The trial for the Camargo case has lasted three and a half months, time entangled in bureaucracies and technicalities, which has revealed, at times, the brutal background that occupied those present, the murder of 19 people, most of them migrants, at the hands of supposedly of police In these weeks, prosecutors, lawyers and advisors have presented evidence and arguments, trying to prove guilt and innocence. In the end everything has remained as it was at the beginning: the Prosecutor’s Office handles a robust case against 12 Tamaulipas police officers, thanks to the fact that one of them betrayed the others. The judge will announce his ruling this Wednesday.
The expectation is enormous. The Camargo case frames one of the worst massacres recorded in recent years in Mexico. The efforts of the Foundation for Justice and the Jesuit Network with Migrants of Guatemala have allowed the families of the victims, most of them from the isolated municipality of Comitancillo, in the southern mountains of the Central American country, to witness the hearings. Virtually, relatives of the murdered and their alleged murderers have lived together for weeks, to finally get here.
The testimony of police officer Ismael Vázquez has been the star evidence these months. His statements, which EL PAÍS released days before the trial began, paint a different story from that of the rest of his colleagues, who face sentences of up to 69 years in prison. At first, everyone pointed out that on January 22, 2021, while they were on patrol, they found burning cars and a lot of dead people inside. But in August of that year, Vázquez changed his statement and said that in reality several of his companions shot at the cars, killed their occupants and set their bodies on fire. In the cars were the migrants and the alleged traffickers who transported them to the border.
Everything remains as it was at the beginning because there has been no news about the path that the investigation by the Tamaulipas Prosecutor’s Office has marked. Police officer Vázquez ratified on August 3 before the judge, Patricio Lugo, what he said two years ago, a statement for which he has received benefits. Because of his help, the Prosecutor’s Office no longer accuses Vázquez of murder, only of abuse of authority and crimes in the performance of his duties, with minimum sentences of two and four years in prison. If convicted, Vázquez would still spend some time behind bars.
The photograph of Ismael Vázquez (bottom right) among those implicated by the Tamaulipas prosecutor’s office in February 2021. José Martínez (EFE)
As for the rest, their defense lawyers, divided into five different teams, have tried to distort Vázquez’s statement, under a double argument. On the one hand, they point out that only he gives that version of the events. On the other hand, they say that the benefits received distort the content of his testimony. The Prosecutor’s Office, headed by agent Artemisa de Jesús Castillo, has repeatedly stated that, in that case, no one could benefit from the protected witness program. Castillo has also pointed out that an enormous amount of evidence supports a good part of Vázquez’s story.
The prosecutor has referred to the testimonies of residents of the place, the Piedras ranch, where the police allegedly killed and burned the 19. Located in reality in the municipality of Díaz Ordaz, and not in Camargo, as originally stated, several neighbors They watched as a convoy of six police vehicles chased migrants that day. They also saw or heard how they were shot. Castillo has also pointed out telephone expert reports and GPS analysis of at least one of the police vehicles, in addition to service records from the Tamaulipas police, to prove that the 12 were at the scene of the events on the day of the murders.
The weight of each
The discussion between the parties has also gone through the complex path of the weight that each of the accused would have had in the massacre. In his statement, Vázquez accuses two of the other 11 police officers of organizing the rest. This is Horacio Rocha Nambo, head that day of the contingent of agents from the Special Operations Group (Gopes) that patrolled the area. Nambo had operational command, but he acted, in theory, under the orders of Mayra Elizabeth Santillana, in charge of the state police in that region of the border between Tamaulipas and Texas.
That day, at least 20 gopes agents were patrolling alongside four state police agents, Santillana among the latter. Vázquez points out that they left the Camargo police station around 8:30, went to the municipality of Miguel Alemán to refuel with gasoline, and from there they drove to the rural area that Camargo and Díaz Ordaz share. They did the latter, said Vázquez, “because in those places the trick is put in place,” that is, organized crime groups. Vázquez says that Nambo’s tank truck was in front. He says that suddenly he began to hear codes from Nambo and his companions on the radio. Apparently, they had seen armed people. Nambo’s car accelerated and so did Santillana’s, who was behind.
Due to the dust on the road, Vázquez’s tank and two others were lost for a few minutes. Shots could be heard on the radio. According to Vázquez, at least one of the accused, Héctor Alfaro, was in Nambo’s truck. Santillana was with his driver, Jorge Alfredo Castillo, also accused in second place. In third was another state police pickup. Vázquez says they arrived where the others were after a few minutes. Those in Nambo’s truck were shooting, his companions in his tank got out and started shooting, those in the tank behind, too.
One of the vehicles used by the Tamaulipas gopes, captured by a security camera on January 22, 2021. COURTESY
This part of Vázquez’s testimony is crucial for the Prosecutor’s Office, which has told the judge that the accused acted in “co-authorship”, a situation that required a “common plan”, the existence of a “segmented contribution” of the police, “a plan arranged at the time, updated via radio.” Part of the defense teams have protested against the hypothesis, because, they argue, it does not clarify who did what. Some have even pointed out that there is no evidence that their clients were there that day.
The advisors of the victims and the repentant police officer have denied these arguments. Perhaps the clearest has been Vázquez’s lawyer, Xóchil del Carmen Sánchez, who said this Monday: “That day, they forgot that they were police officers. His lawyers also ignored it. Do they not know this or are they ignoring the penal code? The law is clear, conduct can be action or omission. The results could have been avoided by any of the defendants. “None of them did.”
In her closing statement, lawyer Sánchez herself posed a series of questions last week that summarize unresolved concerns during the process. “The police chased in their vehicles and shot at a van full of migrants who never attacked them. By mistake, by fear, by evil, I don’t know.” That is one of the questions that has not been answered, the reason, why they did it.
It was difficult for it to happen. Except for Vázquez, none of the accused admits having even been at the scene of the events on the day of the massacre, despite the evidence presented by the Prosecutor’s Office. Outside of Vázquez’s version, reaching the reason for what happened became almost a chimera, as it ultimately turned out to be. The repentant policeman has presented himself as a puppet, which he made and unmade on the orders of Nambo, whom he accuses of organizing the massacre and burning the bodies of the victims. Then the puppet became aware and decided to speak, a decision as brave as it was strange. Mexico is barely getting used to the figure of the protected witness and cases are not abundant.
The trial concludes without knowing why, one of the families’ hopes before the process began. On a trip to Comitancillo in May, this newspaper interviewed relatives of some of the victims. The demand was clear. Álvaro Miranda, father of Ósman, 19, said that “the only thing” he wanted to know was “why.” If it was the fault of the person who carried them, he pointed out, in reference to the coyote, the trafficker, or it was a confusion on the part of the Mexican authorities. “But you don’t know, you don’t know,” he said. Nothing has changed about it.
Álvaro Miranda, father of Ósman Neftaly Miranda, in Guatemala, on May 16. Rodrigo Oropeza
Another of the doubts left by the process, even more lacerating if possible, points to the rest of those involved. Since his first repentant statement, Vázquez has pointed out that there were 24 police officers in the convoy that day, but only 12 defendants have arrived at the trial. Other evidence presented by the Prosecutor’s Office also indicates the participation of six trucks in total, compared to the four indicated by Santillana, author of the report of what happened, indicated as false. What about the other 12 police officers that Vázquez mentions, all with names or nicknames? What about the commanders of the gopes and the state police immediately superior to Nambo and Santillana? The Prosecutor’s Office is silent for the moment.
The Camargo case is pending sentencing. A conviction is expected, a decision that would not do justice. The current impunity of the rest of those involved sheds light on other impunities, mainly those that concern the National Migration Institute. One of the two vans in which the migrants were traveling had been seized months before in a raid at the institute in Nuevo León. Somehow, the truck found its way to the coyotes within a few weeks. At the moment, there is not a single official of the institute subject to criminal proceedings for this matter.
Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS México newsletter and receive all the key information on current events in this country
#Camargo #case #pending #sentencing