Mexico Moves to Recharge Soldiers Absolved of Massacre

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Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office is seeking to bring new charges against soldiers implicated in the June 2014 massacre of almost two dozen people after a judge recently released the remaining three suspects in the case due to lack of evidence. 

In a May 14 press release, the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República – PGR) said it “will provide evidence” against the freed soldiers “so that they will be re-apprehended and formally processed.” The PGR announced late last week that a judge from a civilian court in Mexico State had ordered the soldiers’ release because of insufficient evidence against them. 

The soldiers were charged with homicide and tampering with the crime scene in relation to the June 2014 killing of 22 people in a warehouse in the town of Tlatlaya, in a remote area west of Mexico City.

The army initially said the deaths were the result of a shootout after gang suspects opened fire on soldiers. But Associated Press reporter Mark Stevenson went to the scene and published a story that contrasted sharply with the official version of events. In October 2014, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission determined the soldiers had summarily executed up to 15 of the victims.

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If the promised push to revitalize the case produces similar results as previous efforts, prosecutors will walk away empty-handed from what many believe is one of the most flagrant examples of human rights abuses by Mexico’s military in recent years. Three soldiers and a lieutenant were already absolved of their involvement in the massacre in October 2015, also due to a ruling of lack of evidence. A military tribunal acquitted all seven soldiers earlier this year, although a commanding officer served a one-year prison term for disobeying orders.

The ruling is yet another blow to the credibility of judicial authorities in Mexico, which have been harshly criticized for fumbling and even obstructing the investigation into 43 students who went missing in the Pacific state of Guerrero in 2014. The disappearances quickly drew international attention, but following lengthy investigations by first the PGR and then by international experts, the case remains shrouded in uncertainty.  

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Widespread impunity for crimes — especially those committed by military officials — is nothing new in Mexico. Some observers, however, question whether these high-profile cases involve a more sinister element than just prosecutorial clumsiness.

“Given the well documented evidence that soldiers executed civilians in Tlatlaya, the fact that no one has been held responsible for those crimes suggests the same kind of gross incompetence, or even coverup, that has been shown in the case of the (43 students who went missing from) Ayotzinapa on the part of judicial authorities,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch in Latin America, told the AFP.

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