By Krista Oehlke
Violence stemming from the drug trade has been surmounting in Mexico for decades, taking an increased toll on civilian communities. In October 2016, Sergio Aguayo, FXB fellow and research professor at the Centro de Estudios Internacionale of the El Colegio de México, released a new report investigating two mass killings in Mexico by the criminal organization known as Los Zetas. In 2010, the drug gang allegedly massacred 72 migrants in San Fernando to control it as a strategic communications base, and in 2011, to punish the disloyalty of three suspected traitors within the gang, Los Zetas killed an undetermined number of residents in Allende (estimates range from 42 to 300).
In the report, Aguayo and a team of researchers from El Colegio de México looked at the treatment and reparations provided by the Mexican government to the victims and their families at the federal, state, and municipal level. Mexico: State of Neglect: Los Zetas, the State, and the Victims of San Fernando, Tamaulipas (2010) and Allende, Coahuila (2011) paints the tragedies at San Fernando and Allende as “paradigmatic cases” of a larger humanitarian problem that illustrate the fracture between state and society, along with the failure at every level of the government to investigate and prevent human rights violations.
Aguayo’s report points to the rise of organized crime as the cause of both tragedies. The report also found some state actors were complicit in preventing “a rigorous approach to truth,” and therefore, justice and reparations. For instance, two leading figures allegedly involved in the massacre are in custody in the US, and since they are protected witnesses for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, have not testified. The report also points to the opacity of the Mexican judicial system: files from the State Prosecutor of Allende reveal an overt failing to document the context and cause of events. Aguayo argues that there was “very little investigation to validate the truth or falsehood of what [was] said,” making the delivery of justice and reparations an impossible feat. “They play games with our dignity,” the mother of a Salvadorian migrant murdered at San Fernando said.
Municipal police and governments were also complicit. Aguayo finds that an alarming number of police officials in both municipalities were controlled by Los Zetas in 2010 and 2011 respectively—36 in San Fernando and 20 in Allende. The report also claims that state governments of Tamaulipas and Coahuila have avoided responsibility for the victims.
Aguayo urges Mexico to restructure and bolster institutions responsible for bringing justice to victims of criminal violence, including those who were killed and their families. “To date, the term that best describes the experience of the victims is abandonment,” Aguayo said. “The study of these two tragedies brings us closer to a truth that is an indispensable step towards achieving priority for victims in Mexico.”
Krista Oehlke is a program coordinator at the Harvard FXB Center.