Priest Killings Highlight Mexico Govt’s Credibility Problem

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Local residents say the official account of how two priests were killed in Veracruz, Mexico is a “cover-up” for the truth about rampant organized crime in the gulf state, the latest illustration of the government’s striking lack of credibility with the Mexican people.

Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz were kidnapped on the night of September 18, shortly after celebrating a 6:30 p.m. mass in the Veracruz city of Poza Rica. The priests’ bodies were found the next day riddled with bullets in a nearby area known as the “Devil’s Curve.”

Veracruz prosecutors said on September 20 that the attackers were acquaintances of the priests and that they had been drinking together before things turned violent, reported the Associated Press. The attackers then allegedly stole Church donation money as well as some vehicles, abducting and murdering the priests and dumping their bodies. 

Archbishop Hipólito Reyes Larios corroborated the government’s version of events by saying that it appears the attackers knew the priests, reported La Jornada.

But residents in the area are deeply skeptical, and suspect the murders were related to the organized crime and violence that afflicts Poza Rica. One parishioner interviewed by the Associated Press said that the prosecutors’ account of what happened is a “lie” and a “cover-up.” Other locals believe the government is absolving itself of its responsibility to protect citizens from criminal groups, according to La Jornada.

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For his part, the Vicar José Alberto Guerrero told Milenio that the priests had not received any threats from criminal groups, but admitted that Poza Rica is a “dangerous” place and that the priests at the diocese had received extortion calls. 

Pope Francis has condemned the killings and expressed his sadness over the “inexcusable violence.” 

InSight Crime Analysis

While the motive for the killings has yet to be confirmed, the mix of suspicion and disregard expressed by locals toward the government’s version of events is telling. A number of high-profile scandals marked by corruption and bureaucratic incompetency have eroded public trust in the authorities.

When drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from a maximum-security prison for the second time in July 2015, skeptics were quick to reject the government’s claim that he left by riding a converted motorcycle on rails down a mile-long tunnel. 

“Everyone says he went out the front door,” said one resident who lived near the prison at the time. That conspiracy theory has since been repeated by both Mexican and international journalists, despite widely circulated pictures and video of the tunnel and motorcycle.  

The government’s botched investigation into the disappearance and likely murder of 43 students in 2014 has also deeply hurt its public image. Foreign forensic teams questioned the government’s findings that the students were burned in a trash dump, and an international group of experts commissioned to investigate the case slammed the Mexican authorities in August 2015 for hiding pertinent evidence.

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