Torture, Death, Impunity: Stories from the front line of the Drug War
“Instead of reducing violence, Mexico’s ‘War on Drugs’ has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country." - José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Program Director
The case study below is the first in a series of special blogs which will be posted over the next month with our latest Count the Costs supporter, the Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, (Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights). These blogs, in line with the aims of the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which set off last Sunday across the US, are intended to put a human face to the thousands of lives lost in Mexico as a result of the US-led War on Drugs.
Case of Mr. Joaquín Figueroa; Xalapa, Veracruz
“An estimated 98% of crimes committed in Mexico are never solved or sanctioned.” - Nobel Women’s Initiative
On the 17th June 2011, Joaquin Figueroa Vasquez Tito Landa Arguelles and Raul Tecatl Cuevas, three mechanics from Xalpa in the state of Veracruz, Mexico went to work in the village of Chichicaxtle. They were seen leaving work as usual at around 18.00 being picked up in the company's white Mitsubishi pick-up truck.
After the men failed to return home, their relatives began to worry. After a few days the relatives were informed by personnel from the mechanics company where they worked that there had been an "accident", however they did not specify the nature of the incident; rather, the relatives were advised that they could go to the General Coordination of Expert Services (GCES) to find out more.
When they arrived at the GCES in Xalapa, they were shown photographs of lifeless bodies, from which they identified the three co-workers. In the photographs, the relatives saw traces of torture, including severe blows to the nose, mouth, and eyes. In addition, two bullet wounds to the head that entered through the back of the neck, which suggested they had received coups de grâce. The staff from the GCES also acknowledged that the corpses had multiple gunshot wounds all over their bodies, as could be observed in the photographs.
At the GCES, the relatives were told that the three bodies were part of a wider group of eleven who were involved in an armed struggle between gunmen and members of the police and army. The incident occurred during a federal operation against drug cartels carried out by the National Confederation of Governors (“CONAGO-1”), which had linked the men to organised crime.
However, relatives of Mr. Figueroa and Mr. Landa have since proven their innocence. Moreover, there is evidence that the crime scene was altered and that the men were tortured. To date, the authorities have not fully investigated the crimes and have not yet held anyone responsible. Worst of all, the relatives, who have been struggling for justice for more than a year, have been constantly threatened and harassed for refusing to abandon their quest for justice.
Please keep following this blog over the next month, as we continue to publish more stories from the victims of Mexico's war on drugs, in turn highlighting the desperate need to explore an alternative approaches.