Authorities in Mexico have ordered the arrest of more than two dozen high-ranking state police officials for their alleged role in a paramilitary group accused of committing forced disappearances.
A Mexican judge ordered the detention of 31 police officers -- described as the entire leadership of the force -- in the troubled Mexican state of Veracruz for their alleged role in 15 forced disappearances committed between April and October of 2013, the Spanish news outlet El País reported February 24.
The group reportedly targeted members of Mexico’s feared Zetas cartel, but also preyed on poor, young individuals they accused of collaborating with the notoriously violent criminal group, according to El País.
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Veracruz Attorney General Jorge Winckler told El País in an interview that authorities collected “confessions, identities and notes addressed to superiors” that confirmed the existence of two paramilitary groups that carried out forced disappearances within Veracruz’s state police.
“It is the first time in Mexico that criminal action has been established against the material actors of physical disappearances and against high-ranking officials who made enforced disappearance a systematic and institutional policy,” Winckler told El País.
Winckler added that this marked the first time the Attorney General’s Office could identify that there was a “policy of detecting, arresting and disappearing people supposedly linked to organized crime.”
According to El País, the first group, known as the Reaction Force, was responsible for locating and arresting suspects before using torture and sexual abuse to obtain information from them. The victims were then passed to a second group known as the Special Force who continued the torture -- reportedly at the Veracruz Police Academy building -- before eventually disappearing the individuals.
InSight Crime Analysis
Forced disappearances have been a perennial problem in Mexico since authorities launched the so-called war on drugs against the country’s criminal groups in 2006.
The mass abduction of 43 Mexican students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in the city of Iguala in western Guerrero state in September 2014 -- which remains unsolved to this day -- is arguably the country’s most notorious case in recent years.
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State and municipal police were reportedly working for local criminal group the Guerreros Unidos in the Ayotzinapa case to abduct the students. This latest example in Veracruz suggests that authorities were disappearing supposed cartel members this time, as a matter of state policy.
Mexico's government has been heavily criticized for its response, or lack of response, to the problem of the tens of thousands of cases of forced disappearances. The most recent case is an important development in what has long been a crime associated with organized crime groups in Mexico, and also points to another perennial problem - that of corruption within Mexico's police forces. Whether those accused will be held accountable or if impunity will continue remains to be seen.