MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexican marines allegedly abducted 27 people in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo in early 2018, 12 of whom were later found dead, according to an investigation by Mexico’s governmental human rights commission.
The rights commission said Tuesday that marines had violated the victims’ “right to life,” but did not say outright they had killed them.
The commission also said marines engaged in “illegal searches and arbitrary detentions.” The commission issued non-binding recommendation that criminal investigations be opened and changes be made in Navy patrol procedures.
On Tuesday the Navy wrote in its Twitter account that it “the points recommended were accepted.”
In Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, the Navy was locked in a bitter fight at the time against the Northeast cartel, an outgrowth of the old Zetas cartel.
While Mexican marines had played a central role in going after drug cartels in previous administrations, that role has been reduced under current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The Navy has said cartel gunmen sometimes wear fake military uniforms and drive vehicles with military markings, but the commission said that was not an adequate defense.
The commission also said it found inconsistencies, like changed identification of vehicles, in Navy reports on the incidents.
Time after time, witnesses told investigators that their relatives had been picked up while driving or walking on the streets of Nuevo Laredo in early 2018 by marines, or people wearing marine uniforms.
The abductors also barged into some homes and businesses and snatched people without search or arrest warrants, and sometimes used unmarked or police vehicles to take people away.
While 15 were never heard from again, the bullet-ridden bodies of 12 did turn up in subsequent weeks, mostly dumped along roads or on rural properties.
In September 2018, the Navy said in a press statement that 230 marines and 27 officers who had been serving in the area at the time had been called back to Navy headquarters in Mexico City, in order to have them cooperate with the investigations.
The Navy said at the time that it “would act firmly and with vigor in accordance with the law in this and all other cases in which naval personnel are considered probably responsible for violations of human rights, "
However, it is unclear whether any charges have been filed in the disappearances. The commission urged civilian prosecutors and military internal affairs investigators to follow through on investigations.
The commission also demanded that all military patrols be videotaped and that military forces not use civilian vehicles.
The commission filed a similar report implicating marines in the disappearance of five people from a motel in Ciudad Camargo, Tamaulipas in October 2016, including some U.S. citizens. They were never heard from again.
The commission said marines tore the motel’s security cameras out in an apparent attempt to cover up the abductions.