MEXICO CITY — There it was on video: Five heavily armed policemen barge into a hotel in western Mexico before dawn and march out with three handcuffed men in underwear.
But police weren't making an arrest. Prosecutors say they apparently were taking orders from criminals. Just hours after the three were seized, they were found asphyxiated and beaten to death.
Mexicans have become inured to lurid tales of police collaboration with narcotics gangs during 5 1/2 years of a drug war that has cost more than 47,500 lives. But seldom can they actually see it occur, and the video broadcast on national television was a shocker.
"One assumes that in some cities ... the municipal police work for the drug cartels," said Jorge Chabat an expert on security and drug trafficking at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching. "But what is different here is that there is a video. It's not the same thing to imagine that this going on, and to see it."
The Jan. 20 video released by prosecutors late Wednesday shows a police truck pulling up to the hotel in the city of Lagos de Moreno, quickly followed by a pickup carrying four armed men in civilian clothing. A city policeman carrying an assault rifle runs over to their truck and is given what appears to be a list. Then he and his fellow officers trot into the hotel and present the list at the reception desk, apparently asking what rooms the men are staying in.
In the next segment of the video, the victims are trotted out of the hotel in their underwear with their hands cuffed behind their backs. One is being hustled along by a man in civilian dress, who stuffs him into a patrol car. The gunmen – police are investigating whether they belong to the Jalisco New Generation drug gang – appear to be calling the shots throughout, with the police officers serving as gofers.
The police then watch and wait in front of the hotel while the men's luggage and vehicle are stolen. Finally, the police truck carrying the victims follows the gunmen as they drive away in the own pickup and the stolen vehicle.
While the kidnapping and murder occurred in January, and the faces of several officers were clearly seen on the videos, the officers were not detained until June 6, when soldiers and state police raided a local police station. And they still have not been formally charged with any crime.
"It took time to obtain the video tapes, to do the investigation, and to get the arrest warrants," said Jalisco state prosecutor's spokesman Lino Gonzalez said Thursday. "We didn't have the information."
In any case, the release of the dramatic images comes less than three weeks before national and state elections in which security is a major issue. Critics accuse President Felipe Calderon of setting off a bloodbath with his strategy against gangs, while his party's presidential candidate, Josefina Vazquez, has suggested her opponents are ready to compromise with the cartels.
Jalisco is governed by Calderon's party. The man who was mayor of Lagos de Moreno when the video was shot is now a rival party's candidate for the state legislature.
Gonzalez said that so far, seven policemen and officials of the municipal police force of Lagos de Moreno have been detained pending charges. And state Attorney General Tomas Coronado said the four men in civilian clothing also have been detained separately in other cases. He declined to say what gang they might belong to.
There are still mysteries surrounding the case, including whether the gunmen thought the victims were members of a rival drug cartel. The victims were from the northern state of Coahuila, where the hyperviolent Zetas cartel has been battling the Sinaloa cartel, allies of the local Jalisco Nueva Generacion gang.
Gonzalez said the victims, before checking into the hotel, had been briefly detained by police at the local jail for a minor infraction. They paid a fine and were released. But while in custody, "They said something indiscrete," Gonzalez said. "Apparently they said something like `We're from Coahuila, and we're part of the mafia.'"
It's not unusual in Mexico for detainees to boast about their connections, hoping to press corrupt police to release them.
This time, however, it backfired.
"Apparently, somebody at the jail heard the comment, and reported it to the real criminals," Gonzalez said.
Coronado told local media the men had claimed to be Zetas.
Gonzalez said it has never been proved the kidnapped men were gang members. They may have just been in Lagos de Moreno collecting the rent on a ranch, and they are being treated simply as victims.
Chabat noted that corruption has reached so deep that in 2010 in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, seven local police officers in the town of Santiago were arrested on allegations they were working for the Zetas drug gang and that they kidnapped and killed the town's Mayor, Edelmiro Cavazos, in retaliation for his attempts to cut corruption.
"There are police officers who kill the mayors they are supposed to protect," Chabat said. But this week's video "is cause for despair," he said. "It gives rise to the feeling that this is not going to be solved in the short term."
What U.S. readers find almost impossible to believe is the degree of corruption at every level of government in Mexico. Mexican government officials, whether bureaucrats or law enforcement officers, are corrupt in ways that we cannot even imagine. The legal system is very weak, as evidenced by the fact that even though the crooked policemen are clearly identifiable no charges have been filed 5 months after the videos were recorded. Even if the corruption were not as pervasive, the police are poorly paid, poorly terainesd and poorly equipped. The legsl system also has some curious quirks; unlike U.S. police officers, who may carry weapons while off duty, in Mexico, cops are usually issued weapons every day when reporting dfor duty and have to surrender them at the end of their shift. The may not carry weapons off duty unless they get a permit issued by SEDENA (the Mexican army) to own and carry a weapon, and even then, the weapon has to be an approved caliber, type, class, etc. So, cops are easy targets when off duty, that's why so many of them have been killed in places like Juarez, where Leysaola is trying to fight the narcos. It's a mess no matter how you gauge it.
But "the cops" often screw up the disguise by getting the black boots wrong and just wearing sneakers. I witnessed it when I saw boys getting pulled off buses by cops with uniforms, guns etc. and shabby sneakers. Red flag in my book. Others have said to me, "Not red flag-some cops can wear sneakers." I say not when they're working.
That's one reason why their police system is an absolute joke. Have uniforms that aren't so easily duplicated, or start sending people who are in possession of stolen police uniforms straight to prison for 10 years. Cartels and corrupt cops get away with so many little things that it completely eliminates any of the good work that the legit cops are able to do.
How is a group of sicarios able to ravish a club, bar, bus, business or home and get away with it everytime? Because they are all involved. The cops are just as bad as the narcos. They are all a part of the same crime syndicate. All a bunch of sell outs. If these police get paid with peanuts, they are always going to do what it takes to survive and support their families. They are sick of risking their lives for a lil' over $350.00 a month. If the police themselves are not promised protection and financial security, they are mostly going to choose the side that has the power and right now it's the cartels that possess the power in Mexico. A country is only as good as it's leaders and right now Mexico is lacking good leadership in every department.
Mexico needs more leaders like Julian Leyzaola and mayor Jaime Rodriguez Calderon, the mayor of Villa Garcia. These leaders don't take any shit from the cartels and they risk their own lives for the betterment of the country and it's people.
I look at the pay for Mexican police officers and can only shake my head. Only when it becomes a well paid and well respected position will police officers be of any use to the Mexican people. Now, and in the past, it feels more like a system that is designed to enable corruption. I remember reading somewhere that there wasn't even a national database of Mexico's police officers; meaning that a cop fired for corruption in one state could go work in another without anyone knowing about his cartel ties. Calderon may have changed that, but I'm not sure.
Mexico doesn't let its hard working civilians keep weapons in their home to protect themselves and their families, but they have no problem handing guns and uniforms to an endless stream of corrupt cops. What a dysfunctional system. The amount of times I've read stories where someone was forced out of their home by police for no just reason and never seen again is disturbing. If Mexicans were allowed to keep a gun at their bedside, they'd do a better job policing their neighborhoods than the police do.
amazing, howmany innocents are in mexican prisons cause of them. howmany bodies in the ground put there by those 5 or so cops.
and the million dollar question.. howmuch coke was in those suitcases?
Thats fuckedup, we used to have crooked cops we used to worry about when we were kids but they were rare and usually rolled solo simply because they were greedy and didnt want to share the stolen drugs and drug money. this is something else..............
Patriotism is a propaganda tool used to make people blind to the lies of their government through unquestioning devotion.
Actually what Chivo said happens VERY often in Mexico. Remember the Juarez prison break using federal vehicles? Fake military checkpoints for the migrants in San Fernando? Cloned police vehicles being used to cross the border and in some cases every level of gov is cloned in a town (Choix with the BL using cloned police cars, military vehicles, etc)