Police elements that make up the Tamaulipas Special Operations Group (GOPES) and whose Some of its members were involved in the massacre of 19 people in the municipality of Camargo, they were trained in the United States.
According to an investigation by Insight Crime, The training occurred even after US government officials, members of Mexico’s civil society, and some politicians accused the police force of committing human rights violations..
On January 22, Tamaulipas authorities discovered 19 bodies, shot and burned, unrecognizable in a burned pickup truck in the municipality of Camargo, near the border with Texas. So far it has been possible to confirm the identities of 16 of the victims through DNA analysis: 14 of them were Guatemalan migrants traveling to the United States, the other two were of Mexican nationality.
On February 8, the Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office assured that there was sufficient evidence against 12 GOPES agents to bring them to trial for the massacre.
Twelve police officers allegedly responsible for the burned bodies in Tamaulipas were linked to the process (Photo: Attorney General’s Office of Sonora)
The newly formed GOPES unit was already under scrutiny for human rights abuses, weeks before the slaughter of the migrants. On January 6, a group of at least 25 families in Ciudad Mier accused several agents of this special group of having “attacked, robbed and intimidated” their community. They were also singled out for the alleged disappearance and torture of up to four people.
A group of GOPES agents received training from US authorities in 2020This was revealed by the group’s commander, Félix Arturo Rodríguez Rodríguez, who was quoted in multiple news media. Although it is not clear which US agency provided the training, GOPES agents have a history of training with US authorities.
According to the media, that unit had been restructured from the Tamaulipas Center for Analysis, Information and Studies (CAIET) after its agents were accused of forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in 2019, and were pointed out by the Antinarcotics Administration ( DEA) for alleged abuses.
Despite this, CAIET agents participated in tactical training alongside local Texas agents in 2019.
Three of the 12 officers arrested in connection with the January massacre received training in basic skills and as front-line supervisors from the United States Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), according to an official. of the State Department.
Assured that training for these three agents occurred in 2016 and 2017, before being assigned to the CAIET or GOPES. According to the same official, the training was provided in accordance with the Leahy Act, promoted by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, which prohibits the funding of training for agents or units from foreign countries if there is evidence that implicates them in violations of regulations. human rights.
The Texas connection
The governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca (Photo: Twitter / VIA fgcabezadevaca)
The CAIET group dates back to 2012, when it was created by the Government of Tamaulipas. In January 2017, three months after the arrival of Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca to the state government, the mandate of this police force was modified to become a specially verified force equipped with large caliber weapons to combat criminal groups.
The unit reports directly to Cabeza de Vaca, who is accused of being related to drug trafficking groups, like the Gulf Cartel, and has an open investigation for alleged money laundering.
In his inauguration, Cabeza de Vaca emphasized improving cooperation between Mexico and the United States on border security issues. As part of its second government report, presented in September 2018, Cabeza de Vaca showed that between August 2017 and July 2018, a total of nine Tamaulipas state police officers received technical training along with several agents from the state of Texas and members of various federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), among others.
The outlet noted that several agents from the CAIET unit recently trained with Texas agents in Starr County. In January 2019, Starr County Attorney Víctor Canales Jr. invited CAIET to participate in an “unprecedented” exchange of ideas, tactics and information in the city of Rio Grande, Texas.
“It is the first time that we do a training exercise like this between the Government of the state of Tamaulipas and the Starr County District Attorney,” said Canales Jr. CAIET director Félix Arturo Rodríguez Rodríguez added that both units worked with the same objective: “to fight crime and prevent it from spreading”.
Those state-level exercises are not subject to the same scrutiny as the federal ones, subject to federal law, according to Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight at the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA), in conversation with InSight Crime.
The Leahy Act only regulates the training, endowment, or other assistance provided by the US Department of Defense or State to foreign security forces through security assistance programs that use monies allocated through the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill.
Remains of one of the vehicles where 19 people were found burned in a place in the city of Camargo in the northern state of Tamaulipas (Mexico). (Photo: EFE / STR)
In January 2019, shortly after the training exercise in Texas, surveillance videos taken with mobile phones captured several CAIET agents during a kidnapping of up to seven members of a family in Díaz Ordaz, south of the United States-Mexico border in Tamaulipas. In the videos, which were widely disseminated on social networks, it was seen how the family is taken from their home by force and how they are taken away in a waiting vehicle.
That same month, the DEA office in Phoenix, Arizona, issued a circular on CAIET in which it indicated that the group was carrying out “operations” in which they detained people, who in most cases are missing and were even handed over to organized crime groups “.
At the beginning of September 2019, several members of the CAIET were accused of kidnapping and beating eight people in Nuevo Laredo, whom they forced to dress as hitmen and then executed and they put weapons in their hands to simulate the scene of a shooting, according to eyewitness accounts collected by the Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee.
Days later, Governor Cabeza de Vaca traveled to Washington, DC to meet with John Cornyn, a US senator from the state of Texas with whom he spoke on issues of common interest, such as border security and cooperation between the authorities of Texas and Tamaulipas.
Then, in October 2019, CBP relaunched an initiative originally proposed in 2016 under the name “Wanted,” which is still in effect today. The program consists of the “dissemination, on both sides of the border, of a list of 10 priority objectives,” among others. It also includes an information line open to the public, and CBP intelligence is shared with Tamaulipas security officials.
A CBP spokesperson told the outlet through an email that the agency has “conducted several training exercises with the Tamaulipas state police to increase collaboration and reinforce security on both sides of the border.”
Francisco Javier Garcia Cabeza de Vaca (Photo: Cuartoscuro)
In August 2020, amid the controversy surrounding the CAIET in Tamaulipas, Governor Cabeza de Vaca announced the formation of a special operations group, the GOPES. However, it is made up of CAIET members, including its director, Félix Arturo Rodríguez Rodríguez.
The local newspaper The morning reported that after receiving training under the supervision of the Secretary of the Navy, the GOPES was “trained by security experts from the United States Government in a two-month course.”
So far, neither the Starr Canales Jr. County Attorney nor the Tamaulipas Secretary of Public Safety responded to requests for comment made by InSight Crime.
For its part, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) replied by email that it had no information to give. The Starr County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for a statement.
Meanwhile, Congressman Henry Cuéllar, who represents Electoral District 28 of Texas, which covers Starr County and the city of Rio Grande, where the CAIET training took place in 2019, told the media that “he does not know of any training [del GOPES]… That would have been held in Starr County ”last year.
In October 2020, Congressman Cuéllar, along with U.S. officials from CBP, the Customs and Immigration Authority (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of State, attended the inauguration of a new facility of public safety in Reynosa. The GOPES has a base of operations there and another in Ciudad Victoria.
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