EspañolLast Friday, May 22, 42 Mexican civilians were killed during what was, according to the official version, an armed confrontation at a ranch between the cities of Tanhuato and Ecuandureo, Michoacán State.
But controversy has arisen over whether it was a legitimate firefight between police and narcotraffickers resisting arrest, or whether the police surrounded the property and massacred its inhabitants in cold blood.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said on Tuesday that it has begun its own investigation into what happened on Friday at the El Sol ranch. The CNDH has requested that police present at the alleged shootout produce a detailed report on what happened.
The body has sent its representative Ismael Eslava Pérez to Michoacán “with the aim of gathering relevant evidence to support the ongoing investigation.” Eslava Pérez is tasked with compiling exhaustive information, including medical, criminal, and forensic evidence and reports.
— CNDH en México (@CNDH) May 28, 2015
“CNDH personnel examining the statements of qualified experts about the events in Tanhuato.”
“The CNDH affirms the necessity and urgency of concluding in a quick and clear manner the ongoing investigations, and recognizes the interest and concern expressed by multiple organizations and members of civil society that the truth becomes known,” the human-rights body said in a press release.
In relation to the massacre of the 42 people, and a similar shootout in dubious circumstances on January 16 in Apatzingán, also in Michoacán, the CNDH emphasized “the need for all investigations to be carried out with the objectivity, impartiality, and fullness required to clarify the events.”
The reliability of claims by the Mexican security forces to be acting in self-defense on such occasions is called further called into question by the army’s killing of 22 criminals in June 2014 at a warehouse in Tlatlaya, Mexico State.
On May 22 of this year, a court awarded the families of the victims compensation, after it emerged that 17 of the suspects were executed after surrendering. Eyewitnesses had been tortured by the state Attorney General’s Office to force them to remain quiet.
Battle or Massacre?
According to the official version of Federal Police Commissioner Enrique Galindo, the 42 Mexicans who were killed during the three-hour engagement on Friday were part of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The police surrounded the ranch and exchanged shots with those present.
The commissioner said that he was “betting on my job” that “there was no massacre” in Tanhuato. In an interview with Mexican daily El Universal, Galindo accounted for the single casualty on the part of police by saying that many of the criminals were drugged up, drunk, and sleeping, as well as inexperienced in handling firearms. The police were meanwhile armed with weapons certified by the US Department of Defense.
“There was a proven confrontation, where a Federal Police officer lost his life, whom I consider a hero, because he had his back turned on the criminals and was looking after another injured comrade when they shot him,” the commissioner added.
He also confirmed that “practically all of the bodies” tested positive in a sodium nitrate test, indicating the presence of gunpowder. According to the police official, this confirms that they were also shooting. Police reportedly found .50 caliber weapons and AK-47 assault rifles at the scene.
Family members of those who died and witnesses have argued that this was no confrontation between police and the gang, but rather that police agents executed innocent victims. Some have said that those killed were farmers working on the El Sol ranch.
Eyewitnesses told news outlet Animal Político that police unleashed a sustained barrage from a helicopter, wiping out any resistance on the ground before it could even materialize.
Una explicación clarísima. Igual a la de Tlatlaya y Ayotzinapa.
Levanten la mano los que tengan dudas! pic.twitter.com/PwxZORUC93
— Helio Flores (@Helioflores_mex) May 27, 2015
“An extremely clear explanation. The same as Tlatlaya and Ayotzinapa. Those who have doubts raise your hands!”
Relations of the victims went to the nearby Morelia morgue to identify the bodies. According to Víctor Hugo, the brother of one of those killed, the state of the corpses shows that “they were treated like animals.”
“I was watching everything. From here you could hear the shooting, but look, from right here I saw how the helicopter that brought the police wiped them all out. It was only one but you could hear it really loudly. It was this helicopter that killed all of them,” said the police chief of Puerta de Vargas, a town a kilometer away from the ranch.
“They didn’t have the chance to defend themselves much,” he added.
The mayor of Tanhuato, José Ignacio Cuevas Pérez, similarly told press that “from the arrangement of the bodies and the fact that some weren’t clothed, it seems more like a massacre than an operation.”