A survivor of a gun battle that left 22 civilians dead earlier this year stated that the Mexican military killed those involved in the confrontation after they had surrendered, reigniting questions over the army's use of force and the militarization of the drug war.
The survivor, under the alias "Julia," told Esquire Mexico that the military were the first to open fire on a warehouse in Mexico state, where -- according to government accounts -- nearly two dozen members of a criminal group were staying. Esquire reported that revealing what Julia was doing in the warehouse would put her in danger, but did not give this information in the article.
According to Julia, several young men in the warehouse tied her up, along with two other women, then told them to pretend they had been kidnapped. Several people in the warehouse fired back at the armed forces before surrendering, Julia said. The military then proceeded to gun down 22 people, including a 15-year-old girl, and later altered the scene by repositioning several bodies, she said. Only Julia and the other women survived.
Julia was kept in custody for a week, during which time officials from the Marines, the state attorney general office, and the organized crime unit of the federal Attorney General's office all pressured her to say that those killed were criminals, she said.
After this gun battle, which took place on June 30, authorities stated that those killed were members of the Guerreros Unidos criminal group, and that the military had "rescued" three kidnapped women. However, Human Rights Watch called on authorities to "properly consider evidence of wrongful state action" when investigating the incident. An Associated Press report from the scene of the killing said there was "little evidence of sustained fighting," and that there were few bullet holes in the warehouse walls where soldiers would have fired upon the civilians from outside.
InSight Crime Analysis
Julia's account raises more questions about what happened during the incident and amplifies the need for Mexican authorities to conduct a proper and thorough investigation. Only one soldier was wounded during the shootout, another indication that the military may have used excessive force. Mexico has previously reported a high ratio of the number of "aggressors" killed to the number of soldiers, figures which human rights organizations say are related to increased extrajudicial killings by the military.
Julia's assertions that authorities wanted to label all of those killed as "criminals" speaks to another ongoing problem in Mexico: the risk that authorities may incorrectly label a death as "related to organized crime." This potential for mislabeling has raised concerns in the past. Should Mexico's overburdened justice system conduct an impartial and effective investigation into what happened during the June 30 shootout, it could set an important precedent, and do much to increase public trust that authorities will recognize and correct military abuses.