35+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

The Allende Massacre in Mexico: A Decade of Impunity

Forensic specialists from the Mexican Federal Police examine one of the primary crime scenes from the Allende massacre on January 28, 2014.

Forensic specialists from the Mexican Federal Police examine one of the primary crime scenes from the 2011 Allende massacre on January 28, 2014.

Published: Mar 18, 2021
Briefing Book #750

By Michael Evans, Senior Analyst, National Security Archive

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Special thanks to former National Security Archive intern Emily Taylor for her assistance with this collection

Declassified Investigative Dossier Examines Officials' Roles in Cartel Killings

10th Anniversary of Worst Human Rights Episode in Mexico's Recent History

Washington, D.C., March 18, 2021 – Ten years ago, the Mexican municipality of Allende was the site of one of the worst human rights atrocities ever seen in the country: a three-day rampage that punctuated a larger wave of violence in which the Los Zetas criminal group kidnapped, murdered, and later burned the bodies of as many as 300 victims, incinerating the remains into piles of ashes, bits of teeth, and tiny bone fragments.

The National Security Archive marks this grim anniversary by publishing an extensive evidentiary history of the Allende massacre focusing on key documents and testimony from a 4,000-page dossier of investigative records that prosecutors in the state of Coahuila only began to compile almost three years after the fact.

The files depict a town almost completely beholden to Los Zetas—from the mayor’s office to top police commanders to ordinary cops on the street. Witnesses describe in graphic detail how Los Zetas undermined and criminalized the public security forces of Allende, and how the latter routinely participated in kidnappings, murders, and other crimes on behalf of the group. To date, only a handful of Zetas and corrupt police officials have been convicted in a case that involves dozens of crime scenes, hundreds of victims, and the documented participation of numerous Zetas and public officials.

Among the evidence posted today are the first complaints filed by the loved ones of those who went missing, the sworn declarations of Zetas members, Allende police and other city officials, the statements of firefighters and others who witnessed the violence, along with hundreds of pages of forensic reports, crime scene photos and related material.

*            *            *            *            *

The Allende Massacre: A Decade of Impunity

By Michael Evans

On the night of March 20, 2011, four firefighters arrived at a ranch along a stretch of rural highway linking the northern Mexico towns of Allende and Villa Unión. Inside the gate, a small building was burning. Members of the criminal group Los Zetas could be seen unloading barrels next to a storage shed near the back of the property. The acrid odor of diesel fuel hung in the air.

Outside the ranch entrance, the firefighters spotted officers and vehicles from the Allende police department. Among them were the director, Roberto Guadalupe Treviño, shift commander María Guadalupe Ávalos, known as “La Lupe,” and officer Bertha Rosario Téllez Vega, known as “La Chayo.”[1]

A fire department volunteer described the scene as they approached.

[F]rom the road you could see smoke coming from inside the ranch. We continued to advance until we reached the ranch, where I saw that there were a number of blue and white municipal police patrol cars and several police officers … And these police, it’s like they were guarding the place.
Declaration of Allende volunteer firefighter, December 17, 2014

Peering through the gates, the firefighters saw members of the Los Zetas criminal group berating and beating members of the Garza family, who owned the ranch, along with several of their employees. They watched as gang members led their victims into a larger shed near the back.

“[A]nd how the Zetas were shouting at them and hitting and mistreating them,” the then-chief of the department told investigators in his 2014 statement to state prosecutors. Three and a half years later, what stood out to these firefighters was the conspicuous police presence, the brutal treatment of the captives, and the threats directed at them by Zetas members.

[W]hen the Zetas realized that we were there, they said to us, “You’d better get the hell out of here, motherfuckers! Or do you want the same thing to happen to you or to your families?”
- Declaration of Allende fire chief, December 17, 2014

Ten years ago, the Mexican municipality of Allende was the site of one of the worst human rights atrocities ever seen in the country: a three-day rampage that punctuated a larger wave of violence in which the Los Zetas criminal group kidnapped, murdered, and later burned the bodies of as many as 300 victims, many of them from Allende but also from nearby towns like Villa Unión and Piedras Negras, a city 35 miles to the north that lies just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.

In a country where murders and disappearances are troublingly common, the scale and the horrific details of the Allende massacre case still stand out. No one is sure exactly how many were killed, and the methods used by the Zetas to dispose of the bodies—incinerating them in barrels of gasoline and diesel fuel—make it unlikely that there will ever be a definitive count of victims.[2]

Despite the unimaginable death toll and visible trail of destruction, for several years the case was largely ignored by federal, state, and local authorities. Ten years later, the case has wide-ranging implications after investigative reporting in the U.S. and Mexico have linked the massacre to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and top Mexican security institutions.

The National Security Archive marks this grim anniversary by publishing an evidentiary history of the Allende massacre focusing on key documents and testimony from a 4,000-page dossier of investigative records compiled by Mexican prosecutors in the state of Coahuila.[3]

Witnesses describe in graphic detail how Los Zetas undermined and criminalized the public security forces of Allende, and how the latter routinely participated in kidnappings, murders, and other crimes on behalf of the group. Several said the police director ordered that officers should “not do anything or say anything” about the carnage. Another told investigators that the local Los Zetas chief acted “like he was in his own house” during frequent visits to the Allende police station.

The Archive pried open the files using a special provision of Mexico’s access law requiring the release of information relating to human rights violations. The human rights exception applies even to records from an ongoing criminal investigation, the kinds of files normally only accessible through high-profile leaks, such as the Panama Papers, or in piecemeal fashion and after lengthy delays through access to information laws.[4] Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) has since posted the declassified volumes on its website, but they are not easy to find without a direct link.

The tenth anniversary of the Allende killings comes as allegations of narcotics-related corruption among top Mexican officials have brought U.S.-Mexico security ties to their lowest point in many years. The 2020 U.S. arrest of Mexico’s former defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, for alleged narcotics ties has led Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to fast-track a new law imposing strict new restrictions on U.S. personnel in Mexico and that threatens to significantly curtail the exchange of intelligence and law enforcement information.[5] More recently, López Obrador signaled his intention to eliminate the autonomous state organ charged with guaranteeing access to human rights documents like these, the National Institute of Access to Public Information and Personal Data (INAI).

Meanwhile, criminal violence continues to soar in Mexico, with the Cartel of the Northeast (CDN), successor to Los Zetas, implicated in some of the worst cases.[6] In January, the bodies of 19 Central American migrants were found in Tamaulipas, a neighboring Mexican border state and the site of hundreds of still largely unexplained migrant murders over the past eleven years. Witnesses said the recent killings came after CDN members entered the town days earlier in search of rival gang members. Prosecutors said at least a dozen specially trained police officials may also have been involved.

Villa Unión, just a 20-minute drive from Allende, has been the site of numerous acts of violence linked to the CDN in recent years. In November 2019, CDN gunmen riddled the city hall with gunfire and engaged in a gun battle with federal forces that left at least 21 dead.

The horrifying persistence of brazen cartel attacks like these is a reminder of how little has changed in Mexico, especially in the border states of Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo León. Large swaths of northeastern Mexico have been under the de facto control of drug cartels for more than a decade despite the promises of successive governments to rein in the criminal groups and root out the corrupt officials who have made it all possible. The recent violence is also a reminder that Mexican authorities have largely failed to protect the country’s civilian population from historically high levels of violence or to alleviate the effects of an ever-deepening security crisis.

Founded in 2002 as the enforcement arm of the notorious Gulf Cartel, the first members of Los Zetas were recruited from a Mexican special forces group known as GAFE (Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales), members of which were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia.[7] A 2005 FBI evaluation found that the original Zetas had a military-style organizational structure that included “counterintelligence, intelligence and tactical enforcement units.” By 2010, Los Zetas had broken with the Gulf Cartel and independently controlled key narcotics smuggling corridors and strategically located cities in northeastern Mexico near the U.S. border. In towns like Allende, Los Zetas relied mainly on local recruits and corrupt officials to protect their narcotics operations, shake down local businesses, and keep watch for rival gangs and other threats.

In June 2019, more than eight years after the fact, President López Obrador apologized for the Mexican government’s ineffective response to the assault on Allende, pinning most of the blame on narcotraffickers but also recommitting his government to implementing the March 2018 CNDH recommendations, which included punishing government agents who facilitated or failed to react to the violence.[8] But the initial three-year delay in starting the investigation has complicated the pursuit of justice for the massacre. To date, prosecutors have managed only a handful of convictions in a case that involves dozens of crime scenes, hundreds of victims, and the documented participation of numerous Zetas and public officials.

The newly released files on Allende, including evidence gathered in the weeks and months immediately following the massacre, show just how inadequate these investigations have been. The collection of testimonies found in the files of Coahuila state prosecutors depict a town almost completely beholden to the criminal group—from the mayor’s office to top police commanders to ordinary cops on the street. Among the evidence are the first complaints filed by the loved ones of those who went missing, the sworn declarations of Zetas members, Allende police and other city officials, the statements of firefighters and others who witnessed the violence, along with hundreds of pages of forensic reports, crime scene photos and related material.

Only a handful the Allende massacre victims actually had ties to the Zetas—running drugs across the border or, according to some witness accounts, laundering drug money. Hit especially hard was the extended family of José Luis Garza Gaytán (also known as “Junior” and “El Wichin”). Garza Gaytán was a member of a Los Zetas cell led by Mario Alfonso “Poncho” Cuellar, a former Mexican federal police officer. The targets included the families of Junior’s father, José Luis Garza y Garza, and his uncles Víctor, Rodolfo, and Sergio. Much of the worst violence occurred at a pair of ranches owned by the Garza family and located outside of the city center along the highway.

Some of those interviewed during the investigation said the rampage started as an act of revenge by top Zetas leaders against Cuellar, Junior, and other deputies, who they accused of pocketing millions of dollars in stolen drug money.

But a 2017 investigation by Ginger Thompson of ProPublica found that Cuellar and Junior were targeted for another reason: Los Zetas leaders had discovered that members of Cuellar’s cell were cooperating with agents of the DEA and had provided them with secret PIN codes allowing the DEA to track the mobile phones of top Zetas leaders. Thompson later turned the original report into a multi-episode podcast.

According to Thompson’s reporting, “[t]he wave of killings was unleashed” after DEA agents shared the PIN codes with a specially vetted Mexican Federal Police (MFP) group known as the Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU), which had a “record of leaking information to violent and powerful drug traffickers.”

That report was followed by the 2018 conviction in U.S. federal court of the longtime head of the SIU, Iván Reyes Arzate, who prosecutors say conspired with some of the very drug cartels he was to pursue as director of the specially trained, U.S.-funded intelligence unit. The U.S. filed additional charges against Reyes in January 2020. One U.S. law enforcement official said that “[Reyes] Arzate’s corruption as the highest-ranking officer in the MFP’s Sensitive Investigative Unit allowed violent cartels to continue the flow of drugs through the region without consequence.”

Thompson’s reporting and the U.S. investigations strongly suggest that the former SIU chief may have been part of a criminal conspiracy that sparked the Allende massacre. Prosecutors say that Reyes took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from the cartels during his 13-year career at the SIU, including large payments from the Sinaloa and Beltran-Leyva cartels, among others. In exchange, Reyes passed DEA intelligence to the criminal groups, including, in at least one case, “sensitive information about a pending DEA investigation.” In 2020, a U.S. court also indicted Reyes Arzate’s boss, former public security minister Genaro García Luna, for taking tens of millions of dollars in bribes from Sinaloa Cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Prosecutors say they have “presumptively related” the Reyes and García cases.

Diego Osorno, a reporter from the newspaper Milenio, has examined various new sources of evidence related to the Allende case in a series of recent articles. One installment revealed that officials from the Mexican Army and the top civilian intelligence agency (CISEN) within days knew key details about the massacre, including that Poncho Cuellar had fled to the U.S. with a stash of cartel money and was talking to the DEA.

Leaving aside the role of the DEA and the wider implications of the case, today’s posting focuses on the most revealing documents among the facts-on-the-ground evidence gathered by the state of Coahuila. The collection is at once a narrow and graphic examination of the events of March 18-20 and a broader look at the combination of bribery, intimidation, and ruthless violence used by Los Zetas (and now, CDN) to turn local security forces into instruments of their criminal operations.

*******

The attack at Allende began on the night of March 18, 2011, when the Zetas and their collaborators launched a coordinated three-day sweep through the town, situated only about 25 miles from the U.S. border. As many as 40 houses and seven ranches were sacked and burned, according to a March 2018 CNDH report, the inhabitants beaten and dragged away—kidnapped in broad daylight. Others were simply picked up off the street.

José Alfredo Jiménez was one of the first of the Zetas to arrive at Luis Garza’s ranch that night. Known as “El Pájaro” (“The Bird”), Jiménez was hired by the Zetas in the summer of 2010 as a “halcón” (“hawk”) to monitor the movements of rival gangs, state and federal security forces, and anything else that might threaten Los Zetas. The job netted Jiménez about eight thousand pesos ($700 USD) per month, plus expenses.

Jiménez told authorities that local Zetas leaders sent him to the ranch as part of an all-out assault on people and properties associated with the Garza family. The plan, he said, was “to kidnap and kill everyone.” When more Zetas and “various patrols of the municipal police” arrived later they “knocked down the main gate” of the Garza ranch by ramming it with a truck, according to Jiménez.

[W]e all went in shooting and tied up all the people that were found inside the ranch. And there were approximately from seven to ten people that we tied up with rats’ tails. It was the case that among them I recognized several, since I knew them, because we were from the same municipality of Allende, Coahuila, where I live.
- Declaration of Zetas member José Alfredo Jiménez Aguilar (El Pájaro), June 13, 2014

Germán Zaragoza Sánchez, better known as “El Canelo,” was a top Zetas boss in Allende and managed a group hawks who monitored and reported on the movements of state and federal security forces. Zaragoza said up to 60 Zetas assassins may have participated in the Allende operation, sweeping up people in the surrounding towns and dropping them off at the Garza Ranch.

About five estacas[9] participated, and with [deleted] and [deleted] ten more joined. And each estaca is made up of four assassins, but there were trucks that brought more people in the trailers. People from the town stole the furniture, vehicles, and machinery [from the houses] and sold it for scrap metal.
- Declaration of Germán Zaragoza Sánchez (“El Canelo”), April 8, 2014, 10:00am

Most of the victims were later shot and killed, after which the Zetas crudely cremated the bodies, dousing them in gasoline and diesel fuel and burning them overnight until nothing remained but ashes and tiny bone fragments.

Among the first to be rounded up were people connected to El Wichin’s uncle, Rodolfo Garza, who owned a ranch directly adjacent to that of his brother Luis. Family members lost contact with Rodolfo and his daughter, Liliana Garza de la Torre, on the night of March 18. Liliana’s brother, Rodolfo Garza, Jr., last heard from her around six or seven o’clock that evening. His wife, Sarah Angelita Lira, said that Liliana had called “to tell him that their uncle’s ranch was on fire, and that she was leaving the ranch, and that they were closing the gate.”

So my husband left. But a few minutes later he called me saying that neither his father nor his sister were answering … and that there were many trucks and armed men guarding the entrance to the ranch. And he told me to get out of the house and to go to my mom’s house … [W]hen I got to my mom’s house, my husband called again to tell me that things were getting really ugly; that they had broken into my house and stolen our truck.
- Complaint of Sarah Angelita Lira, November 11, 2014 

Liliana’s husband, Arturo, had also been unable to reach his wife or her parents. Early in the morning on March 19, Arturo called his own mother, Elvira Espinoza, and told her that neither Liliana, who worked for her father’s ranch business, nor her parents were answering their phones. He said that he and Rodolfo Jr., his brother-in-law, were going out to look for them.

Texting with her husband throughout the night, Sarah learned bits and pieces of what he and Arturo were up to.

[H]e was telling me that he wanted to look for the Zetas to see what they were asking for the return of his family. And he was waiting for his brother-in-law … [Later,] he told me that they spent the entire night looking for his family; that he had entered the ranch from the back through an opening, and that he realized that he was alone in the ranch house, and that he was there with the expectation that they were holding his sister and his niece and nephews … all with the last name Espinoza Garza, who on the day of the acts were seven months, three years, and six years of age.
- Complaint of Sarah Angelita Lira, November 11, 2014

Many of the victims were ordinary laborers at the Garza properties. Others had nothing whatsoever to do with the Garza family and were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the latter group was César Alfonso García Ramírez, who had just returned home to Coahuila for a visit from his job in Texas. García’s friend, Everardo Elizondo, worked part-time at Luis Garza’s ranch and also raised fighting cocks. The two had gone to the ranch on March 18 to get medicine for a cockfight that evening. When they did not return or respond to phone calls, their wives became concerned. Elizondo’s wife, Etelvina Rodríguez, said she soon realized that many of the wives of those who worked at the Garza ranch “were looking for their husbands.”

When García’s wife drove past the Garza ranch the next morning she spotted a group of hooded, armed men inside while Allende police stood watch outside the entrance. Through the gate, she could see what appeared to be bodies piled up next to a burning building.

[W]e passed by the entrance of the ranch where I saw people practically in the street with hoods and black vests who had rifles … [W]e passed by again on the way back to Allende, and through the opening I could see—because from the road you could see all the way to the back—that there were about five or seven trucks, many people with rifles, and I also saw people piled up, like this was where the fire was coming from … [I]t was something big like a bodega. This was at about 7:30 or 8:00 AM on Saturday, March [19], 2011 … Just past the entrance … I could see some Allende municipal police trucks, and beneath these were armed people who I recognized as police.
- Complaint of wife of victim César Alfonso García Ramírez, May 23, 2014

The wife of another victim, a heavy machinery mechanic who worked for the Garza family, also went looking for her husband on the morning of the March 19. Passing by the Garza property, she noticed a group of workers gathered there, waiting to be paid. Her brother-in-law, who also worked for the Garzas, arrived later and told her that her husband had been kidnapped.

When he arrived, he told me and the other workers of the ranch to leave; that there had been a ruckus there; that armed, masked people told him to get inside; and that we should not get involved and should leave the ranch. So I left the ranch in my truck and went home, and since that date I don’t know anything about what happened to my husband.
- Declaration of wife of heavy machinery mechanic for Rodolfo Garza, July 23, 2014

Rodolfo Sánchez Robles, who worked as a chauffeur and mechanic for the Garza family, seemed to know something was wrong on the day he disappeared. His wife recalled the ominous last moments she spent with her husband on March 18, 2011, the night that he and his friend, Hector Lara, disappeared.

[Rodolfo] came home all covered in grease, ate, and later, as we sat outside smoking a cigarette, he told me, ‘Things are getting to be a real pain in the ass,’ but he didn’t tell me anything else, and we were there for about ten minutes.

He told her to cancel the birthday party they were planning for her the next week. “He told me that we were not up for parties,” she said.

So I went to my friend’s house … who lives only two blocks away to tell her this; but in the few minutes I was with my friend, my daughter [called] to tell me that her father was going on a trip … [S]o I headed home, and when I was about 50 meters away, a white, double-cab, “Tundra” pick-up truck arrived, and I see my husband leave the house with his dirty clothes on. He gets up into the truck and with his hand he says goodbye … leaving his suitcase there at the house because he was supposedly going to come back. But he never came back.

Hours later, his daughter was one of the last people to see him alive.

She told me that around 5:30 in the afternoon … she came across the pick-up truck that came for my husband, and that had been circulating up and down Calle Independencia, and that her father was on board the truck together with about five other people, and that he was in the cabin in the back, in the middle, and that the truck was followed by two black late-model cars, Malibu or Impala, and the three vehicles headed for the mountain; this being the last time they saw my husband.
- Complaint of wife of victim Rodolfo Sánchez Robles, November 10, 2014

The next day, the wives of other ranch workers came by the Sánchez Robles house, looking for their missing spouses. “Where did your husband leave my husband?” one asked. “I would ask you the same thing,” she replied. She learned that her husband’s friend, Hector, had also been called away and picked up by the same white truck that came for Rodolfo.

Claudia Sánchez last saw her son, Gerardo Heath, around 9:30 PM on March 18 when he left their home in Piedras Negras to visit a friend who lived down the street.

After about a half an hour, my husband called my son on his cell phone … but he did not answer his phone, which worried us since he always answered.
- Complaint of Claudia Sánchez, October 18, 2013

Sánchez soon learned that there had been a number of disappearances around the city that night, and that one of Gerardo’s friends had also gone missing. She spoke by phone to Fernando Purón, the mayor of Piedras Negras who told her that her son was probably just “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He told her the most likely outcome was that Gerardo would be released “because it was a mistake.” Speaking again later that night, around 3:30 AM on March 19, she said the mayor told her that “it hurt him very much, what we were going through, and he hung up. But there was not any kind of response from the police or any other authority.”

Elvira Espinoza and her husband were among the first to inform federal authorities about the violence, telling investigators that she and her husband reported the disappearance of Arturo, Liliana and the three children to the military garrison along Highway 57, just outside of Allende.

On March 20, 2011, my husband … and I went to the Garrison of Kilometer 53 to talk with the military officials and we told them what had happened. And they went to the Ranch but did not find anyone, and told us that they had scoured the place but had not found anyone.
- Complaint of Elvira Espinoza, November 4, 2011

Contemporaneous records from the Mexican military, obtained through a separate access-to-information request, confirm that the Army received multiple reports about the ongoing violence in and around Allende. On the afternoon of March 20, a man reported the March 18 disappearance of his wife’s parents and five other family members. An Army unit was sent to “Rancho Garza” to investigate. The soldiers found doors torn off, the building sacked, spent shell casings, dead animals, burned buildings, and a pick-up truck riddled with bullet holes, but no people.

It is not clear why members of the the military unit that examined the ranch did not secure the property or, evidently, take any additional steps to comprehend what was happening in Allende. What is clear is that the failure to do so sealed the fates of an untold number of victims who were murdered at the ranch later that night.

Elvira Espinoza told investigators about the day, about a week later, when she found two of her three missing grandchildren at an orphanage in Piedras Negras. She told ProPublica that, after separating the children from their parents, the kidnappers held them for several days before leaving the two older kids at a park. Mauricio, the infant son of Liliana Álvarez and Arturo Espinoza, was never seen again. The Zetas told the other children he “was too little and cried too much to leave him there with them,” according to Espinoza. She said Andrea, the six-year-old, “blames herself for what happened to him.” No one would tell her anything about the person who left the kids at the orphanage.[10]

*******

On the evening of March 20, 2011, Yuliana López Ibarra heard the sounds of gunfire and the desperate cries of her mother-in-law coming through the tiny speaker on her husband’s cell phone.

His mother had called around 9:00 PM to tell her son, Víctor Manuel Garza Pérez, that her house was under assault. Two days after the Zetas’ caravan of death had gotten underway it had arrived at the residence of Junior’s uncle, Víctor Manuel Garza Garza, and his wife Alma Patricia Pérez.

[His mother] told him that they were shooting up the house … I could hear the shots and that she was shouting very desperately. The call lasted for about a minute.
- Complaint of Yuliana López Ibarra, October 14, 2014

Shortly after the troubling March 20 phone call with his mother, Víctor Garza and Yuliana López managed to escape to nearby Sabinas, but Víctor “insisted on going for his parents,” according to Yuliana’s statement. “He got in the truck and returned to Allende, or at least that’s what I think … I don’t know what happened to [Víctor] nor to his parents.” She said she later learned he had been kidnapped from their house and turned over to a criminal group, probably Los Zetas. “That’s the last thing I know about my family.”

Alma’s brother, Héctor Reynaldo Pérez Iruegas, also witnessed part of the attack and was one of the first to file a missing persons report in the case. He said that as many as ten of his family members disappeared that day, including Víctor, Alma, and their youngest son Julio César.[11]

[A]round nine o’clock at night, I found myself at the circus that had set up in town, when suddenly a person by the name of [deleted] came up to me … and told me that in the house of [my sister] … they were hearing shots. For which reason I left the circus and I parked about two blocks from the house ... And outside the house I saw a red, four-door, Chevrolet pick-up truck with a bull bar [“tumba burros”] on the front. And outside the house there were four people with long arms who were dressed in black and had on bulletproof vests. For the most part I could not see their faces because they had hoods on, and the rest I could not recognize because it was a bit far away ... I saw that they took two people out of the house, but I could not distinguish who they were. I only saw that they had them bent over with their hands behind their backs, and they put them in the back of the truck. And after that I left.
- Complaint of Héctor Reynaldo Pérez Iruegas, May 25, 2011

The hooded figures spotted by Héctor Pérez that night included the Zeta known as El Pájaro, who told authorities that he and a group of Zetas led by José Manuel Díaz (“Comandante 7”) and Fernando Ríos Bustos (“Comandante Pala”) had kidnapped Víctor, Alma, and their son Julio, and murdered them at the ranch later that night. In a sworn statement, El Pájaro said the Zetas coordinated the kidnappings with high-ranking officials of the Allende municipal police department, who were present during the abductions and who carried the victims from the house to the ranch in a police patrol vehicle.

Later on the following Sunday, with all of those people locked up at the ranch, around 8:30 or 9:00 at night, I accompanied Comandante 7 and [Comandante Pala], together with various estacas, among others that I recall were [El Canelo, El Cubano, El Chilero, El Panda, El Ruso, El Flacaman, El Cabe and El Meno,] together with a municipal police patrol [in which were riding police officers Guadalupe Ávalos Orozco, ‘La Lupe’, and Jesús Alejandro Bernal Guerrero,] to a house on [Cuauhtémoc] Street in the Center of Allende, which is where Víctor Garza lived.

We arrived
and forced our way in firing shots, from there we took [Víctor Garza], his wife [Alma Patricia Pérez], and their youngest son, I think that [his name was Julio Garza.] With the help of these same police, we put them in the patrol vehicle. Later we took these people to the Garza ranch … where we put them in the same house where we had the others.[12]
- Statement of José Alfredo Jiménez Aguilar (“El Pájaro”), June 13, 2014

Volunteer Luis Herrera Estrada was one of the four Allende firefighters who responded to reports of a blaze at the Garza ranch, and his statement of November 23, 2014, three and a half years later, is the first detailed account in the file of what the firefighters saw at the ranch that night. A longtime resident of Allende, Herrera knew or was familiar with many of the people he saw at the ranch, including the Zetas, their police accomplices, and many of the victims.

[A]t that time I lived in La Colonia Presidentes, and I knew all of these people because they were from the town. And as I am originally from here in Allende, and this is a small town, for this reason I know these people.

Arriving at the ranch that night with three others from the department, Herrera said he “could see that what was burning was a small room that was near the ranch.” He saw that “there were units of the municipal police” out front. He said he recognized many of the Zetas gathered there.[13]

There were other people in civilian clothes who carried long arms, and these people were Los Zetas, since I realized that there at the [Garza] ranch were [El Pala,] whose name is [Fernando Ríos Bustos]; [El Canelo,] whose name is [Germán Zaragoza Sánchez]; [El Cubano], whose name is [Juan Rafael Arredondo Oviedo]; [El Pájaro], whose name is [José Alfredo Jiménez Aguilar]; [El Flacaman,] whose name is [Gabriel Zaragoza Sánchez,] among other people, some of whom I did not know, but they seemed to be from the south since they wore sandals and carried machetes.

Herrera said he knew many of the victims as well.

I could see that the owners of the ranch were there, since I could identify [José Luis Garza,] Mrs. [Alma Patricia,] their son [Julio César Garza, Rodolfo Garza, and] his daughter, whose name was [Nora Liliana Garza de la Torre.] There was also a man by the name of [Everardo Elizondo,] who raised fighting cocks, and [César Alfonso García Ramírez] … And how the people from the Zetas were shouting, hitting and mistreating these people!
- Declaration of Allende volunteer firefighter Luis Gerardo Herrera Estrada, November 23, 2014

The chief of the fire department, Christian Alejandro López Tamez, told investigators in a revised statement that, just like his colleagues, he was able to identify many of the faces he saw there, including the director and other top officials from the Allende police department. López said he “knew all of the municipal police very well, owing to the fact that there was a lot of contact with them.”[14]

Upon seeing all of those police, I realized that they were keeping watch or guarding the place. That is to say, the [Garza] ranch. And from previously I knew that all of the Allende municipal police were linked to or worked for the Zetas.
- Revised declaration of Christian Alejandro López Tamez, December 17, 2014

Firefighter Jesús Gerado De León Ramos, too, spotted “various units of the municipal police” at the entrance to the ranch, including police director, Roberto Guadalupe Treviño Martínez, and shift commanders Maria Guadalupe Avalos Orozco and Rogelio Javier Flores Cruz, who he and others described as key links between the police and the Zetas. De León said that he “already knew that all of the municipal police of Allende were associated with or worked for the Zetas.”

When I saw all those police I realized that they were keeping watch or guarding the place, that is to say the [Garza] ranch … In addition to the police I already mentioned, I noticed that there were more people wearing civilian clothes, some hooded, some not. And together with the patrols there were many cars and trucks both inside and outside the ranch, and these people carried long arms from which I deduced that these people were from Los Zetas.
- Declaration of Allende firefighter Jesús Gerardo De León Ramos, December 17, 2014, 14:50

A fire department volunteer said he also saw many familiar faces among the victims, the Zetas, and the police officials gathered there.

From the highway, smoke could be seen coming from the interior of the ranch. We continued to advance until we arrived at the ranch, where I saw that there were several police patrols from this city, colored white and blue, and a number of police, among others I remember [deleted], [María Guadalupe Avalos,] [deleted,] the director … And it seemed like the police were guarding the place.

There was a fire coming from a small building inside the ranch alongside armed men who “did not seem like they were police,” according to the former volunteer’s statement. He recognized some of them: El Pala, El Cubano, El Pájaro—all of them local men who worked for the Zetas.

Upon seeing us, these people began to shout that we leave the ranch, that we go fuck our mothers, and that we were not to respond to any reports [of fires] that are made.
- Declaration of former Allende volunteer firefighter, December 17, 2014, 11:37

De León said they watched as the Zetas continued to unload large quantities of fuel even as the bodega burned.­­

[T]here was a red truck with wooden enclosures that was parked near the bodega or large barn that was inside the ranch. And you could see that they were unloading large barrels, and the odor of diesel or gasoline was evident.

When the Zetas became aware of our presence, and that we were there to put out the fire, they said to us: “You guys get the fuck out of here! Go fuck your mother! Or do you want the same thing to happen to you and your family?” And they also told us that we were prohibited from going out to any reports. That they did not want to see us going out to extinguish the houses.

De León also remembered the moment, as they were leaving, when he saw the Zetas lead the victims into the bodega.

So the moment that we were leaving the place out of fear from the threats made by these people, and because the police were attending to them, the people of Los Zetas put the entire [deleted] family into the bodega or large barn I mentioned, along with various other people who I saw clearly but who I did not know. And I did not know exactly what happened with them.
- Declaration of Allende firefighter Jesús Gerardo De León Ramos, December 17, 2014, 14:50

The former fire department volunteer described a similar scene as the victims, including several elderly captives, were led to slaughter. “What we saw,” he said, “was something that’s not easy to forget.”

At that moment, I also realized that near a large bodega that was about 70 meters away from where I was there were various people from the town, who the Zetas were shouting at and mistreating, and who I knew because they were from the [deleted] family.

Among others, I remember that there was José [deleted,] the owner of the ranch, [deleted,] his wife, [deleted,] [Víctor Manuel] [deleted,] an employee of the [Garzas] by the name of [deleted,] a man by the name of Héctor [deleted,] among other people from the family of the [deleted] and people from the town whose names I don’t remember, but who I know on sight, other people that I had not seen before, and people of advanced age, who they were putting inside the large bodega.
- Declaration of former Allende volunteer firefighter, December 17, 2014, 11:37

What they saw, before fleeing for their lives, was the beginning of the grimly methodical process often used by the Zetas to destroy the bodies of their victims—to eliminate the primary evidence of the crime.

One of the “cooks” told investigators that his involvement in the Allende massacre began a few days earlier when he was awakened with dousing of cold water. A self-described “foca” (“lookout”) for the Zetas, he had been found sleeping on the job.

I didn’t know which of them woke me up with cold water since I’d been asleep. They picked me up, and, for having fallen asleep, they gave me ten blows on my buttocks with a board, and they gave me shocks [“sapones”] to the head … [T]hey tied up my feet and hands with tape.

After three days of abuse, on the night of March 20, the Zetas took him to the Garza ranch and put him to work managing the incoming truckloads of corpses along with a few living hostages.

When we arrived at the ranch, they went inside the houses and I began to hear many shots fired and people shouting, and they began to throw the bodies of dead people in the bed of the truck, and later they tell me … ‘Get down here, asshole, and tie up this fucking bitch’ … I tied up a man who seemed to be a worker at the Garza ranch, but I did not know this person. And when I finished tying him up, I put him in the back of the truck, and there were already bodies in the trunk.
- Declaration of Zetas member, September 19, 2014

El Pájaro said that a group of victims that had been tied up inside the ranch house were later taken out back to the bodega where they were killed with a shot to the head.

Later, [El Comandante Pala (ordered) El Ruso, El Blue, Chalán, Cabe, Meño, Flacaman, Cubano and Canelo] to take them from the house and walk them to the inside of a bodega near the house, and later to kill all of them, shooting them in the head.

He said that Los Zetas commanders then forced him and another Zeta, who he identified as “Chucho,” to kill two of the hostages, including Everardo Elizondo, the ranch hand who had stopped by the ranch to prepare for the cockfight.

One of the guys that went with Pala, who was nicknamed [El Cabezón,] forced me to kill one of the men, and [forced Chucho to do the same.] And out of fear that they would do something to me if I disobeyed orders, I had to kill a person, that being Everardo Elizondo, who was about 30 or 35 years old, to whom I gave a shot in the head. And also El [Chucho] killed a person, but I did not see who.

El Pájaro said it was left to him and El Chucho to set fire to the house, the bodega, and everything inside, including the many dead bodies.

And what I did, in that place, together with [Chucho] was carry containers filled with gasoline and diesel to the bodega, which was filled with hay. And once they had killed the people, between [Chucho] and I we began to spray the diesel and the gasoline all around the house and the bodega with the bodies inside … After this, we set fire with the help of diesel and gasoline to the bodega with all those dead people inside, and we were there for many hours until we cooked all the people, and with so much fire that it melted the roof of the bodega.
- Declaration of José Alfredo Jiménez Aguilar (El Pájaro), June 13, 2014

El Canelo admitted to having helped burn the body of at least one victim. He said the process reduced the corpses to “pure butter.”

[I]n those days they kidnapped many people … [Where] they killed them and burned them was a ranch … There, they made me burn one body … since I saw what was happening … Others were burned at the [deleted] ranch, but nothing was left, because they told me that only pure butter remained after cooking them.
- Declaration of Germán Zaragoza Sánchez (“El Canelo”), April 8, 2014, 10:00

While many of the corpses were probably destroyed in these larger fires, the Los Zetas cook interviewed on September 19, 2014, gave an especially detailed description of how he and “El Chango” together burned the bodies of at least three victims in individual barrels filled with diesel fuel.

Later we began to cook the corpses that we were left with, and to do this we looked for a space inside the same ranch near the corrals, and later a truck of Zetas brought some barrels and a pickaxe … We made holes in the bottom and on the sides of the barrels, and they were like trash barrels made of sheet metal or iron, and after making the holes, I remember that El Chango and I took one of the bodies from the truck and put it in a barrel. And as there were three barrels we put one dead body in each barrel. I want to point out that I did not know any of the dead ... And when we had them in the barrels [deleted] began to bathe the corpses in diesel so that they could then be set on fire, and I was then sent to keep a lookout a few meters from there to make sure that no one was coming. And after five or six hours during which the corpses were cooked it was then around five or six o’clock in the morning. At the moment the cooking of the corpses was finished, the ashes were thrown in a well, and later covered with earth, and they flattened it so that no one could see anything.
- Declaration of Zetas member, September 19, 2014

The focus on eliminating physical evidence and destroying crime scenes almost certainly played at least an ancillary role in impeding justice in the Allende case. Juan Ariel Hernández Ramos, commander of the Allende police, who reported to the police director, is the most senior public official sentenced in the case. Other convictions include Germán Zaragoza Sánchez (the Zetas members known as “El Canelo”) and Fernando Hernández Reyes, an Allende police officer. All three received lengthy sentences, but with no bodies to build a murder case, they were convicted only of “aggravated kidnapping,” a charge that seems woefully inadequate given the nature of the crimes.[15]

*******

Despite a raft of damning testimony about his role in the massacre, a Mexican court released former Allende Mayor Sergio Lozano from pre-trial detention in February 2017, finding the evidence insufficient to reach a conviction. Prosecutors disagreed, arguing that Lozano collaborated with Los Zetas, was aware of the attacks before they began, and had failed in his obligation to protect the people of Allende. A new detention order for Lozano was issued in March 2018, after the publication of the CNDH report, but little is known about how the case has progressed, and it is unclear whether prosecutors have ever filed charges against police director Treviño, who was seen outside the Garza Ranch and who witnesses say knew about the attacks ahead of time.[16]

Investigators first questioned Lozano and Treviño about the massacre in 2012. In July, Coahuila state investigators gave them a nearly identical set of questions; among them: Did they know about the disappearances as they were happening? What actions had they taken to guarantee the security of the people of Allende? In written statements, both the mayor and the police director said they had only limited contemporaneous understanding of the events of March 18-20, 2011, and claimed that they did not receive any reports about the violence as it was happening.

But as the investigation picked up steam in 2014, dozens of people, including local firefighters, law enforcement officers, civilian eyewitnesses, and municipal officials, came forward to describe a city government almost completely immersed in the criminal structure of Los Zetas, including the mayor and top police officials. Nearly all of those interviewed agreed that the surge in violence and the general pattern of police cooperation with the Zetas was evident for at least a year or two before the March 2011 massacre.

One former member of the Allende police interviewed in July 2014 told investigators that “from the moment that I joined the ranks of the municipal police I realized that all of the people I mentioned previously,” including the mayor, the police director, police commander, and the shift commanders, “were linked to the Zetas criminal organization.”

One of the first witnesses to talk about the police department’s links to Los Zetas was an Allende municipal official in charge of road maintenance, who in January 2014 told investigators that “everyone knows about [the March 2011 Allende massacre] but is too afraid to say anything.”

The next day, investigators requested, and later received, a list of Allende police officials active in 2011 and began to interview them systematically. Police witnesses described a variety of illegal activities they facilitated for the Zetas—from the most shocking to the most mundane—in exchange for relatively modest bribes. Police acted as lookouts (“halcones”) for the group, collected extortion payments from local club owners on their behalf, and participated in the Zetas’ drug trafficking activities.

According to testimony, the police would also arrest and detain people wanted by the Zetas, keeping them in the city jail until the Zetas arrived to take them away. An Allende police radio operator who worked closely with the shift commanders said in his declaration that a ranking Zetas member[17] would sometimes come by the police station and take people from city jail cells with the full knowledge of the police director and commander, both of whom, he said, were paid by the Zetas.

In fact, sometimes [deleted] would come to the municipal jail and take people away. I don’t know who those people were, just that they were people that the police detained or his own people that he ordered be locked up when they handled themselves badly, or people with whom he had a disagreement [“tuviera pedos”]. [I]n fact, he sometimes came and went inside the cells to beat those who were locked up. [T]he director, who almost never left his office, knew all about this. He always knew what was happening here.
- Declaration of former Allende police official, November 12, 2014, 17:30

In return for the department’s cooperation, most officers received 2,000 to 3,000 pesos per month (about $175-260 USD) from Los Zetas. One former Allende police official interviewed during the investigation described how the payments were made.

[T]he municipal police received monthly payments of amounts that ranged from 2,000 to 3,000 pesos, and these were delivered in yellow envelopes … [W]hen they arrived to divide it up they said, “the little chicks” [“los pollitos”] have arrived.
- Declaration of former Allende police official, November 12, 2014, 15:20

Another explained how the money was divided up among members of the Allende police.

I want to point out that all of the police at that time were getting money from the Zetas, some by obligation and some by choice. The money went through the [police] commander, which he then delivered to the “RTs” [shift commanders] … and from them to the rest of us police officials. To me in particular they gave me 2,000 pesos [per month].
- Declaration of former Allende police official, July 22, 2014

Some cooperated more than others. Many needed the money. Few had the courage to defy Los Zetas. “The truth is I accepted them,” one said of the payments, “because I needed to take care of my family, and also because they told us that we had to ‘enter the ring,’ because if we didn’t, they were going to harm us, or kill us or someone from our family.” He explained why, after 16 years on the force, he finally quit the Allende police late in 2011.

I left the job because, the truth is, I did not like what was happening in the town of Allende, since things were getting ugly, in addition to which the entire directorate of the municipal police were mixed up with people from Los Zetas. And this began to occur more or less in the years 2010 and 2011, which was about when Los Zetas got started in the region.
- Declaration of former Allende police official, November 12, 2014, 15:20

Another explained that he stopped cooperating with the Zetas after they kidnapped his father.

I stopped working for Los Zetas because they disappeared my father … who worked as a security guard at a construction site … from where they also kidnapped another worker … and a woman who I did not know, but she seemed to be a minor … At the time of the disappearance of my father I was still with the municipal police and I asked the commander for help … And he told me not to involve myself in these matters and that I should go home and go to sleep.
- Declaration of former Allende police transit officer, July 31, 2014

Senior officers, including the police director, commander, and shift commanders, were paid more handsomely than regular cops. The police radio operator said that the director, Treviño, and the commander, Hernández, were paid as much as five times what ordinary officers were given.

[T]hey gave [Treviño] a quota of 10,000 pesos [about $850 USD] every 20 days, and he did not get involved in what [deleted] was doing. Also the commander, [Hernández Ramos], who never did anything since he also was working for the Zetas and received money, but I don’t know how much … And [an unnamed Los Zetas member] would come in like he was in his own house, without anyone saying a thing about it.
- Declaration of former Allende police official, November 12, 2014, 17:30

Multiple witnesses said that Treviño called them to a meeting three days before the massacre began on March 18, 2011, telling them that he and Lozano had met with Los Zetas and had agreed to stand down municipal authorities for the criminal group. One former police official who attended the meeting said that Treviño told them that “things were going to get hot … that there had been a meeting with Los Zetas and the mayor, and that things were going to get ugly.”

As a result of the meeting with the mayor and Los Zetas, Treviño ordered police personnel “not to leave the offices for anything, even if there were reports.” The officer said they were told “that if we went out it was under our own risk, and that they would fucking get us.”

The above account was confirmed by several others, including one of the shift commanders.

It was around March 15, 2011, the then-director of the municipal police called all the elements to a meeting in the offices of the municipal police. It was approximately 7:00 or 7:20 in the evening, which is the hour of the shift change. And when we met with him, he told us that things were going to get hot. That he and the then-mayor of the city … had a meeting with people from Los Zetas. And he said this openly, because almost all the police received money from those people … And that according to that meeting, they had told him that if we saw strange things related to Los Zetas, that we would not do anything or say anything. That we would turn a blind eye. That if any citizens asked us for help that we would not pay attention to avoid getting into trouble. And that if we didn't obey, they were going to fuck us and our families. That things were going to get ugly.
- Declaration of former Allende police shift commander, September 18, 2016

Other witnesses said that the city’s top official ignored urgent pleas that he request assistance from state or federal law enforcement to help quell the violence. Police commander Juan Ariel Hernández Ramos (who served under police director Treviño) said that Lozano had called top city officials to a special meeting to discuss the ongoing violent attacks around the city.

[At the meeting] were the mayor, the city council secretary …, the person in charge of civil protection … the police director … and me. There were not many of us. Just a few people. And the mayor commented on what was happening in the city, but never said if he was going to ask for help or if he had advised anyone of what was happening. He just asked us if we knew about what was happening. We told him, “Yes.” And I asked him why he, as the person in direct charge of the city, the top authority, had not asked for help from the military or the state or federal government, since I had explained that we did not have the weapons or the resources to take on these people? That they will help us and will help the people. But he did not say anything to me. He did not take my opinion into consideration, and no one else said anything. In fact, the meeting only lasted around ten minutes.
- Declaration of Juan Ariel Hernández Ramos, Allende police commander, August 18, 2016

Other witnesses confirmed the testimony of the police commander. A municipal official present at the March 22 meeting said that the mayor was “upset because various members of staff had left the offices on Monday [March 21, 2011], [and] that he had not given any indication that they should go out.” About the violence, the mayor reportedly said, “‘Well, that’s between them, which is to say, alluding to members of organized crime, you have to stay calm.’” But the group “did not take or agree to take any type of action with respect to what was happening or to notify someone else about what was happening in the city,” according to the testimony.

This same Allende city officer tried once more the following day, advising the mayor “to tell someone about what was happening; that he talk to the governor. And I remember what he said to me: ‘Don't be an ass. It's between them. Leave them. You know who they are.’”

Still other witnesses said that they saw Lozano standing calmly outside his house on the night of March 20 talking on a mobile phone while the Zetas sacked a house across the street. The official, town council secretary Evaristo Rodríguez Chapa, said he called police director Treviño to let him know what was happening, to which he replied: “Don’t even fart, you asshole. Because if you don’t [keep quiet] they’re going to kidnap you too.”

*******

The slowly unfolding investigation of the Allende massacre finally gained some momentum with the establishment of a special task force in 2014. Soon, Coahuila state authorities discovered links to other violence in the region—in Piedras Negras, on the border, and across the Cinco Manantiales (“Five Springs”), a group of neighboring towns in northern Coahuila that includes Allende, Morelos, Nava, Zaragoza and Villa Unión, site of numerous cartel attacks in recent years.

They began to see Allende not as an isolated spasm of violence but rather as one of the most explosive episodes of a wider problem of criminal violence and systematic subversion of legal authorities throughout the region. The situation was especially dire in Piedras Negras, where Los Zetas had turned the state prison into a center of operations. In the worst cases, civilian authorities were little more than subcontractors of the Zetas criminal organization, involved in shakedowns, kidnappings, drug trafficking and numerous murders, not over a period of weeks or months, but for many years. Many others disappeared and were presumably killed in the weeks and months that followed in the wake of the massacre.

In Milenio, Diego Osorno writes about “The Sad Case of the Two Sergio Garzas,” Junior’s uncle and cousin, who were murdered, along with other family members, in March and August 2012—part of a continuing effort by Los Zetas to eliminate loose ends from within the Garza family. Witness statements and other records from the Allende case file published here today corroborate Osorno’s account of the enduring tragedy and illustrate the extent to which the group continued to rely on compliant police to execute some of its most sensitive operations. Among other evidence is the statement of a former Allende police official, Fernando Hernández Reyes, who gave a vivid account of his involvement in the kidnappings.

The files also include a statement from the caretaker of a Los Zetas safe house where the younger Sergio was held for several days after his abduction in August 2012 and before being killed and cremated by Los Zetas.

I recall that he was light-skinned, thin, of medium height, around 20 or 25 years of age, and they brought him in with his hands and feet tied up and with his face covered with tape.
- Declaration of Zetas safe house guard, part 2, March 2, 2016

After a few days, he said, members of Los Zetas came and “took him away in the bed of a pick-up truck,” adding that he “heard that they were going to turn him into roast beef, which is to say, that they were going to cook him.”

An important moment seems to have come in March 2015, when state investigators saw a familiar pattern emerge in three seemingly unrelated cases. Of particular importance was the November 2014 testimony of a woman from Piedras Negras whose husband, himself a member of the Zetas, had been kidnapped, detained, and later killed by the group in 2010. She told investigators what she learned from a series of telephone conversations with her husband’s captor.

After what happened to my spouse in May 2010, approximately one year later, in June 2011, [his captor] started looking for me … according to him because my ex-spouse … put him in charge of telling [me] what had happened to him … He told me many things related with acts of violence in the region and I knew from his own words that he was an assassin for the Zetas cartel, and as we built some trust, I asked him various things.
- Complaint of wife of murdered Zeta, November 13, 2014

 He told her how the Zetas had killed someone’s grandson, probably a reference to Mauricio Espinoza, whose grandmother, Elvira Espinoza, was one of the first to report disappearances in Allende. “He said that this was an injustice, since he was just a little boy. He didn’t have anything to do with crime, nor did his family, since they were kidnapped by mistake.”

Most importantly, he told her that many of the Allende massacre victims were first brought to a cemetery in Piedras Negras before being taken later to the Garza ranch.

[T]hey brought them there to the Los Ángeles Cemetery near the Piedras Negras city seminary, and also more people. So they formed them into rows of people and later took them to the ranch of the [deleted] … where they killed and burned them together with people from Allende. [N]othing remained of them at all, in addition to which they burned and razed their houses.

He told her about other people from the region who the Zetas had kidnapped and killed, including a pregnant teenager and the nephew of the former mayor of Piedras Negras. Most of them, he said, were killed and cremated inside the state prison in Piedras Negras.

He told me that inside the jail Los Zetas were burning all of these people that I mentioned as well as my spouse … who they burned inside that place after killing him, and more people from other parts of the state. They had brought people from Sabinas, among others an ex-federal highways official and other people from the municipalities of Zaragoza and Morelos—this was weeks after what happened in Allende.
- Complaint of wife of murdered Zeta, November 13, 2014

State investigative police in Coahuila said her testimony “pointed to the method of operations of organized crime at that time in relation to the kidnappings in the northern region of the state of Coahuila” and was one of the first clear signals that the Allende massacre was connected to many other cases around the region.

For this reason, it can be inferred and there exists reasonable certainty that the disappeared people … given the time and the place where they disappeared, have been kidnapped by people linked to organized crime, specifically by [deleted] and using the same operational methods. That is to say, to transfer them to the Los Ángeles Cemetery of this city and later to the ranch of the [deleted] to finish them off. Since the acts occurred on the dates of March 18, 19 and 20 of 2011, they were committed under the same mechanics not just in the city of Allende, Coahuila, but also in other municipalities in the northern region of the state, among others Piedras Negras, Coahuila.
- Memorandum on links between various cases, March 5, 2015

In 2017, a group led by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) submitted a communication to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) detailing “crimes committed against the civilian population” in Coahuila, “including murder, illegal imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture and sexual violence,” not just from March 2011 but from a seven-year period from 2009-2016.[18] Others have called on Mexico to prosecute top Coahuila state officials, including former governors, for allowing criminal violence to flourish. Four years later, and ten years since the Allende massacre, the families of those victimized by the Zetas and other criminal groups in Coahuila are still waiting to learn whether the ICC will take up the case.

Beyond criminal prosecutions, the Mexican government also has a specific legal obligation to divulge information related to cases, like Allende, that constitute clear violations of human rights and humanitarian law, raising the hope that additional information may come to light through the country’s access to information law. At the same time, President López Obrador’s desire to weaken or abolish the institution charged with guaranteeing those rights, INAI, represents a looming threat to human rights transparency in Mexico.

In the U.S., the prosecutions of Reyes Arzate and others are likely to result in the collection of significant new evidence on the Allende case, including the testimony of Reyes himself, the statements of former Zetas, and key DEA records from the period in question. Finally, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice recently confirmed, in a FOIA denial letter to the National Security Archive, that its investigation of the DEA’s links to cartel violence in Mexico—first announced in 2018—is ongoing, a probe that may have significant implications for the Allende case and for U.S.-Mexico security cooperation more broadly.

 

The documents

Notes

 

[1] Translations throughout the text by Michael Evans.

[2] See Vanguardia, March 18, 2019.

[3] Some portions of these files have been excerpted elsewhere, including in reports from the CNDH and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), which cites many of these same records. But this is the first time that images of records from the case file have been published in their original form (although many of the pages have been redacted by CNDH for public release). The Seminar on Violence of the Colegio de México had access to many of these files in preparing its groundbreaking reports on Allende and a second report on how the Zetas gained control of authority structures in Coahuila, including the state prison in Piedras Negras. Zócalo, a regional paper in Saltillo, Coahuila, also published portions of the testimony. A study from the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas Law School examined the trial transcripts of Zetas members prosecuted for drug trafficking, money laundering, and homicide in U.S. federal courts. They found that the Zetas “committed numerous human rights abuses in Coahuila with impunity” and that “public institutions and officials played a role, by actions or omissions” in the abuses (p.24).

[4] The thinking behind the special exception measure is simple: Human rights crimes affect both the immediate victims and society as a whole, and in such cases there is a society-wide interest in full transparency to ensure that such grave abuses do not reoccur.

[5] The Mexican government signaled its intention to soften some of the more severe restrictions imposed by the new law.

[6] CDN is reportedly led by Juan Gerardo Treviño Chávez (“El Huevo”), nephew of former Zetas leaders Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales (“Z-40”) and Omar Treviño Morales (“Z-42”), according to this press release from the U.S. Department of Justice. A declassified DEA report from 2015 said that the Zetas in late 2015 “made a conscious effort to rebrand … as the ‘Cartel del Noreste’ (Cartel of the Northeast).” More information on CDN is available here.

[7] GAFE stands for Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (Airmobile Special Forces Group). For reference to U.S. training and other background, see our previous Electronic Briefing Book, especially Document 1 and Document 2. “The original Zetas are former members-turned-deserters of Mexico’s elite Airmobile Special Forces Group (GAFE), trained in the U.S. at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA. The Zetas’ organizational structure includes counterintelligence, intelligence and tactical enforcement units.”

[8] The CNDH report does not name any of the victims, perpetrators or other witnesses it cites.

[9] Literally “stake” or “post,” an estaca is a term used by Los Zetas for its assassination teams. See reference here.

[10] “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico,” by Ginger Thompson, ProPublica, June 12, 2017.

[11] A portion of the Pérez Iruegas complaint was previously published by Zócalo, revealing some of the parts that were redacted in the version released by CNDH (shown here in brackets). “Allende, el infierno: Los testigos de la masacre,” Zócalo (Coahuila), July 10, 2017.

[12] While the names of Zetas, police officials, and witnesses are for the most part redacted in the volumes released through CNDH, a previously published portion of El Pájaro’s declaration reveals some of those redacted names. They are included here in brackets. See “Allende, el infierno: Los testigos de la masacre,” Zócalo (Coahuila), July 10, 2017.

[13] Bracketed items identified in portions of the Herrera Estrada declaration published by Zócalo. See “Allende, el infierno: Los testigos de la masacre,” Zócalo (Coahuila), July 10, 2017.

[14] In many cases, the names of the people identified by firefighters López Tamez and De León Ramos are legible behind clumsily applied redactions. When known, names have been added in brackets.

[15] In 2017, Zetas member Marciano Millan Vásquez (“El Chano”) was convicted on federal charges in the United States that included his involvement in the Allende violence. The same year, the Zetas member known as “El Cubano” was arrested in the U.S. and later extradited to Mexico in connection to the case.

[16] “Exoneran a ex alcalde de Allende, Coahuila, ligado a masacres de 2011”, El Financiero, Feb.  10, 2017.

[17] The Zetas member is not identified in the text but from context appears to be El Canelo.

[18] On homicide rate, see this report from the University of San Diego’s “Justice in Mexico” program; On impunity, see, “Mexico’s bloody drug war is killing more people than ever,” Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2017.