Por Laura Castellanos-Proceso
Translated by Nili Blanck, Jesús Robles Maloof and Jacobo Nájera
Texto traducido al inglés del reportaje de Laura Castellanos en la revista Proceso. Aquí el texto original en español.
On January 6th, federal policemen on dozens of vehicles arrived to the center of Apatzingan, Michoacán, and opened fire on civilians, killing at least 16 people, and injuring many more. However, Alfredo Castillo, former Federal Commissioner for Michoacan who has just been appointed by Mexican president, director of the National Sports Commission, declare that such events were the result of a «crossfire». Mexican journalist Laura Castellanos reconstructs the massacre based on the testimonies of 39 people -survivors, residents, families of victims and medical personnel, among others- as well as photo and video testimonials. Her research was publish by Proceso news magazine, Aristegui Online news, and Univision network.
Apatzingán, Michoacán. (Proceso).- «Kill them like dogs,» federal policemen shouted while there were shooting to a hundred members and supporters of the Rural Force who were on a protest blocking the access of the Municipality Palace in this town, past January 6th.
None of the protesters had automatic or semi-automatic firearms. Six of them were carrying registered pistols and put them on the floor at the events. Other protesters loaded just sticks. None fired.
They all obeyed the instructions given by Nicolás Sierra, El Gordo Coruco leader of the G-250, a group created by the former Federal Commissioner for Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo. For eight months, the G-250 chased Servando Gomez, La Tuta, and leader of Los Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templars) through the mountains of Michoacan.
Sierra is one of seven brothers known as Los Viagra, feared and hated in the region, accused of in the past of being part of the Templarios. They are related to various abuses. Castillo had five of them under his service.
The rural guards, men formed in the lemon harvest, were protesting because his group had been dissolved by Castillo twenty days before without paying his salary, and without consummating its main objective while they faced new incursions of Los Templarios in their localities.
Ruben, an element of the Rural Force, heard the gunfire and jumped out of his truck, when a federal police shouted: «Raise your hands and get on your knees!» He was about to obey when within a few meters he saw another man kneeling, arms raised, at gunpoint by a federal police. Ruben witnessed the execution:
«He was shot while kneeling, rendered, and unarmed. The federal policemen executed him». After this a truck of his group came into the main Plaza and Ruben ran and scape.
Records of 39 people testimonies reveal the facts, Federal Police assaulted and shot to kill unarmed civilians at two events in Apatzingan past January 6th. The first one at 2:30 hours at the main square and at the portals of the Municipality Palace; the second at 7:45 hours, at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Plutarco Elias Calles Street, where a group of federal policemen discharged their M-60 guns to a dozen vehicles carrying rural guards and their families angry because the previous aggression. 16 people were executed that day.
Castillo was the high rank federal official on Michoacan. Six days after the massacre, he made a public statement. Saying that in both events, one people was ran over and eight more were dead due to a “cross fire”.
The facts are reconstructed from the testimonies of twelve of the 44 detained and released on the first attack (including a merchant), seven survivors of the second attack (three were hospitalized), a legal counselor, eight relatives of victims , the medical staff of the General Hospital Ramón Ponce and employees of the Forensic Medical Service (SEMEFO).
Fearing reprisals, the sources asked not to be identified with their names but the reporter has recording interviews with each of them.
THE FIRST MASSACRE
Days before the massacre of January 6th at the Municipality Palace, the G-250 group had been given notice of an imminent attack of the Los Templarios at his protest. They also feared eviction.
That night they had a confrontation with soldiers from the 43rd Military Zone at Apatzingan under General Miguel Patiño. The soldiers tried to disarm the barricade that the G-250 had risen in Lomas de Hoyos to prevent the incursion of Los Templarios. For that reason, El Gordo Coruco presented at midnight in the camp and ordered them not to respond to any authorities with weapons and stones to any provocation in order to avoid being treated «like criminals.»
Early that morning in the center of Apatzingan families walked around by the food stands or into shops that remained open for the Mexican Christmas tradition of Los Reyes (The Wise men). Some rural guards were sleeping in trucks, others were chatting in the garden.
The federal police convoy parked in the back streets of the Palace. According to a member of the extinct G250, the uniformed police, most with their faces covered, others dressed in black, trimmed with Galil rifles 308 caliber, also their Heckler & Koch G3 7.62 caliber, and the R-15 2.23 caliber.
The federal policemen assaulted the main square. The attack lasted 15 minutes. The protesters ran to central park for cover behind the public seats. Surveillance cameras recorded dozens of unarmed people trying to escape from all sides.
More federal policemen came and surrounded the whole place. Witnesses saw the extrajudicial executions committed by federal police. One of them declared that the policemen fired on civilians when they had submitted and gotten to their knees:
«Some were left (of the truck) and told them No! They were unarmed, and the Feds knelt and gave them a shot.»
In the parking lot next to the Municipality, the federal policemen shot at trucks and beat up its occupants. After his capture, another rural guard, named Artemio, witnessed that a police was beating a woman who shouted I’m pregnant. They replied:
«Shut up, bitch, because if not, we’ll kill you!”.
Artemio was detained and he noticed that some families who attended the plaza were also victims.
«We heard the people crying, the women, and children were hysterical»
The feds also arrested merchants and bystanders, described by a taco seller from the central square, arrested along with his son at the “Jackeline Store”:
«Two drivers, a construction worker and a man who sells newspapers with his employee» All arrested.
Artemio also saw that the policemen carried eleven people on a truck:
“Thet never appeared, neither in Morelia or at Nayarit prision”.
Other civilians, who were crossing the garden and hiding on the roof Béjar Building, where taken down by the federal policeman down at gunpoint.
The number of casualties from the first attack remains undetermined.
THE SECOND MASSACRE
That day the sky dawned gray. Blood stains on the street and walls of the Palace and thirty trucks gunned down were the only traces of what happened before.
At 7:20 am a dozen of federal vehicles toked that trucks seized by Constitution Avenue toward the government deposit
Meanwhile, survivors and relatives of detainees, and young laborers who left their job to support them, regrouped in the main square of Apatzingán, located at towards the exit to the town of Chandio. Someone reported that a convoy of federal police left the center of the town. Someone else said that with them the policemen had their colleagues detained, and, the worse, that the people injured, were shouting for help.
Witnesses reported that people of all ages armed with sticks boarded trucks and tried to reach the police caravan, in order to free the wounded colleagues.
Near the intersection of Constitution and Plutarco Elias Calles Street, civilians reached the caravan. In doing so, they descended from their vehicles and smashed with sticks crystals of the last truck of the Federal Police in search of their colleagues. In response, officials detonated against M60 machine guns. These weapons are used to bust vehicle armor when it comes to operations against organized crime. In this case, were used against unarmored vehicles and civilians.
The shooting lasted 20 minutes. The people caravan was halted by firearm projectiles. In the end it was a white truck with seven youngsters under 20, including a 16 years old, carrying sticks as a defense tool.
Meters behind the Miguel Madrigal SUV was stopped, he is one of the operators of Los Viagra of Apatzingán (And of the Rural Force), he was with his family.
The detonations burst the windows, tires and body of stranded trucks. Frightened, neighbors peered from their homes. One of them looked out the window and saw four boys sheltered in the back of the white van: «They were leaving the truck and the policemen were shooting at them … I saw three people lying on the ground, one of them was moving and they didn’t help him, or anything».
Feds shouted «Kill!, kill them!».
Some neighbors say that the police did not call the ambulances, although in the same street, one kilometer away, is the Ramón Ponce hospital. From his window, a neighbor watched three young wounded bled for nearly an hour,
>»It was very sad … it seemed like they were comforting each other … they were alive … they took each other shoulders».
A YouTube video shows how a young man wearing a striped shirt, surrounded by two colleagues was slowly moving his arm without being aided.
The time was of the family. The black SUV Mr. Madrigal against the corner of the intersection of Plutarco Street and Constitution. The big man on it came down with his shirt lifted, trying to prove that he was unarmed, but he was also shot.
In a two hours and 49 minutes file of the radio transmission of the G-250, in possession of the reporter, Madrigal and other rural guards, cried for help and they quoted that the offenders where the federal policeman:
«Our people cannot leave there… we are being shot by the feds!”
A neighbor saw when Madrigal’s son tried to counter attack with a short gun. His shot was insignificant compared to the powerful detonations assault rifles. However a federal policeman was injured.
The attack against that family made the lie down on the road, both husbands cover the rest with their bodies. The neighbor witnessed the scene for 20 minutes:
«They were massacred! Tor them into pieces!»
The family was left embraced with multiple bullet holes, leaning on sticks and bits of torn flesh. A shot from a close range made Madrigal’s head explode.
The Madrigal death certificate indicates that the cause of death was homicide, because «penetration of a projectile gun to the head.»
The feds then advance, towards the trucks where civilians were sheltering, and once there they perpetrated extrajudicial executions as a cyclist testified:
«Federal started by taking down civilians from trucks and kneeling with their hands up and in that position they shot them».
THE WOUNDED AND CORPSES
Passing 8:00 hours at the Ramón Ponce Hospital, the physicians received the body of a twenty years boy, with a bullet in the chest. He wasn’t identified.
Another group of rural guards dare to rescue the entreched people and went in two trucks. They took another boy with a bullet in the chest who was sheltered in a restaurant. A 15-second video shows that small boy on the floor with the bloodied shirt, extending his arms and moved by other men into a truck .
Rescuers let this young man and another with the torn knee on the sidewalk of the Ponce’s Hospital, without noticing the medical staff, so he did not enter the hospital.
However the medical staff declared that they didn’t received them attended. One of the civilians warned that federal police could have taken them. Their condition is unknown.
The shooting was ended. One survivor said federal policemen altered the scene of the victims of the white truck:
«The weapons that appear there, were put by the feds themselves».
Four people were admitted on the Ramón Ponce Hospital. One of the injured, a 18 years old was carrying his pelvis, his bladder and the rectum wrecked. They operated him at emergency. The wounds were like gaps. For one of them the physicians touched his destroyed spine.
Another 17 year old boy came with a shot at the abdomen and at the head. A member of the hospital valued that he had the coup de grace that damaged his brain. The physician found that the injuries had the «tattoo» of the burning gunpowder seal on the skin when the projectile is discharged from a distance of 10-20 inches close.
At 13:00 hours Carlos Torres Vega, the hospital director, trying to save lives, tried to move the more seriously injured to the state capital Morelia. The federal police stopped him, which caused the death of one:
«The feds did not let the boys out, even though they were not detained,» Torres said. Seven hours later he was authorized. First >they move the boy injured at the pelvis. Due to the time lost he «bled a lot and by the time we got to the highway control, he >died».
After the two attacks, families visited the hospitals looking for their relatives. The medical staff at the clinic testified that several mothers broked into the hospital searching for their girls, allegedly taken the feds that morning. They said that were two or three missing, one of them of only two years. A hospital worker testified:
«Some women came crying, screaming, saying that their daughters were injured and missing».
At SEMEFO (Forensic Medical Service) no corpse of the two attacks was moved. One worker said were instructed not to take the bodies into their facilities.
Three death certificates prove the transfer of corpses at an average distance of three hours’ drive: A Luis Alberto Lara Belmonte, 20, with «laceration in both lungs and thoracic trauma,» he was taken to SEMEFO Lazaro Cardenas; Luis Gerardo Barajas Rodriguez, 18, who died «by the penetration of multiple firearm projectiles » in his abdomen, he was transferred to Zamora, and Guillermo Gallegos Madrigal, of 20, died of «penetration of a projectile firearm to skull «, they moved him to the SEMEFO of Morelia.
THE OFFICIAL TRUTH
On January 12th, in a press conference Castillo explained that the morning of January 6th gunmen who blocked the Municipal Palace of Apatzingán were evicted. 44 were arrested for conspiracy and possession of firearms: 13 rifles and grenades. Castillo said that there was one men ran over.
Meanwhile protesters group said that of the 44 arrested, 25 were of G-250 and 19 people were not at the protest, including a pregnant women and a girl with disabilities.
Despite the official version, January 14th Judge Jorge Wong Aceituno ordered the «immediate release» of 43 of them, for a lack of evidence.
On a Freedom Ballot In the criminal case 3/2015-I, held by the reporter, they were exonerated of the crimes of «carrying firearms exclusive fire the army, navy or air force» and «conspiracy».
Only one element of the Rural Force on duty and away from the scene who came to support their group with his rifle still in jail and he is in the process of being released. About the second attack, Castillo said that at 7:45 am gunmen ambushed a convoy of federal police to remove seized vehicles. He said there were eight killed by «friendly fire» fired from a red truck. He denied that there were extrajudicial executions.
Preliminary reports of both attacks is 16 extrajudicial executions. However, one of the G-250 legal representatives, says that the actual balance remains unknown because no one wants to denounce «fearing».
The January 22 Castillo was replaced by General Philippe Gurrola. Commander Sands Apatzingán PF, he was commissioned Guerrero.
Only one element of the Rural Force on duty and away from the scene who came to support their group with his rifle still in jail and is in the process of being released.
The second attack, Castillo said at 7:45 am gunmen ambushed a convoy of federal police to remove seized vehicles. He said there were eight killed by «friendly fire» fired from a red truck. He denied that there were extrajudicial executions.
Preliminary reports both attacks group is 16 extrajudicial executions. However, says one of his legal representatives, the actual balance is not known because no one wants to denounce «because they fear».
On January 22nd, Castillo was replaced by General Felipe Gurrola. Arenas, the policemen commander, was commissioned Guerrero.
A few hours before this article was published, it was disseminated, that after receiving an anonymous video the federal government announced an investigation of «abuse of authority» and «excessive use of force» by federal police in Apatzingán events, without clarifying whether they referred to the events of January 6th. The reporter asked Castillo an interview and there was no answer.
On April 16, 100 days after the Apatzingán massacre, Castillo appointed director of the National Sports Commission (CONADE).