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Home Facts SOA/WHINSEC Graduates Army Officers Charged with Killing 134 People During 1970s
Army Officers Charged with Killing 134 People During 1970s PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 27 September 2002 00:00

MEXICO CITY - In the first prosecution of its kind, the Mexican army charged two generals and another officer with homicide for the deaths of 134 people during a "dirty war" against dissidents that raged in the Mexican state of Guerrero in the 1970s.

The two generals, both retired, have been in military prison since September 2000 pending court-martial on drug trafficking charges stemming from the 1990s, military prosecutor Jaime Antonio Lopez Portillo said Friday.

The two generals are Francisco Quiros Hermosillo and Arturo Acosta Chaparro, who reportedly was trained in counter-insurgency at the U.S. military's former School of the Americas. Lopez Portillo said he could not confirm where Acosta Chaparro was trained.

The military is also charging Francisco Barquin, a retired major, with involvement in the killings, Lopez Portillo also said.

The murder charges mark the first time that military or civilian officials have been accused of crimes committed during Mexico's so-called dirty war, when hundreds of students, peasants and armed guerrilla rebels disappeared in military and police custody.

President Vicente Fox promised to investigate such violations of civil and human rights, which occurred during the 71-year reign of Mexico's former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI.

Fox appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the disappearances, but so far no indictments have been issued. A military court brought the charges against the retired officers.

A key witness, former President Luis Echeverria, has refused to answer questions about government policy during that era.

Mexico's governments have long faced criticism from human rights groups for protecting the military and allowing soldiers to commit human rights violations during successive PRI administrations.

Human rights activists would prefer the accused officers to face a civilian trial because they fear the military will continue to cover up details of the killings that occurred during the 1970s.

"The idea of the military trying its own becomes very problematic," said Eric Olson, a Mexico specialist with Amnesty International's Washington, D.C. office. "No matter what the outcome, the process will always be questioned."

Some military analysts believe the murder charges could send a signal to officers and troops that rights abuses will no longer be tolerated and protected as in the past.

"It's a major shift in philosophy," said Roderic Camp, an expert on the Mexican military at the Claremont McKenna College in California. "It's a major step in terms of trying to eliminate the impunity the military has had."

On Thursday, the two imprisoned former generals were informed that they were accused of murder. They denied the accusations. A military judge will soon decide whether enough evidence exists to proceed with a court martial.

Lopez Portillo, the military's top prosecutor, said that the military's case is built on testimony by a protected witness and information compiled by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission.

Evidence suggests, he said, that the 134 people named in the indictments were last seen in the custody of the generals and the major.

One of Mexico's best-known human rights activists, Rosario Ibarra, whose son disappeared in 1975, called the accusations against the two generals "a new farce by the military."

"Yes, we think these two are responsible (for disappearances and deaths)," she said. "But they are not the only ones. There are many people higher up who gave orders."
Last Updated on Monday, 30 September 2002 13:41

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