Human Rights Watch on Aug. 22 called on Mexico's government to ensure an "impartial and effective" investigation into the killing of 22 civilians by soldiers on June 30, during an alleged confrontation at an empty warehouse at Tlatlaya, a town in the mountains of central México state. Witness accounts have cast doubt on the official version of events, HRW found. A press release from the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA) said soldiers responded to gunfire when they raided the warehouse. The SEDENA statement said the soliders later found 38 firearms, a grenade, and several cartridges in the warehouse, and liberated three women who had been kidnapped. On July 1, the governor of México state, Eruviel Ávila Villegas, said that the soldiers had acted "in legitimate defense" and "taken down delinquents." However, an Associated Press reporter who visited the area three days after the incident filed a story July 8 saying there was "little evidence of sustained fighting," and that he found only a small number of bullet holes in the warehouse walls. In other words, what happened seems to have been a massacre rather than a shoot-out. Government officials have yet to disclose the names of those killed or the status of the investigation. "It's been two months since soldiers killed 22 civilians in Tlatlaya, and there are more questions than answers about what really took place that day," said HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco.
Torture by police and soldiers continues to be a major problem for the Mexican government, according to "Out of Control: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Mexico," a 74-page report released by the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) on Sept. 4. Electric shocks, near-asphyxiation, mock executions, death threats against prisoners and their families, injection of carbonated drinks or chili pepper in prisoners' noses, and rape and other forms of sexual violence remain common practices, according to the report, which cites both official statistics and interviews with victims. The result is often forced confessions, wrongful convictions and a failure to arrest the actual perpetrators. Although the government officially condemns torture, it rarely prosecutes police agents or soldiers for the practice and almost never convicts them. January 2014 data from the government's Federal Judiciary Council (CJF) show that federal courts only took 123 torture cases to trial from 2005 to 2013; seven resulted in convictions. The government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received 7,164 torture complaints from 2010 to 2013; not one of them led to a conviction.
At least 800 members of Section 65 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM, "Los Mineros") began blocking the three main entrances to the giant Buenavista del Cobre copper mine in Cananea, near the US border in the northwestern state of Sonora, on Aug. 20 to protest environmental damage caused two weeks earlier when about 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate acid solution spilled from the mine into the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers. Most of the unionists lost their jobs four years ago when the mine's owner, Grupo México S.A.B. de C.V., broke a 2007-2010 strike over health and safety issues. "During the strike we made several complaints about the improper and inadequate measures Grupo México implemented for preventing overflows from the dams" for chemicals and heavy metals, Section 65 director Sergio Tolano Lizárraga told the national daily La Jornada. He said the blockade would continue until the company recognized the workers' old contract. (LJ, Aug. 22)
Media reports in Mexico indicate that the notorious Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin Guzmán Loera AKA "El Chapo"—who evaded authorities for over a decade before being captured earlier this year—has claimed victory in a hunger strike at the top-security Altiplano prison in Almoloya de Juárez, México state. Chapo reportedly started the strike July 16 with fellow imprisoned kingpin Édgar Valdez Villarreal AKA "La Barbie"—who had once been his comrade-in-arms but later became his bitter enemy when Barbie defected to the rival Beltran-Leyva cartel. The hunger strike rapidly spread throughout the prison, with at least 1,000 other inmates joining. Authorities quickly capitulated on some of the key demands. Prisoners will be given new shoes and clothing, and they will be served more food (although it will be the same mediocre quality). Inmates will also be allowed to purchase more items such as toilet paper from the prison store. They will be allowed three attempts to make phone calls to their families; previously, if the call was not connected or the line was busy they had to wait nine days to try again. Although other demands were not met, Chapo and Barbie called off the strike. It should be noted that Altiplano is the most elite prison in Mexico, with state-of-the-art security measures modelled after the "supermax" facilities in the United States. But conditions are far worse at the country's many overcrowded and corrupt state facilities—which have witnessed a series of bloody uprisings in recent years. (Hispanically Speaking, July 28;Borderland Beat, July 21; Proceso, July 19)
Authorities on Aug. 10 imposed restrictions on the water supply to seven municipalities in northwest Mexico's Sonora state, after 40,000 cubic meters (10 million gallons) of toxic leached copper from the Buenavista del Cobre mine turned the Río Bacanuchi orange, killing fish and livestock. Among the towns cut off by order of the National Water Commission (Conagua) is the state capital, Hermosillo, home to nearly 800,000 people. The Bacanuchi is a tributary of the Río Sonora, the state's principal river. Sonora state civil defense director Carlos Arias accused mine owner Grupo México of not reporting the spill in a timely manner.
Mexican authorities unearthed five recently buried bodies from a clandestine grave in the rural pueblo of Mochicahui, El Fuerte municipality, Sinaloa state, officials announced July 21—the latest in a long string of such gruesome finds that the press in Mexico has dubbed narco-fosas, or narco-graves. Sinaloa state prosecutors were tipped off by a local resident whose family member was among the disappeared. Peasants in the region are terrorized by the Sinaloa Cartel, which makes a grisly example of those unwilling to cooperate in its drug-running operations. (EFE, July 21)
A district court judge in the eastern Mexican state of Yucatán ruled in July against a license that the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) had granted the Missouri-based multinational Monsanto Company in 2012 for sowing 253,500 hectares with genetically modified (GM) soy in Yucatán and six other states. A group of campesinos from the Maya indigenous group filed a suit charging that the license endangered the traditional production of organic honey in a region including the Yucatán communities of Ticul, Santa Elena, Oxkutzcab, Tzucacab, Tekax, Peto and Tizimin. The judge's ruling was "a great achievement because there is recognition of our legitimate right to make decisions about our territory and our livelihood," Maya farmer Lorenzo Itzá Ek said. "[B]eekeeping is the main traditional economic activity we carry out, and we don't want our honey contaminated with transgenics or with toxic products like agrochemicals that kill our bees."
Blockades of Pemex installations in Mexico's southeastern Tabasco state are hurting the country's oil and gas output, according to the CEO of the state-owned industry giant. Emilio Lozoya Austin told Notimex news agency that crude output has been reduced by 30,000 barrels/day as a result of the blockades, launched to protest environmental damage caused by an October explosion at the company's Terra 123 well in Nacajuca. Pemex is losing $3 million/day in revenues, he said. In addition to blocking access to hundreds of oil and gas wells in the rural municipalities of Cárdenas, Huimanguillo, Centla and Cunduacán, protesters have built barricades around the Pemex Pyramid, the company's futuristic local headquarters in Villahermosa. Pemex activities across oil-rich Tabasco have been paralyzed since July 8.