Latin America

Five years on, mystery still shrouds Mexican massacre

It was one of Mexico's worst mass killings, but the investigation is far from complete, the attorney general for Coahuila state concedes during an exclusive interview with Univision Investiga.

In March 2011 witnesses say the notorious Zetas cartel abducted at least 300 people in northern Mexico, but a local investigation still has a long way to go to identity all the perpetrators - and victims - of the so-called 'Allende massacre.'

The attorney general for Coahuila state, Homero Ramos Gloria, told Univision Investiga in an exclusive interview that so far the remains of only 28 of those missing have been identified.

Even though witnesses in the city of Allende declared that members of the Zetas opened fire, destroyed houses and kidnapped hundreds of people, Ramos said the government has so far only confirmed the disappearance of 54 people.

“The investigation is still ongoing based on the 28 people that have been legally identified, [but] this doesn’t mean that they’re the only victims,” said Ramos.

Coahuila is a key transit point for cartels running drugs to Texas and is one of the Mexican states worst hit by drug violence.

Asked about the difference between the state’s figures and the accounts of witnesses and Allende residents, Ramos said that 300 people could have fled the town during the attack but that the government had found evidence of only 54 deaths, according to the state’s investigation.

The Zetas cartel is considered the most ruthless criminal organization in Mexican history, and was created by former army commandos.

So far, 17 people have been convicted in the case, including eight cartel members and nine police officers. No public officials have been indicted, though witnesses and neighbors of the victims accused the former Allende Mayor, Sergio Lozano, of allowing the Zetas to take over the town. One house demolished during the attack was opposite the mayor's home, which was untouched.

Ramos said the government had summoned Lozano to testify. “We have the mayor’s testimony. Evidently we are still investigating," he said. "I don’t want to accuse anyone in advance,” he added.

Asked why no official has yet to be prosecuted for letting the Zetas cartel operate freely throughout the state of Coahuila, Ramos said the government is still sifting through evidence and could still press charges against state officials.

Prison HQ

For at least three years the Zetas cartel controlled the Piedras Negras prison, located in northern Coahuila, according to witnesses and people linked to the criminal enterprise. During this period the prison became the cartel’s headquarters in Coahuila, and at least 150 victims were murdered inside its facilities, investigators found.

As part of their operations inside the prison, members of the cartel built secret compartments in smuggling vehicles where they hid packages of drugs which later they introduced to the United States through Eagle Pass, Texas.

Only 17 of the prison victims have been identified, said Ramos. Seven suspected have been arrested in the killings, two of them former prison officials.

According to Ramos, the prison is now back under official control.

The testimonies of two federal witnesses during a two week trial last month in Texas of former Zetas’ leader Marciano Millán Vázquez, alias “El Chano,” offered an inside look into how the cartel gained control over the region’s drug trade. The two witnesses testified about how they delivered millions of dollars to a former and current governor of Coahuila, the brothers Humberto and Rubén Moreira.

Ramos said the government has requested the federal court in San Antonio provide access to Millán's case files in order to review the full record of the witness testimonies.

Ramos said that until now the testimonies have not prompted an official investigation against the Moreira brothers.

“There are no open investigations because there aren’t any allegations that could’ve prompted the opening of an investigation,” he said.

Ramos called into question the motives of both witnesses who testified. “It's noteworthy that they let two protected witnesses testify in a trial in Texas which helped reduce their sentences,” he said.

Asked about the operation of companies in Coahuila controlled by the Zetas, mentioned by the witnesses in the Texas trial, Ramos said the state authorities have identified several companies operated by the cartel, but he declined to provide further details.

“We have a list (of companies),” he said, “I can’t tell you’re the exact number because some of them are subsidiaries, but we have identified several companies.”

Humberto Moreira, exonerated

Humberto Moreira, the former chairman of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of president Enrique Pena Nieto, was forced to step down from his party post in 2011 due to a scandal over Coahuila's sudden surge in debt when he was governor between 2005 and 2011.

He was briefly arrested in Spain in January on money laundering charges and has long been accused by critics in Coahuila of diverting state resources through shell companies for his personal use. Spanish authorities released him a week later and charges were dropped.

Ramos, who worked for Humberto Moreira’s administration as Secretary of State, said officials in Coahuila had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

“Until now our forensics accountants have found no evidence that could let us conclude that there were any illegal deposits,” he said.

Ramos said the state government has also requested the U.S. authorities to give Coahuila full access to the case files of the trial against Mexican media mogul Rolando González Treviño, who accused Humberto Moreira of being part of a conspiracy to steal money of the state of Coahuila.

González Trevino, the president of a chain of radio and TV stations in Coahuila, pleaded guilty to transporting stolen goods. According to his plea agreement, the money stolen from the state was later wired to his U.S. bank accounts. The investigation is open, the case has not ended,” said Ramos.

The governor also said there is a current arrest warrant against the former state treasurer Javier Villarreal, who worked under Humberto Moreira’s administration. Villarreal pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiring to transport stolen money and of money laundering in a San Antonio federal court case.

Ramos said the government was still investigating Villarreal, who is also accused of forging documents to obtain fraudulent loans. “There is an arrest warrant pending that the U.S. authorities are aware of and that will be carried out once his case (in the U.S.) is over,” he said.

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