U.S. military intelligence report says evidence the Zetas criminal organization is using former member of the Guatemalan special forces (Kaibiles) to train recruits “suggests the Zeta leadership no longer has the internal capability to train its new recruits or is trying to expand its operational capability.”
As of June 2005, the Zetas were continuing efforts to recruit new members with military or law enforcement experience and especially sought to attract former or current Mexican special forces troops. The Mexican military’s anticorruption efforts apparently have stymied these efforts. However, Guatemalan military downsizing from 1996 through 2004 created a pool of special forces-trained candidates for the Zetas to draw on to train new Zeta members or offset personnel shortfalls.
January 15, 2009
Arrest of [Deleted] a Former Member of the Mexican Military Special Forces (GAFE) and Original Zeta Operative, in Mexico City, Mexico, on January 9, 2009.
U.S. Embassy Mexico City, cable, Unclassified EFTO Sensitive, 3 pp.
An Embassy message apparently based on Drug Enforcement Administration sources reports that a “former member of the Mexican military special forces (GAFE) and original Zeta operative” whose name was redacted from the document had been arrested by theSubprocuraduría Especializada en Investigación de Delincuencia Organizada (SIEDO or SEIDO) in Mexico City on January 7.
March 12, 2009
Arrest of Zeta Operative [Deleted] a former member of the Mexican Military Special Forces (GAFE), in Queretaro, Queretaro, Mexico, on March 4, 2009
U.S. Embassy Mexico City, cable, Unclassified EFTO Sensitive, 3 pp.
Another Embassy message based on DEA information reports the arrest of another former GAFE member said to be “in control of” Zetas drug trafficking operations in Cancún. The unnamed individual was taken down in a “joint operation by the Mexican military and the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI).
April 15, 2009
Human Rights in Nuevo Leon: Police Impunity but Few Complaints Regarding the Military
U.S. Consulate Monterrey, cable, Unclassified/Sensitive, 5 pp.
The U.S. Consulate reports that, “The militarization of the drug war in northern Mexico has not resulted in a significant increase in alleged human rights violations against the Mexican military in Nuevo Leon.” “Numerous human rights violations do occur,” according to the Consulate, “but the alleged culprits usually are state and local police forces.”
The low number of complaints reported by the CEDH of Mexican military abuses is consistent with conversations that [U.S. Embassy political officiers] have had with public official [sic]and various NGO’s. In the two years the Mexican military has had a presence its favorable ratings have remained consistently high. Even though state and local officials often talk of cleaning up their police forces, corruption and police abuses remain and the military is still the most effective means of combating crime.
June 26, 2009
Narco-violence Spikes Again
U.S. Embassy Mexico, cable, Confidential/Sensitive
The “organized crime related death toll” in Mexico is climbing at alarming rates, according to this cable from the U.S. Embassy. “Despite the on-going strong military presence in Ciudad Juarez (CJ), Chihuahua continued to register the largest number of homicides (1093 [so far in 2009]).
[U.S. Embassy] law enforcement agencies believe the spike in violence may be partially explained by a series of blows the military and police delivered to the cartels, capturing a considerable number of local bosses in key positions, as well as identifying and arresting officials who had been colluding with drug traffickers.
“Law enforcement contacts” say the rise in violence may be the result of “score-settling” among rival gangs. Another theory says that, “as cartel members go ‘down-market’ and engage in relatively more petty criminal activities, they are increasingly butting up against rival drug trafficking organizations, as well as other criminal groups.”
The cable lists a number of government officials recently connected to criminal groups, including military and police officers in Jalisco, top officials in Quintana Roo, “two former top security officials in the state of Morelos,” and several current and former top police officials in Tapachula.
Separately, the cable highlights the recent arrests of three officers from the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Investigations Unit (SIEDO) and ten members of the Mexican military for links to organized crime. The Embassy says the arrests “suggest that there [sic] cartel infiltration of federal security forces remains an ongoing problem.”
c. July 2009
Assessment of “Los Zetas” Evolution and Expansion (2001-2009)
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), cable, sensitive, 9 pp.
The DEA distributes an assessment of the evolution and expansion of Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel from their inception around the year 2000 to the time of the report, in 2009. In addition to the DEA stations in the U.S. and Mexico, the assessment was also sent to the U.S. embassies in Mexico City, Guatemala City, as well as to officials at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and the National Security Agency (NSA).
Based on internal discussions and intelligence briefings, the assessment highlights important details about the composition of, and growing threat posed by, the Zetas, and provides details on the group’s links to the Guatemalan Kaibiles, elite special operations forces tied to massacres carried out during Guatemala’s civil war. According to the assessment, in 2005 an arrested Zeta member said his organization had recruited “former Guatemalan Kaibiles to work with the Zetas, and that the Kaibiles were procuring firearms and grenades from Guatemala on behalf of the Gulf Cartel.”
The document warns, “The Zetas are no longer solely operating as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel. The strength of the Zeta force is their ability to corrupt, kill, and intimidate and these factors have given the Zetas the power to conduct activities throughout Mexico, and they have established a methodology to move into new territory and assert control over that geography. Zeta activities have evolved from drug trafficking to traditional organized crime as well…While still closely allied with the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas have evolved into a separate drug trafficking organization that is independently transporting cocaine from Colombia to Mexico.”
November 24, 2009
Arrest of Former Police Chiefs of Monterrey, Guadalupe and Monrelos [sic], Nuevo Leon and Ten Other Officers on 11-19-2009
U.S. Embassy Mexico City, cable, Unclassified EFTO//Noforn Sensitive, 5 pp.
In a message transmitted through the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, in-country DEA officer reports the arrests of 13 current and former law enforcement officials in the state of Nuevo León, then considered a Zetas safe-haven. Among those arrested on allegations of “providing protection and assistance to the [deleted]drug trafficking organization” are the former police chiefs of Monterrey, Guadalupe and Montemorelos.
January 29, 2010
Scenesetter for the Opening of the Defense Bilateral Working Group, Washington, D.C., February 1
U.S. Embassy Mexico, cable, Secret
Calderon has aggressively attacked Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations but has struggled with an unwieldy and uncoordinated interagency and spiraling rates of violence that have made him vulnerable to criticism that his anti-crime strategy has failed. Indeed, the GOM’s inability to halt the escalating numbers of narco-related homicides in places like Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere – the nationwide total topped 7,700 in 2009 – has become one of Calderon’s principal political liabilities as the general public has grown more concerned about citizen security.
Mexican security institutions are often locked in a zero-sum competition in which one agency’s success is viewed as another’s failure, information is closely guarded, and joint operations are all but unheard of. Official corruption is widespread, leading to a compartmentalized siege mentality among “clean” law enforcement leaders and their lieutenants. Prosecution rates for organized crime-related offenses are dismal; two percent of those detained are brought to trail [sic]. Only 2 percent of those arrested in Ciudad Juarez have even been charged with a crime.The failure to reduce violence has focused attention on the military’s perceived failures and led to a major course change in January to switch the overall command in Ciudad Juarez from the military to the federal police. The military was not trained to patrol the streets or carry out law enforcement operations. It does not have the authority to collect and introduce evidence into the judicial system. The result: arrests skyrocketed, prosecutions remained flat, and both the military and public have become increasingly frustrated. The command change in Juarez has been seen by political classes and the public as a Presidential repudiation of SEDENA. When SEDENA joins you at the DBWG, it will be an agency smarting from the very public statement of a lack of confidence in its performance record in Juarez.…Currently, the military is the lightening [sic]rod for criticism of the Calderon Administration’s security policies. We are having some success in influencing the GOM to transition the military to secondary support functions in Juarez. Still, the GOM’s capacity to replicate the Juarez model is limited. They simply lack the necessary numbers of trained federal police to deploy them in such numbers in more than a few cities. There are changes in the way that the military can interact with vetted municipal police, as we have seen in Tijuana, that produce better results. But in the near term, there is no escaping that the military will play a role in public security.
c. February 2010
Los Zetas Fact Sheet
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Huston Field Division, report, classification unknown, 2 pp.
The DEA’s Houston Field Division provides a fact sheet on the Zetas, again highlighting their growth and independence as a “highly sophisticated organized crime syndicate.” The fact sheet notes that “They include Mexican military deserters, former police officers and family members of Zetas as well as Kaibiles (former Guatemalan Army Special Forces Soldiers).” Once the Zetas become entrenched in an area, they engage in organized crime that includes “…extortion, kidnapping, murder-for-hire, money laundering, human-smuggling” among other criminal activities.
February 26, 2010
Border Violence Spreads to Nuevo Leon
U.S. Consulate Monterrey, cable, Confidential
Zeta influence here is longstanding and widespread throughout local and state government. Gang members hung the recently discovered narcobanners in a least one area, near the Palacio del Gobierno, under state police observation. RSO [U.S. State Department Regional Security Officer] sources indicated that state police officers’ calls for backup went unheeded. Post has long connected former Nuevo Leon Director General of State Investigation Hector Santos (now serving in the same post in Coahuila) with the Zetas, and many other local and state police and government officials have ties to organized crime.
February 28, 2010
Grenade Attacks Against Monterrey Police; Feb. 26 and 28th EACs
U.S. Consulate Monterrey, cable, Unclassified/Sensitive
A series of grenade attacks by the Gulf Cartel against municipal police forces in Monterrey are interpreted by U.S. Consulate personnel as a message to police to cease supporting the rival Zetas criminal organization and “switch sides.”
Given the thorough penetration by the Zetas of the police forces in those municipalities that were hit, a much more likely explanation is that the attacks were a signal from the Gulf Cartel to the police to cease/desist their support of the Zetas and switch sides.
The Consulate’s Emergency Action Committee (EAC) also “discussed the probabilities of further Gulf Cartel retributions against Zeta controlled police departments in the Monterrey area.”
The attacks and the recent uptick in violence generally has the local population worried, with many canceling trips to the border. The Consulate notes that “several bus companies are cancelling runs to outlying cities in the state.”
Indeed, if high-value targets fleeing Tamaulipas take up residence in Monterrey and nearby Saltillo, Coahuila, violence here between the cartels and between the cartels and the military (both army and navy) will increase. During the previous week reliable witness reported carloads of gunmen, with automatic weapons hanging out the window, retreating to Monterrey along the highways linking the city to Reynosa. Indeed, DEA confirms a rolling confrontation between the military and retreating Zetas on February 27 in the Nuevo Leon municipalities of Zuazua and Pesqueria, both to the north and east of Monterrey.
RSO relayed Unclass reporting that the Los Zetas leader, Miguel Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano is believed to be hiding in Monterrey and was planning for counter-offensive strikes against the Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas. This information dovetailed with reporting from other sources and the members of post’s Law Enforcement Working Group elaborated that Saltillo, Coahuila would likely be considered a safehaven by the Zetas.
It is now clear that the ongoing war between the Gulf and Zeta drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) has reached Monterrey.
March 23, 2010
Nuevo Leon: Citizens Wonder Who’s Winning in the Fight Against Organized Crime
U.S. Consulate Monterrey, cable, Confidential, 5 pp.
With violence spinning out of control, the U.S. Consulate paints a grim picture of the security situation in and around Monterrey, describing a number of violent crimes committed in the recent days by cartels and state officials. In Santa Catarina, a routine arrest resulted in a mob attack on the police chief. One suspect in the attack who was detained and delivered to the military “was found dead (and bearing signs of torture) shortly thereafter” according to the consulate.
State officials also “admitted misidentifying as gangsters two students who were killed” during the gunfight at Monterrey Tec. The governor of Nuevo Leon suspended 81 police officials after admitting “that the Zeta drug trafficking organization (DTO) had co-opted some state and police officials” in setting up roadblocks around the city. The Mexican marines have been “aggressively targeting cartel figures, leading to shootouts during military attempts to arrest high-ranking cartel members and during chance encounters with cartel motorcades.” Violence has now reached “beyond Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon” to include Ciudad Valles in the state of San Luis Potosi. The consulate adds that, “The struggle between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas has clearly shifted from the border to the outlying towns in Nuevo Leon state.”
March 25, 2010
Continuing Violence in Northern Mexico Between Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, Possible Gang Threat Against U.S. Law Enfocement in El Paso, Texas
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, cable, unclassified, 6 pp.
Based on information provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) document reports on the worsening security situation in Mexico’s northern states, where fighting between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas has led to escalating violence in the region. The document cites “corroborated and reliable information” on the widespread use of roadblocks along highways in the region.
The document goes on to describe fierce gun battles between the rival gangs, which in one case left the bodies of “approximately 20 to 25 Gulf Cartel members…scattered in Jiménez [Tamaulipas].” “The Gulf Cartel has been attacking small plazas in Tamaulipas,” according to the CBP report, adding that “[t]he attacks occur simply because the area belongs to the Zetas.” The DHS ominously predicts that “a retaliatory strike by Los Zetas is likely inevitable.”
One section of the document emphasizes the intensity of the violence, relating a gripping tale of a 21-year-old U.S. citizen who arrived at the Paso Del Norte border crossing “shot twice in the chest” with “his left leg amputated as a result of a grenade explosion.” CBP officials on the case received conflicting reports about the cause of his injuries, with one version indicating the grenade was tossed into his vehicle, while another claimed it had accidentally exploded as he “was attempting to toss a grenade into another vehicle.”
This report comes amid Operation Knock Down, in which U.S. authorities at the federal, state and local levels targeted Barrio Azteca gang members in El Paso, Texas.
April 16, 2010
Narcotics Affairs Section Mexico Monthly Report for March 2010
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, cable, unclassified, 11 pp.
The U.S. Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section provides a monthly summary of internal developments in Mexico, reporting that “March ended as one of the bloodiest months on record, with an estimated 900 killings nationwide.” The cable highlights that Mexican government officials did not anticipate the sharp increase in violence in the northeast that occurred as the Zetas took control the lucrative plazas in the region. U.S. officials report the violence has “cut a swath across north-east Mexico, including key towns in Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon, and even in neighboring Durango.” The document highlights the failure of the Mexican authorities to manage the growing threat, highlighting how “DTO’s [Drug Trafficking Organizations] have operated fairly openly and with freedom of movement and operations…In many cases they operated with near total impunity in the face of compromised local security forces.”
The focus on violence in Ciudad Juárez, especially in the wake of the killing of a U.S. Consulate employee and her husband, has also produced changes in U.S. deportation policies. While ICE reports that some 6,000 convicts were deported to Juárez in 2009, in the future such deportations will take place at point further east, including Del Río, Laredo and Eagle Pass.
As part of U.S. support provided through the M érida Initiative, the document also reports on U.S. efforts to implement an initiative to train regional police under the Culture of Lawfulness education initiative, involving officials from the now-defunct Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) in Baja California, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas.
April 28, 2010
Alarming Increase in Drug Cartel Violence in Monterrey Metro Area
U.S. Consulate Monterrey, cable, Unclassified/Sensitive, 6 pp.
This cable notes an alarming increase of narcotics-related killings in Nuevo Le ón, reporting that drug trafficking groups “have targeted military, state, and municipal police by killing corrupt officers affiliated with the opposing cartel, or as retaliation for military operations against them.” The Consulate describes “[f]ierce gun battles…on the highway to Reynosa” as well as “roadblocks in the city” set up by the drug cartels, who travel “relatively unimpeded” in and around Monterrey. “Beset by corruption and a paucity of resources, the state government is unable to deal with the situation and is relying on the military to stabilize the situation,” according to the cable.
May 21, 2010
Civilian Law Enforcement Outmatched by the Cartels; the Public Frustrated in the Search for Solutions
U.S. Consulate Monterrey, cable, Confidential, 7 pp.
Listed among a long inventory of recent violence in Monterrey —attributed mainly to conflict between the warring Gulf Cartel and the Zetas criminal group—is the following warning about c
Roads North Continue to Be Dangerous
Intense fighting between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas has made travel chancy on roads north from Monterrey to the U.S. border. On April 30, gunmen killed an employee of the Nuevo Leon state Committee for Livestock Protection as he drove his mobile office towards the Colombia border crossing. (Comment: Over the past month, Post has received reports of numerous Cartel hijackings and hijack attempts, including the recent carjacking and robber of [deleted]on the road to Reynosa. End comment.)
Of particular concern is the high levels of official corruption being reported in Monterrey, where “165 out of approximately 1,000 state police have been dismissed in recent months due to ties to [drug trafficking organizations].” The problems facing Monterrey are “typical of those faced by…neighboring municipalities,” according to the Consulate, which cites other instances where police officials from Monterrey and other towns participated or assisted in kidnappings and killings perpetrated by organized crime. “Both industry and the public, aware that the public security apparatus has been compromised, are reaching for…solutions,” according to the Consulate report.
May 28, 2010
FW: SEARS NBR 6152 for North & Central America case [redacted]
Drug Enforcement Administration, cable, classification unknown, 4 pp.
This heavily-redacted DEA cable reports on significant criminal activities taking place in Mexico, including arrests, seized vehicles, and seized weapons. It includes details on an incident that took place just three months before the 2010 San Fernando massacre involving the arrest of four members of the Zetas in Tamaulipas and the subsequent seizure of eight assault rifles and two vehicles on May 19, 2010. A shootout between security forces led to the deaths of four Zetas and capture of four others. While the names of the Zetas are withheld from the document, it notes that “it was determined that some of them were members of the Zetas and the subjects from Guatemala were members of the Fuerzas Especiales de Guatemala (Kaibiles).”
c. July 2010
GFM7-10-9448; Southwest Border Intelligence Collection Plan
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, cable, classification unknown, 8 pp.
This report catalogs “significant events of violence” in and around Ciudad Juárez from November 2009 through July 2010.
Cartel operations against Mexican law enforcement officials have been a major component of the CDJ Plaza battle since its beginning. The primary reason is the heavy reliance Mexican cartels have in the use of corrupt officials.
Calderon’s anti-crime strategy had “unintended consequences”: “For example, the removal of DTO leadership has allowed less experienced and undisciplined personnel to fill the leadership vacuum, contributing to the spike of drug-related murders.”
c. August 2010
State of Cartels
U.S. State Department, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, memorandum, Secret/NOFORN/ORCON, 3 pp.
The State Department’s intelligence arm considers President Calder ón’s anti-crime strategy, noting his decision to deploy military and federal police forces “to states where weak and often corrupt state and local police units were unable or unwilling to combat powerful cartels.” Calderón’s “crackdown” has put pressure on the cartels but has also “resulted in some unintended consequences… For example, the removal of DTO leadership has allowed less experienced and undisciplined personnel to fill the leadership vacuum, contributing to the spike of drug-related murders.”
August 26, 2010
Zetas massacre 72 migrants in Tamaulipas
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, unclassified, 3 pp.
The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros sent this report four days after the San Fernando massacre of August 22, 2010, providing the first in the series of declassified cables on the incident. The Embassy describes how on August 22 approximately 75 migrants “were stopped by an unknown number of organized crime figures and transported under guard to San Fernando.” According to a U.S. consulate source, the hijack point was north of a fixed military highway checkpoint, which the migrants avoided by using small rural roads.
An Ecuadorian male who survived the massacre described how before the killings some of the victims were offered an opportunity to work for the Zetas as assassins ( “sicarios”). After all but one member of the group turned down the offer to work for the Zetas, the survivor stated that 54 men and 15 women were subsequently executed. Mexican Navy officials found the bodies two days after the massacre in an abandoned barn/warehouse. Two days later, on August 26, Mexican authorities reported that the director of the municipal police in San Fernando was found dead with other unidentified bodies, one of which was believed to be the state prosecutor.
The document concludes with the assessment of the consular official, noting that, “If the survivor’s account of the murders is accurate, then this represents a new level of violence form the Zetas. It remains unclear how these deaths benefit the Zetas…One theory proposed by [name redacted]is that as the profits from the migrants proposed illegal entry in to the U.S. were destined for the Gulf Cartel, their murders were a way for the Zetas to financially hurt the Gulf Cartel’s interests.”
August 27, 2010
Timeline of violent events occurring in Matamoros consular district August 22-27, 2010
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, unclassified, 2 pp.
The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros provides further details of the timeline of events beginning with the San Fernando killings through to August 27. The events include a shootout between Mexican military officials and cartel members on August 24, grenade attacks the same day, car bombs on August 27, and discovery of decapitated bodies believed to be the state prosecutor and director of municipal police in San Fernando, both of whom disappeared on August 25.
September 3, 2010
Timeline of major violent events occurring in Matamoros consular district August 29 through September 3, 2010
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, sensitive, 2 pp.
U.S. Consulate officials provide a roundup on continuing violence in Matamoros in the wake of the San Fernando massacre. The incidents include a grenade attack against a Mexican Naval hospital where one of the survivors of San Fernando was recovering. Additionally, on September 2, a second survivor of the massacre located federal authorities in Matamoros, was taken in, and reportedly moved to Mexico City for debriefing. The same day officials from Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and open sources reported on military clashes with Zetas in Tamaulipas, near Nuevo Leon. Thirty-two cartel members were reported killed along with two military officials.
September 10, 2010
Timeline of major violent events occurring in Matamoros consular district September 4 through 10, 2010
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, sensitive, 2 pp.
Open sources report that the head of public safety in Tamaulipas resigned because of escalating violence in the state and after confirmation that bodies recently discovered were that of San Fernando’s director of the municipal police and state prosecutor. U.S. contacts in the Attorney General’s office also tell consulate officials that nine cartel members in the San Fernando area were arrested but would not confirm if the individuals were connected with the August 22 killing of 72 migrants.
November 19, 2010
Administrative Revision – Provision of Support to Los Zetas by Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, Municipal Police Officers and Polic [sic] U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Information Report, Secret/Noforn, 3 pp.
FBI authorities in Mexico report information connecting police officials in Saltillo, Coahuila, to the Zetas and to “drug trafficking and homicides.” A list of officers who “provided support and information to Los Zetas” is redacted from the document.
December 16, 2010
Mass Murder, Extortion, and Abuse Conducted by Los Zetas Against Migrant who Traveled via Los Zeta and MS-13 Controlled Train Smuggling Routes from Central America to Mexico, as of October 2010
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Information Report, Secret, 7 pp.
Nearly every word has been redacted from this seven-page report on abuses perpetrated by Los Zetas against migrants along train routes in Mexico.
January 31, 2011
A Perilous Road through Mexico for Migrants
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, cable, sensitive, 6 pp.
The cable highlights the ineffectiveness of Mexico’s National Migration Agency (INM) in allowing migrants to bypass checkpoints, due to “a combination of understaffing, inability, and corruption.” It also brings attention to how the situation for migrants has worsened “due to pervasive TCO [transnational criminal organizations]control of routes and crossings,” where “TCO’s act alternatively as paid facilitators, extortionists, kidnappers and traffickers.” Moreover, according to the cable, “anecdotal evidence suggests that migrant authorities and local police often turn a blind eye or collude in these activities.”
The Embassy comment stresses that a permanent solution to addressing the treatment of migrants transiting through Mexico will require strengthening in the rule of law and increased professionalization of law enforcement agencies. The document notes that these types of programs are underway and are partially financed by the U.S. under the M érida Initiative.
February 15, 2011
February 14: A Day of Violence in Tamaulipas
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, sensitive, 2 pp.
The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reports on the most violent day in the district since the San Fernando massacre of August 2010. Twenty-six people were killed in the cities of Nuevo Padilla, San Fernando, and Ciudad Victoria in attacks linked to translational criminal organizations (TCO). Bodies were discovered in San Fernando, and assailants killed a police officer in Ciudad Victoria. U.S. officials comment that Mexican military forces are heavily involved in fighting the Zetas in the town of San Fernando.
April 6, 2011
Two Mass Graves Containing 48 Bodies Discovered in the San Fernando Area
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, sensitive, 2 pp.
The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros continues to report on the discovery of bodies in the area. On April 2 and again on April 6, mass graves containing 48 bodies, two reportedly wearing police uniforms, were discovered in the community of La Joya near San Fernando. SEDENA, the Mexican defense ministry, is in charge of recovering the bodies, and the Attorney General’s office is investigating the matter. The U.S. Consulate comments that the bodies were likely either members of transnational criminal organizations, victims of kidnappings by criminal organizations, or victims of highway violence.
April 6, 2011
Juarez Police Accused of Involvement in Disappearance of Four Men
U.S. Consulate Ciudad Juárez, cable, Unclassified/Sensitive, 2 pp.
The Consulate reports that the Secretary of Public Security for Ciudad Ju árez, retired Lt. Col. Julian Leyzaola Pérez, is “facing a controversy involving human rights” in the disappearance of four men, who were allegedly abducted by Leyzaola’s police body guards. Leyzaoloa, the Consulate says, has “a reputation for condoning torture while he was police chief in Tiuana.” While there is “little evidence of his direct involvement,” the situation is “complicated by the commonly acknowledged corruption within the municipal police forces and the many interests that may not wish to see Leyzaola succeed in either cleaning up the police department or in taking on organized crime.”
April 8, 2011
More Mass Graves Found in Tamaulipas: Body total Now 81
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, sensitive, 3 pp.
Kidnappings continue in the state of Tamaulipas on a large-scale, with clashes occurring between Mexican military officials and criminal organizations, and new discoveries of mass graves of victims. More mass graves have been discovered in San Fernando, bringing the body count to 81, across 17 different burial sites. “Federal officials believe that the majority of the bodies belong to people kidnapped from public buses in the San Fernando area by Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) members in recent weeks.” The victims were kidnapped on buses heading north to the border from San Luis Potosi, destined for Reynosa, as well as buses coming from Michoacán, and Guanajuato. SEDENA has deployed its Special Operations Investigation unit in San Fernando to investigate.
SEDENA has also reportedly deployed forces, rescued kidnapped victims, discovered grave sites in the region, and detained presumed TCO members. The document notes that “According to federal officials, the vast majority of the remains appear to have been beaten to death. A small number had bullet wounds. Officials sources say they believe that many individuals taken from buses have not been reported and authorities are continuing to search the area for their remains.” As for the 14 presumed TCO members, they were reportedly brought to Mexico City, and placed in custody of the Office of Special Investigations of Organized Crime (SIEDO) of the Attorney General.
The U.S. Consulate official comments that federal officials believe the Zetas are responsible for the killings, and that the majority of the kidnapping victims discovered were migrants heading to the U.S. “who were intercepted en route and unable to pay what was demanded of them.”
April 15, 2011
Tamaulipas’ Mass Graves: Body Count Reaches 145
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, unclassified, 4 pp.
Summing up information taken from official sources, the U.S. Consulate reports that a total of 36 grave site containing 145 bodies were discovered in the San Fernando area during a SEDENA operation that took place April 1-14, 2011. Seventeen Zetas and 16 members of the San Fernando police have been arrested in connection with the deaths. The police officials are being charged with “protecting the Los Zetas TCO members responsible for the kidnapping and murder of bus passengers in the San Fernando area.”
Off the record, Mexican officials tell Consulate officials that “the bodies are being split up to make the total number less obvious and thus less alarming.” Consulate officers also comment that, “Tamaulipas officials appear to be trying to downplay both the San Fernando discoveries and the state responsibility for them, even though a recent trip to Ciudad Victoria revealed state officials fully cognizant of the hazards of highway travel in this area.”
April 29, 2011
Holy Week Vacations Marred by Violence; San Fernando Body Count Reaches 196
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, sensitive, 4 pp.
The U.S. Consulate reports that Mexican government authorities are covering up information to hide the total number of bodies that have been discovered in mass graves Tamaulipas. “Though not publicized by authorities,” the cable reads, “the number of bodies found in mass graves in the San Fernando area since April 1 has reached 196 and is expected to rise as Mexican Army (SEDENA) and Marine (SEMAR) forces continue to search the area.” Official sources indicate that SEDENA and SEMAR continue to search for new bodies, and the military continues to respond to ongoing gun battles between rival cartels.
Despite providing private statements about the insecurity of the region, Mexican government officials have been downplaying the violence, particularly in the lead up to Holy Week, so as to not deter tourism in the area. The cable reads, “Despite stating privately in January that security in general, and highway violence in particular, is their top concern…government officials have avoided publicly drawing attention to the level of violence in Tamaulipas.”
There is now a heavy military presence on the highways around San Fernando which has temporarily deterred TCO [transnational criminal organization]activity in that area. [The Embassy] sees no evidence, however, that the military presence has substantially limited TCO ability to operate in Tamaulipas[. W]hen the federal troops leave there is little doubt that the TCOs will return to fill the power void.
May 13, 2011
Mexican Army Seizes Weapons of Local Police in Tamaulipas
U.S. Consulate Matamoros, cable, unclassified, 3 pp.
U.S. Consulate officials report that SEDENA has disarmed municipal and transit police in all but one of the 43 Tamaulipas municipalities. The government has not made public comments on the seizure, but initial reports indicate the measure was carried out to determine if the weapons were used in crimes. The seizure comes in the wake of the arrest of 17 San Fernando police officers in connection with the discovery of 196 bodies in mass graves in that city. Sources tell the Consulate officials that the SEDENA forces seized a total of 460 weapons in Matamoros, leaving Matamoros’ 700 police officers without weapons.
May 16, 2011
Narcotics Affairs Section Mexico Monthly Report for April 2011
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, cable, unclassified, 11 pp.
The Embassy reports on internal developments in Mexico, including the discovery of 183 bodies in mass graves in the area of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, and the arrest of 17 of the 25 municipality police officers, including the municipality police chief, in connection with the discovery of the mass grave.
June 13, 2011
Narcotics Affairs Section Mexico Monthly Report for May 2011
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, cable, sensitive, 9 pp.
Among other things reported in this document is the firing of seven top INM officials “amid allegations that some agents had been involved in the kidnapping of migrants.” It adds that “Immigrants from Central America (namely from El Salvador and Guatemala) accused the immigration agents of pulling them off buses and handing them over to drug gangs in the state of Tamaulipas.”
October 7, 2011
Alien and Narcotics Smuggling Along the Southwest Border
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information Report, confidential, 4 pp.
This DIA intelligence report includes information based on a human source with “both direct and indirect access” to the information “during the course of official duties.” It reports that, “At least four Mexican police officers may have been accepting payment from drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). Although law enforcement officers being involved with DTOs [drug trafficking organizations]and alien smuggling organizations (ASOs) was not new information it was important to note so that it continued to be passed as current practice (sic).”
The document goes on to discuss the harsh treatment of migrants and widespread abuses carried out by human smugglers on migrant populations.
October 21, 2011
Operation All Inclusive 2011 (Ref [Deleted]) After Action Report – Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico
U.S. Consulate Monterrey, cable, Confidential//Noforn, 5 pp.
In a message transmitted through the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, the DEA reports the arrest of a “Zeta plaza boss” who was formerly a police officer in two different municipalities of Nuevo León.
February 3, 2012
Mexican Political Highlights January 28-February 3, 2012
U.S. Embassy Mexico City, cable, Unclassified, 5 pp.
The U.S. Embassy highlights the problem of corruption at the highest levels of the Tamaulipas state government, reporting that the Attorney General’s office (PGR) has been investigating three former Tamaulipas governors since early 2009 in connection to the arrest of Zeta founding member Miguel Angel Soto Parra. The governors include Manuel Cavazos Lerma (1993-1999), Tomás Yarrington (1999-2004) and Eugenio Hernández Flores (2005-2010). All three were pursuing Senate seats at the time of the investigations and, according to the assessment, “pundits speculate that PRI presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto will only give the nod to Cavazos.” It also comments that “PRI leaders say the investigation reflects a ‘dirty war’ against them, and that GOM [government of Mexico]is exploiting PGR for political purpose,” and notes how “Pena Nieto visited Tamaulipas on February 2 to launch his campaign in the state.”
The cable also reports on the trial of General Jesús Moreno Aviña, charged with human rights violation and corruption stemming from his actions as former head of thermy garrison in Ojinaga, Chihuahua. The charges include accepting bribes from narcotics traffickers, and authorizing extrajudicial killings, among others.
May 4, 2012
Fourteen Decapitated Bodies Discovered in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), report, Official Use Only/Law Enforcement Sensitive, 5 pp.
Shortly before the May 13 discovery of 49 dismembered torsos along the Monterrey-Reynosa highway in Nuevo León, the CBP report chronicles two months of horrific massacres in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, as rival drug cartels engage in an increasingly brutal series of killings—including beheadings, dismemberments, and other unspeakable acts of violence.
May 14, 2012
49 Mutilated Bodies Discovered in Nuevo Leon
U.S. Consulate Monterrey, cable, Unclassified/Sensitive, 2 pp.
Following the discovery on May 13, of 49 dismembered torsos along a highway in Nuevo León, the Consulate’s “law enforcement contacts” report that “the Zetas attacked a bus traveling from Reynosa to Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, on May 12 and killed all aboard” and that “the 49 victims may be the murdered passengers.”
Nuevo Leon authorities confirmed that the Zetas perpetrated the crime and asserted that the victims were Gulf Cartel members and may include immigrants. Most bodies, state officials claim, carry Santa Muerte cult tattoos, a possible indication of criminal involvement. Investigators are working to identify the bodies.
May 22, 2012
Sinaloa Cartel Offensive Posture Against Los Zetas and its Implications to Nuevo Laredo Plaza 21 May2012
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), report, secret, 11 pp.
The document discusses the continued clashes between the Zetas and the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels over Tamaulipas Plaza in Nuevo Laredo, “a highly contentious and lucrative corridor known for narcotic and alien trafficking.” It goes on to discuss a number of incidents involving the Zetas, and reports on the discovery in May 2012 of 49 mutilated bodies highlighting the “abhorrent brutality transpiring over the control of the coveted Tamaulipas Plaza.”
“These materials are reproduced from www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive.”
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