Mexican massacre investigator found dead

Guardian UK (Link) - Jo Tuckman (August 27, 2010)

The body of an official investigating the massacre of 72 Central and South American migrants killed in a ranch in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas was found today dumped beside a nearby road alongside another unidentified victim, according to local media.

Earlier, two cars exploded outside the studios of the national TV network Televisa in the state capital, Ciudad Victoria. There were no casualties, but the blasts added to a growing sense of fear in the aftermath of the worst single act of violence in the country�s raging drug wars.

Meanwhile, investigators under armed guard continued the process of identifying the victims, with 20 named by midday on Friday, local officials said.

The migrants, 14 of them women, came from at least four countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil and Ecuador. They were found bound and blindfolded by the wall of a barn after navy personnel stormed the ranch on Tuesday.

The massacre was discovered after an Ecuadorian migrant, who had been left for dead with a neck wound, escaped. Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, 18, found his way to a navy road checkpoint.

He said the migrants had been kidnapped by armed men who identified themselves as belonging to the Zetas, one of the cartels fighting for supremacy in the state. He said the killing began after they refused offers to work for the cartel.

Interviewed at their home in a remote Andean village by Ecuadorian TV, Lala�s family said he had left for the US two months ago after paying $15,000 (�9,000) to a people smuggler to organise the trip.

�I told him not to go, but he went,� said one of his seven brothers, Luis Alfredo. His 17-year-old pregnant wife Maria said she had received a call a few weeks ago from Guatemala, indicating all that was well.

The Ecuadorian government has complained that the survivor�s security has been put at risk by the publication of his identity around the world. Mexican newspapers said he had been transferred from hospital to a naval base. His family in Ecuador was put under police protection.

The massacre has focused attention on the vulnerability of US-bound economic migrants as they cross Mexico, a situation long denounced by activists, but largely ignored by the Mexican government until now. Since at least 2008 organised crime groups, particularly the Zetas, have preyed on migrants, primarily from Central America. Copycat groups might also be using the name of the infamously violent cartel to terrify their victims. A report published in 2009 by Mexico�s national commission of human rights estimated that more than 1,600 migrants were kidnapped every month.

Typically, the aim has been to force relatives in the US to pay a ransom. Activists have also documented many cases of complicity within the Mexican authorities.

In a chilling testimony published in El Universal newspaper this week, a Salvadoran identified as Marisolina described being forced to cook and clean for the kidnappers as other migrants disappeared if they could not raise the ransom.

�They kept the ones who couldn�t pay tied up in a room waiting to be killed,� she said. �I would give them food in the morning and next day they wouldn�t be there and new ones would be in their place.�