By Maria Peña
A street vendor was tortured by Mexican security forces and forced to “confess” his involvement in the massacre of 15 teenagers in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Washington Office on Latin America has reported for the first time the torture of Israel Arzate "El 24", suspected to be among those responsible for the Jan. 31 bloodbath at a party in the Juarez neighborhood of Villas de Salvarcar.
The killers, said to be from the Los Aztecas, mistook the crowd of high school students for members of the rival Artistas Asesinos outfit.
Arzate, who sells pirated CDs at a market in Juarez, is accused of possessing a stolen vehicle and of playing a role in the massacre. His attorney is a public defender.
He was arrested Feb. 3 by police and military agents and taken to an army barracks where he was “physically and psychologically tortured,” WOLA says in its report, compiled in cooperation with the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center.
Authorities were looking for one Carlos Madrigal but settled for Arzate, who was not seen until three days later when prosecutors accused him of involvement in the Salvarcar slayings.
His family looked for him everywhere and only learned of his arrest when they saw him on television.
Arzate insists he is innocent and said that after he was “disappeared” he was given electric shocks to the chest and abdomen, someone put a plastic bag over his head, and his interrogators told him that his wife was in an adjoining room and that they were going to rape her.
The tactics, including the beatings and burns, had their effect: Arzate gave in to the pressure and said he had taken part in the homicides as a lookout.
Before being presented to the press, he was made to take six unidentified pills that left him dizzy. On March 18 he was taken, without any previous legal notice, from a jail in Chihuahua state to a military barracks and afterwards to the prosecutors’ office, where he was tortured again, WOLA said.
Mexico’s independent National Human Rights Commission received a request to investigate the case and commission personnel later told Arzate’s mother he was suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the torture.
Arzate’s case is one of several included in the report “Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez: An Analysis of Human Rights Violations by the Military in Mexico.”
The document covers such matters as forced disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests by Mexico’s security forces as part of the government’s anti-drug strategy.
The military character of this struggle has not managed to reduce drug violence, but it has contributed to a “drastic increase in human-rights abuses,” WOLA said.
“Whether they are military or police, security forces that operate without the necessary controls create the perfect environment for human-rights abuses. The cases described here show that you can’t fight crime with crime,” Maureen Meyer, the lead author of the report, told Efe.
Impunity “weakens the public’s trust and undermines the people’s willingness to collaborate with the authorities in fighting crime,” she said.
Meyer said that Mexican authorities have a history of torturing those in custody until they confess their supposed guilt, while those who are really guilty walk free in the streets without ever answering to the law.
The war on drugs has left tens of thousands of dead but it has also victimized citizens with nothing to do with drug trafficking – parents have lost their sons and daughters because of the illicit narcotics trade while the orphans are stigmatized because everyone supposes that their dads’ violent deaths means they were criminals, WOLA said.
Entire cities are on the list of victims, above all Juarez, which suffers from massive emigration and people closing down their businesses because of the reigning insecurity, lack of customers and widespread extortion.