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Words can kill

4 July 2015

On 11 June 2014, Teniente de Infantería (Infantry Lieutenant) Ezequiel Rodríguez Martínez received a written order from his commanding officers outlining actions to be undertaken in “Operación Dragón”, a supposedly anti-crime operation scheduled to take place in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico.

On the night of 30 June (19 days later), 22 civilians were gunned down by Lieutenant Rodríguez’ troops.   Having left a survivor, it was impossible for the Army to deny having been involved in the massacre.  Initially, the action was described as an anti-drug operation (which wouldn’t excuse mass murder, although it would sway public opinion away from seeing this as a human rights violation.  Alas, the survivor was not a drug dealer, but just another young adult out partying at five in the morning.

On her behalf, Catholic Church supported ” Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez” has been assisting in her suit against the government for violating her human rights.  With suspicions of military involvement in the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students in September of 2014, the Centro Pro Juárez investigation has taken on a signficance beyond Lieutenant Rodríguez’ possible culpability, and called into question the role of the military establishment, and their civilian leaders.

The document sent to the Lieutenant, a “General Operating Order” outlined his responsibilities for the supposed anti-crime drive.  Point 7 in the “General Operating Order” called on Lieutenant Rodríguez and his men to conduct “massive” night operation against “delinquents” and during the day, “reduce” (criminal) activity, and… specifically… as it reads in Spanish:

… a fin de abatir delincuentes en horas de oscuridad, ya que el mayor número de delitos se comete en ese horario.

The most benign translation of that would be to “bring down the criminals in the hours of darkness, for that is when the most crimes are committed”.

But “bring down” is not exactly what “abatir” means.  To quash; to beat down; to grind into the dirt… all might be better translations, as is… to gun down.  

Although the Secretariat of Governance (which is in charge of internal security) was today pointing out the various alternative meanings of “abatir” , it’s difficult to see how a military unit … sent out armed and supposedly fighting an “enemy” would read that command as not calling for violent action at the very least.  Against…?  “Delinquents” is not clearly defined, partying at five in the morning being — without too much of a stretch — delinquent behavior.  Certainly shady to some.

As Jorge Carrasco Araizaga points out in this past week’s Proceso, the military forces have, for the past nine years, been assigned a task of fighting an “internal conflict”… with broad directives from the civilian leaders (like the Commander-in-Chief, the President of the Republic) that permit the military leaders to act independently, leaving the details of operational procedures up to individual commanders “in the field”. 

Besides the immediate issue of wondering whether the Lieutenant exceeded his orders, and — if not — where responsibility for giving those orders lies (though, of course, “just following orders” is not a legal justification should the Lieutenant or any of the soldiers involved be prosecuted), there is the more pressing existential problem for the military of seeing the civilian population … which they are supposedly protecting… as the potential “enemy” to be quashed, ground into the dust, gunned down… and for our elected leaders in having to justify turning our national protectors into our own enemy.


“Abatir no significa matar”: Segob asegura que el ejército no mandó ejecutar a los de Tlatlaya, Emeeques (03 July 2015)

Carrasco Araizaga, Jorge. Abatir, la orden a los militares mexicanos,  Proceso (2 July 2015)

Hubo orden militar de abatir civiles, previo a Tlatlaya (informe completo), Aristigui Noticias (3 July 2015)

Mexico troops in Tlatlaya slayings had orders to kill, report says, Los Angeles Times (2 July 2015)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Yvan permalink
    4 July 2015 1:40 pm

    This is symptomatic of the way the Federal Government does almost everything in Mexico. Congress passes laws without any consideration of how they will be implemented. They might be wonderful on paper, but because no one wants to take responsibility for problems that might arise in their practical application, they remain just that – wonderful, often idealistic principles. In practice, they are just more grist for the mill of corruption that is party operations at the state and local level.

    It is apparently the same with the military occupation of the country, supposedly justified by the drug war. Civilians give general orders to the military to “clean things up”, but don’t go itno any specifics that can bite them in the ass later. So the Devil takes charge of the details.

    Where are the micro-managers in Mexican government? Where are the … god help me … Bill Clintons and the technocrat class that somehow found its way to high positions in the U.S. and Europe?

    Obviously, this event isn’t going to be shameful enough in itself to force a change in party priorities. Judging by history, there is no reason to think that Mexico City will ever need to take governing seriously.

  2. Valerie Moore permalink
    2 September 2015 12:08 pm

    Who will be courageous enough to accept responsibility for oversight of these civilian ordered – militarily executed actions? Who would protect those who would be courageous enough to step up? The eternal questions.


  1. The plot sickens | The Mex Files

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