Apatzingán massacre: “It was the Federal Police”
Joint production by Proceso and Aristegui News Service
Reporter: Laura Castellanos
Methodology: To facilitate comprehension of the video by non-Spanish viewers, I kept track of the elapsed time and tried to note the points where significant segments begin. I also translated those portions of the report that appear as print on the screen and the voices that closely track the printed messages. To identify the speakers, I used “R” for “Reporter” and “W” for “witness”. If there is no attribution noted, the speaker is the Reporter. The only speakers who are identified in the video are Dr. Carlos Torres Vega, Director of the Ramon Ponce General Hospital, and, of course, Alfredo Castillo, former Federal Security Commissioner in Michoacán who was recently appointed Director of the Conade (the national sports commission).—un vato
00:15 Screen: Apatzingán Massacre: “It was the Federal Police.
00:19 Voice and screen: “With shouts of, ‘Kill those dogs!’, they began to shoot. To kill us.”
00:27 Voice and screen: “They’re still shooting over here, over here! One of the comrades can’t get out. The Federales are shooting!”
00:34 W: “It’s like an execution, that is, at very close range and this causes powder marks on the skin…”
00:44 R: At dawn on January 6, federal police fired on members of the Rural Police in Michoacán and their supporters who, unarmed, were conducting a sit-in demonstration at the Apatzingán municipal palace.
00:56 In the ensuing moments, members of self-defense forces and day laborers were murdered by gunfire and their bodies were left strewn on that city’s streets.
01:05 The preliminary toll is 16 persons dead and tens wounded.
01:10 Everything indicates that what happened in Apatzingán was a crime against humanity.
01:15 R’s voice and screen: The official version states that in the two attacks, there were:
8 dead, 1 person run over by a vehicle, and 44 arrested on charges of; criminal association, possession of illegal firearms
01:15 R: …and that Federal Police arrested 44 persons on charges of criminal association and possession of illegal firearms, and that the persons killed in the second attack were hit by “friendly fire” between civilians.
01:40 Screen: Alfredo Castillo, Commissioner of Security in Michoacán.
01:40: Castillo: Practically all the persons killed could have been killed by their own comrades, that is, a matter of cross fire.
01:50 But there are statements that demolish this version of the facts. Victims and witnesses say that it was the Federal Police that executed unarmed civilians.
02:00 That none of the demonstrators had long weapons (rifles).
02:03 Also, the medical staff at the Ramon Ponce General Hospital asserted that the persons they treated had been shot at close range, with (powder) marks that point to an execution.
02:20 Screen: The facts presented in this investigation were reconstructed from the testimony of 12 of the 44 persons arrested and subsequently released after the first gunfire attack (among them a businessman).
02:20 R: The facts presented in this investigation are reconstructed from recorded statements from 39 persons:
02:24 12 of the 44 persons detained and later released as a result of the first attack;
7 survivors from the second attack;
(3 were hospitalized)
1 legal representative;
8 civilian witnesses (neighbors, businessmen, passersby);
6 relatives (of victims) who witnessed the events
02:40 2 mothers of the victims and Personnel at the Ramon Ponce General Hospital and employees of the Office of the Medical Examiner (Semefo).
Due to fear of retaliation, the sources requested that they not be identified by name.
02:54 R: At 2:00 a.m. on January 6, 2015, Rural Police radio transmissions reported that 20 pickup trucks from the Federal Police were headed towards the Apatzingan central plaza.
03:07 At the entrances to the municipal palace, there were approximately 100 people, including members of the Rural Police (self defense forces) and their supporters, were armed with sticks, who were dissatisfied with the dissolution of their group, the G-250, which had been created by Alfredo Castillo, then the federal Security Commissioner in Michoacán and currently the director of Conade (national sports commission). (The group) had been created to capture the leader of the Caballeros Templarios, Servando Gomez Martinez, “La Tuta”.
03:40 They had been sent into the mountains for eight months to hunt for La Tuta, and now they were being dismissed without having been paid anything and were facing new incursions by the Caballeros Templarios into their towns and cities.
03:53 The leader of the demonstration was Nicolas Sierra, aka “El Gordo Coruco”, one of the seven brothers known as “Los Viagra”, feared and hated due to accusations of being former Templarios and committing atrocities, but admired by those who claimed otherwise and who pointed to their intimate familiarity with the terrain.
04:08 They had been alerted to a possible attack by Templarios and a possible attempt to drive them out on the eve of Reyes (January 6).
04:15 For that reason, at midnight, El Gordo Coruco had ordered them not to react to any provocation with weapons or rocks so they would not be treated as criminals.
04:25 The Federal Police convoy arrived at 2:30 a.m. and parked on the streets behind the Apatzingan municipal palace.
04:35 The Federal Police went in shooting. The attack lasted 15 minutes.
04:38 The Federal Police were shooting at the demonstrators, who ran into the central garden to take cover behind the park benches. Security cameras recorded dozens of unarmed people fleeing from one side (of the plaza) to the other.
04:50 In the parking lot on one side of the municipal palace the Federal Police shot up the pickup trucks and beat up some of the occupants.
05:00 One of the Rural Police members watched when they murdered civilians in the plaza.
05:05 W: “They yelled at me, “Put your hands up, get on your knees!’ When I was going to put my hands up and get on my knees, I saw a person who was farther down, towards the “Tres Hermanos” store, a person who was on his knees, you can see how they shoot him in the face and he falls down, the comrade falls down…”
05:25 W: “They shoot the person, who was already on his knees, had surrendered, was unarmed.”
R: Do they execute him?
W: They execute him.
W: The Federal Police.
05:35 Screen: Alfredo Castillo.
R: The detainees were taken to the regional office of the Mexican Attorney General in Morelia, and from there, to a prison in Tepic.
05:45 R: At 7:00 a.m. on January 6, ten Federal Police pickups and tow trucks took the previous night’s detainees and impounded vehicles down Constitution Avenue towards the impound yard.
06:00 Survivors of the dawn attack swear that the Federal Police caravan was carrying wounded people and detainees who were crying for help.
06:10 The civilians, with sticks in their hands, caught up to them and tried to rescue them, but the Federal Police fired at them with explosive bullets and with their M-60 machine guns.
06:20 The civilians’ advance stopped amidst the volley of gunfire.
06:27 A red pickup carrying more young workers came upon the scene in the middle of the attack.
06:30 The person on the passenger side, a 17 year old girl, recorded with her cell phone for 37 seconds the flow of civilians with sticks who were running towards the patrol vehicles and had to retreat due to the gunfire.
06:45 When they were attacked, she and the other youths escaped by crawling out of their vehicle.
06:50 A white pickup with seven young people, all lemon pickers younger than 20 years of age, was left at the front. Among them was a teenage girl, 16 years old.
07:00 A few yards behind them, the black pickup belonging to Miguel Madrigal, one of the Los Viagras operators in Apatzingán, stopped. The detonations were bursting the glass, tires and body panels on the pickups stuck there.
07:15 Frightened, the neighbors were peeking out. One of them heard a Federal (Police) officer give orders to kill them.
07:20 (Screen: Neighbor from Apatzingán, Michoacán)
07:20 W: And from the Federal Police, I also heard that someone was yelling, “Kill them, kill them!”.
07:25 A neighbor observed three of the wounded young men bleed out for almost an hour.
07:30 W: It was very sad because it seemed as though they were consoling each other. They were alive and they would hold each other’s shoulder.
07:40 A video on YouTube showed how at a certain point a young man wearing a striped T-shirt, surrounded by two murdered comrades in pools of blood, slowly moved his arm without getting any help.
07:53 In a 2 hour 49 minute recording of the radio transmissions of the group under attack, one of them is heard warning that the ones shooting at them are Federal Police:
08:05 Screen: Civilian Group’s Radio Transmissions: “Over here they are still firing, they are still firing. One of our comrades is unable to get out. The Federal Police are shooting at us!“
08:05 Second Voice: “We can’t get out. One of our comrades just died in my hands! He just died, and they just hit another one! What do we do?! Are we going to stay here? Are we going to stay here and die until help gets here?”
08:25 The Federal Police did not request ambulances even though the Ramon Ponce General Hospital is located on the same street.
08:30 The black pickup belonging to Mr. Madrigal had stopped in front of one of the corners of the intersection of Plutarco (street). The heavyset man had descended from his truck with his T-shirt pulled up to show he was unarmed, but they still shot him.
08:45 The attack against them forced the Madrigal family to lie down together on the pavement, the married couple covering the sides with their bodies.
08:58 W: “And the girls were shouting, because it was a young man, his wife, a sister and two others who were in the pickup, they were riding in the pickup. And they were shouting, ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, were unarmed!’, and then they would cry, then they would shout and then cry.”
09:15 W: And I was peeking out from around there. They came down the sidewalk, all of them. And from the corner, just like that, they got them! And that’s how they were, alive, protecting themselves. And when the Federales saw that they were not shooting at them, they came over and massacred them. They tore them apart.
09:29 R: The family was left in each other’s arms, with multiple bullet holes, lying on top of sticks and pieces of torn flesh.
09:40 The toll from this second attack was more dead civilians, so many, that they did not fit into the local medical examiner’s facility.
09:50 On Reyes day (January 6) in the morning, after the second attack, a witness saw Federal police placing civilians under submission.
09:55 Screen: Cycllst: He witnessed the execution of civilians.
09:59 W: They began to get civilians to get down and began shooting them right there, to put them on their knees and then with their hands up, (the civilians) asking them not to shoot, that they did not have weapons, and even then, they were shooting them.
10:22 A small group of workers dared to go in with two pickup trucks to rescue people barricaded during the shooting. They carried out another young man who was shot in the chest, who was taking cover in a restaurant. The 15 second video showed the young man on the floor as he extended his arms so they could put him in a pickup truck. The rescuing workers left the young man on the sidewalk in front of the hospital just after 8:00 a.m. They returned and brought another person with a knee that was in pieces. The Ponce medical staff says that they did not provide any treatment. Their fate is unknown.
11:00 The shooting ended. The Federales altered the scene. The murdered young men on the white pickup can be seen on videos and photographs with different positions and distances (between them).
11:10 W: The weapons that can be seen there were placed there by the Federales themselves.
11:15 The Federales brought out the two young men who were hiding under the white pickup. Civil Assistance came and gave them aid. The Federales taped themselves helping getting them on stretchers and that’s what they broadcast.
11:30 Four persons were hospitalized at the Ponce (General Hospital). One of the injured persons had his pelvis, bladder and rectum torn up. They carried out emergency surgery. The wounds were gaping holes.
11:41 Another came in with his head and abdomen shot up. The surgical team concluded that he received a coup de grace (finishing shot) that affected his brain. They observed that the wounds presented tattooing, the mark left by gunpowder on the skin when the bullet is fired from a distance of 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 inches).
12:00 At 1:00 p.m., the director of the hospital, Carlos Torres Vega, attempted to transfer them to Morelia, but they prevented him.
12:07 Screen: Dr. Carlos Torres Vega, Director of the Ramon Ponce hospital:
W: The Federales did not allow the young men to be taken out even though they were not classified as detainees.
12:15 Seven hours later, they finally authorized it. They first transferred the patient with an injured pelvis, but it was too late:
12:20 W: (Dr. Torres): He bled profusely; we administered 4 or 5 units of blood, and when he was getting to Morelia, at the last toll booth, right past the last toll booth, he died.
12:35 At the Ponce, the staff found it strange that, as part of the (police) operation, they transferred wounded persons to the civilian hospital in Morelia and Uruapan, which is approximately 2.5 hours away.
12:48 The medical team testified that mothers came into the clinic looking for their daughters, wounded in the dawn attack. They were two or three little girls, one of them 2 years old.
12:55 Screen: Medical Personnel from the Ponce Hospital: Women looking for their daughters.
W: Some persons came in, some women weeping, yelling, asking whether their wounded daughters were there because they couldn’t locate them.
13:15 No bodies were transferred to the Apatzingán Semefo (medical examiner) from the two attacks. A worker stated that they got orders not to take the bodies to those facilities because there were too many (bodies) and they only had the capacity to handle 10:
13:19 Screen: Semefo personnel: No space:
W: They would go by looking for doctors, supposedly because there were a lot (of bodies) and they could not get all of them in here.
- What’s the number of bodies they have the capacity to handle here?
- About 10, more or less.
- So then there must have been more than 10?
13:43 Screen: Three death certificates prove that cadavers were transferred an average travel distance of three hours away.
“Luis Alberto Lara Belmonte, 20 years old, with lacerations in both lungs and thoracic trauma,” was taken to the Lazaro Cardenas Semefo.
13:59 Luis Gerardo Rodriguez Barajas, 18 years old, who died “due to the penetration of multiple projectiles from a firearm” in the abdomen, was transported to Zamora.
14:09 And Guillermo Gallegos Madrigal, 20 years old, who died due to “penetration by a projectile from a firearm through the cranium” was routed to the Morelia Semefo.
14:19 The Commissioner at the time, Alfredo Castillo, explained that in the early hours on January 6, armed men who had taken over the Apatzingan municipal palace were evicted. He said they detained 44 of them for carrying illegal firearms and criminal association, in possession of 13 long (barreled) weapons (rifles) and a grenade. The journals stated that of the 44 detainees, 25 belonged to the G-250 and 19 were civilians.
14:50 On January 14, a judge in Uruapan ordered the immediate release of 43 of them for lack of evidence.
14:56 Only one member of the Rural Police who had been on guard duty far from the site where the events took place and who responded in support of his group carrying his rifle is still in prison and in the process of gaining his freedom.
15:10 With respect to the second attack, Castillo added that at 7:45 a.m., armed men ambushed a Federal caravan to seize impounded vehicles. According to him, there were 8 killed by friendly fire, fired from a red pickup truck. He denied there were any extra-judicial executions.
15:28 The preliminary result from both attacks is 16 extrajudicial executions. The real toll is not known, one of the legal representatives said, because nobody wants to talk because they are afraid. Sixteen days after the massacre, on January 22, Castillo left his office and General Felipe Gurrola took his place.
15:50 Commander Arenas of the Apatzingán Federal Police was transferred to Guerrero.
15:59 The official version remains unchanged to this day.
16:00 A few hours before this report was disseminated, the federal government announced that the PGR (Mexican Attorney General) will conduct an investigation into abuse of authority and excessive use of force by the Federal Police in the events that took place in Apatzingán.
16:14 The authorities were made aware of this matter through a video delivered anonymously. The Federal Police communications office informed Univision that they could neither affirm nor deny that the events under investigation are linked to the Apatzingán massacre on January 6.
[Chivis note: On Monday, the interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, announced that the Attorney General's Office and the Internal Affairs Unit of the Federal Police are conducting an investigation.
I think it is important to note that the people were protesting at the plaza represented different issues. It was a mixed group...some were former Rurales present with "The hated" Nicolas Sierra, others were protesting for rurales pay they claim was never paid to them, and a self-defense group protesting Castillo’s fight against them. Protesters take advantage of festivals to put forth a grievance in a public forum. In this case January 6th is a Catholic “holy day of obligation’, “Three Kings Day”, (Epiphany). This explains why so many families were in the plaza at that time. I strongly believe that in a democracy, extrajudicial or social cleaning killings cannot be tolerated. Or the system fails. Only 6 people had guns, they were legal weapons registered to 6 Rurales, witnesses report when the federal police ordered the 6 to throw down their weapons they immediately followed orders. In my personal opinion, it was a mass killing ordered by Castillo to terrorize people into obedience, by these types of mass killings, or imprisonment.
In this case the feds were sent to eliminate the protesting group, and were not concerned with bystanders, if they were in the way, they too were beaten, abused or worse.
Illegal action against those who dare to challenge the system, or social cleanings, as in other killings we have seen this year, in Iguala and Talatlaya. These killings have always existed in Mexico, but we are becoming more aware of what transpires because of documentations via cell phone.]
Policia Comunitaria Radio Transmissions
A few days ago, the journal Revolucion 3.0 Michoacan published an article with a YouTube video that contained recorded radio transmissions purportedly between members of the criminal organization Los Viagra recorded on January 6, the night of the Apatzingan massacre carried out by the Federal Police (FP). The Apatzingan Policia Comunitaria (PC) blames Los Viagraa for the massacre, but the transcript of the radio transmissions shows that the Sierra Santana brothers were urging people to go out into the streets of Apatzingan to demonstrate, but to carry no firearms. In the recording, Los Viagras keep telling their people that they should not react to any provocation by the FP because the federal forces want them to be perceived as criminals, presumably to justify use of deadly force.
The narrator is wrong on one important point: she states at the start of the recording that the communications were transmitted a few minutes before the confrontation. However, the speaker who appears to be the angriest group leader ("Voto" or "Goto") and who keeps threatening to fire back at the FP has already been shot at and has already had one of his men killed.
But the other group leaders keep telling him not to retaliate, to remain calm, even send another member of the group to bring him in. They insist repeatedly that the FP wants them to retaliate to justify murdering the civilians. They insist they are on the side of the law because they are not carrying weapons. In retrospect, they were right about that, but they still got shot. Below are some key transmissions.
00:25 Easy, Voto(?), we're going to have a lot of time to fight them. We'll hit the military ... just like they killed your boy, we're going to kill them with rocks.
00:49 (Inaudible) ... boys, wherever I tell you... we're all dead, fuck it...
00:51 Everybody here in Apatzingan, come out!
00:58 They're coming out on all the streets, they're getting disorganized, they're running down the streets.
01:09 ... They're killing us like chickens!
01:25 Everybody in Apatzingan! Come out, they're killing us and (we're) without our weapons!
01:37 Voto, where are you located? A lot of people are coming out, everybody come out! We are all going to support this. If they're going to kill us, let them kill us, let them kill us without our weapons!
01:57 Those lieutenants, those colonels who gave the orders are going to be locked up for life, for life, because of what they're doing...
02:04 They're going to be living locked up and we'll be dead with a fistful of dirt in our mouths.
02:10 ... Well, we have to do things right...
02:43 I have one man dead! I have a man dead and they are going to pay for that, those sons of their whoring mothers. I can promise you, those dogs are going to pay for this.
02:59 Coruco, go get Voto, go for Voto. Voto, calm down. Television reporters are coming. All of you, don't be stupid, They fired on us, everything is in our favor. Calm down, don't get excited, fuck it, get yourself under control.
03:10 Fuck it, maybe I'll be dead, but they're going to pay for this, those sons of a whore... They're going to pay for my dead guy that they killed, and pay well, those dogs... Fuck the federales and the citizen police... We tried it their way, but they don't understand words... they started it and they will pay...
03:42 A lot of people are coming down on foot, cars coming down, on foot from Colonia Nueva...
04:05 Easy now, easy. We're going that way... Fuck them and fuck Castillo, too, that son of a whore.
04:58 We have to be on the side of the law, but not on the side of these sons of bitches,OK? We don't have to be criminals, if they want to make us look like criminals, they're going to get fucked. We don't have to play their game. We're going to screw them because they are the criminals because they murdered us...
05:22 That's right. And if we can't handle the... we're going to ask for help from the U.S. government...
05:25 Like the last time, they offered to help us, the U.S. government offered to help us, and out of respect, out of honesty, because we're Mexicans, we didn't accept help from the U.S. This time we're going t ask for it if the (Mexican) government wants to fuck us over, we'll ask the U.S. government for help!