Latin America

Mexico’s defense chief rejects wrongdoing in civilian massacre

Human rights group says 22 people, including two teens, were killed by army in cold blood

Mexico’s Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos greets President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Mexico’s Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos greets President Enrique Peña Nieto.PRESIDENCIA DE MÉXICO

Mexico’s defense chief on Thursday rejected a human rights report that blamed the military for the ambush of 22 alleged drug traffickers last June in an incident that has become known as the Tlatlaya massacre.

Speaking on armed forces day, Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos said that there are those “who want to smear us before all the legal proceedings are over, and without any evidence.”

Cienfuegos made no mention of the Tlatlaya massacre by name.

“I want to emphasize that it is our duty, without exception, to respect the law, legal provisions, and judicial decisions. For that reason, we are most interested in any incident involving the participation of military personnel, which should be investigated thoroughly and fully clarified.”

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In October, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) concluded that the 22 civilians, including two teenagers, were killed by the army in cold blood after they surrendered following skirmishes in southern Mexico state. The commission said that officers tampered with the crime scene to make it look like they had all died in the crossfire.

The victims were allegedly lined up in a warehouse in the municipality of Tlatlaya when military officers opened fire.

At least eight soldiers were detained in connection with the killings, an incident that some international human rights organizations claim was the most brutal massacre by government forces since the gunning down of unarmed students in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco square in 1968.

The incident also took place just months before the kidnapping and disappearances of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero state.

A military court has charged eight soldiers with minor violations and disobedience in connection with the Tlatlaya killings, but the results of the investigation or whether punishment was handed down are not known. The CNDH has called for a full open inquiry.

Cienfuegos said that the armed forces have always been transparent and always carried out their duties with respect for human rights.

The secretary said the armed forces are transparent and have always respected human rights.

President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration is facing a brewing security crisis after the Tlatlaya and Iguala incidents, said during the ceremony that the army has contributed to “maintaining the peace” throughout Mexico.

“Our armed forces have helped in the fight against organized crime,” the president said.

Last week, Mexico’s newly appointed Cardinal Alberto Suárez Inda entered the national fray when he questioned the motives behind some of the parents of the 43 Iguala students, who claim that the military is hiding information over that incident.

“I get the feeling that there is some type of manipulation and some type of political leaning, of interests that are taking advantage of the parents’ grief to organize insurrections,” the cardinal said.