By Parker Asmann, InSight Crime
February 12, 2021
The United States provided training to a troubled Mexican police unit — several of whose members were charged in a January massacre of 19 people near the US-Mexico border — including after the unit had been flagged for human rights violations by US officials, Mexican civilians and a prominent Mexican politician.
On January 22, authorities discovered the 19 bodies — shot and killed and burned beyond recognition — in a charred pickup truck in the municipality of Camargo, near the Texas border. Authorities have identified 16 of the victims through DNA analysis. Of these, 14 were Guatemalan migrants traveling to the United States. The other two were Mexican nationals.
On February 8, the Attorney General’s Office in Tamaulipas announced there was sufficient evidence against 12 members of the Tamaulipas special operations group known as the Grupo de Operaciones Especiales (GOPES) to charge them for the massacre.
The newly-formed GOPES unit was already under scrutiny for human rights abuses in the weeks before the migrant killings. On January 6, a group of at least 25 families in Ciudad Míer accused GOPES officers of having “attacked, robbed and intimidated” their community. As many as four people were allegedly disappeared and tortured by members of the force.
On January 13, Mexican congresswoman Olga Juliana Elizondo urged the Tamaulipas State Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of Public Security to “investigate and, where appropriate, sanction the human rights violations committed by the GOPES.”
Yet as recently as 2020, GOPES officers received training from US authorities, according to GOPES commander Félix Arturo Rodríguez Rodríguez, who was quoted in multiple news reports. The US agency that provided the training and how it took place remains unclear, but the unit’s officers had a history of training with US law enforcement.
The unit had been reconstituted from the Tamaulipas Center for Analysis, Information and Studies (Centro de Análisis, Información y Estudios de Tamaulipas — CAIET) after its officers were accused of forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in 2019, and flagged by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for its alleged abuses.
Photo: InSight Crime. Then-CAIET Director Arturo Félix Rodríguez Rodríguez gives an interview during the 2019 training in Texas.