If testimony delivered in a Texas courtroom this month is to be believed, it offers a chilling glimpse at the functioning of what amounted to a narco-government firmly connected to the U.S. and run out of the Mexican border state of Coahuila during the administration of former Governor Humberto Moreira, when narco-related violence surged.
A parade of U.S. government witnesses in the federal drug-related trial of alleged Zeta leader Marciano “El Chano” Millan Vasquez in San Antonio tied the defendant and his organization to the murders and disappearances of more than 150 people in the Piedras Negras penitentiary from 2009 to 2011 as well as the slayings of about 300 people in the Allende Massacre of 2011, when anyone believed to be connected with an important Zeta who was suspected as acting as a U.S. informant by the Trevino brothers, the top leaders of the crime organization, was kidnapped by gunmen sometimes escorted by local police and then murdered.
The victims from the town of Allende and nearby communities included men, women, children and employees of targeted individuals. Businessman Rodrigo Humberto Uribe Tapia, reputed money launderer for the Zetas, testified that he saw the bodies of two women and a man mutilated and disintegrated.
“They took those bodies and transported them to the (PIedras Negras) prison to destroy them and disintegrate them…” Proceso newsweekly quoted Uribe, citing a story in the San Antonio Express-News. “They had acid containers, or whatever process to disappear them.”
Last February, Proceso reported that the Piedras Negras prison on the Mexico-U.S. border had been used as an execution chamber and crematorium during the Moreira administration and was the likely destination of many of Coahuila’s disappeared persons. Uribe alleged that he personally paid Vicente Chaires Yanez, the personal aide of then-Governor Moreira, $2 million in cash destined for Coahuila’s chief executive. The payment was made in return for official protection of the Zetas gang, which not only engaged in drug trafficking but invested in construction and coal mining and took over the state’s jails, according to Uribe.
Another prosecution witness in San Antonio, Saul Fernandez, testified how control of the Piedras prison by the underworld Zeta organization was so great that the group easily engineered a mass escape from the facility in September 2012 in order to reinforce dwindled Zeta ranks in a battle with the rival Gulf Cartel. In yet more gruesome testimony, prosecution witness Jose “El Pollo” Rodriguez, declared that Zeta leaders told him how they had killed more than 300 people during the Allende Massacre and disposed of the victims by burning their bodies in diesel or dissolving them in acid. Defendant Millan is suspected of coordinating the Allende atrocity.
Rodriguez’s testimony sharply contradicted Mexican government versions of Allende that put the number of victims at 28.
U.S. prosecution witness Adolfo Efren Tavira, a former production chief for the Televisa network as well as an alleged arms and drugs trafficker for the Zetas, gave statements that sketched out an interlocking power structure of borderland Mafiosos, journalists, state government officials and U.S. arms dealers. Tavira said he was paid for making sure the names of drug traffickers did not appear in the news and was tasked with paying off other reporters to do the same. Tavira said he was told by other Zetas in 2012 that money was delivered to the gubernatorial campaign of Ruben Moreira, the brother of Humberto Moreira and the current governor of Coahuila.
Additionally, Tavira spoke about buying “lots” of assault weapons on four occasions in Houston, Texas, and coordinating the delivery of cocaine to Eagle Pass, Texas. He likewise added some details to the Allende Massacre, alleging the slaughter of at least 40 people and the direct participation of Zeta leaders Miguel Angel and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales in the murders of men, women and children “who had nothing to do with drug trafficking,” according to Proceso.
The credibility of U.S prosecution witnesses in the San Antonio trial is under attack. For instance, Kent Schaffer, Humberto Moreira’s U.S. lawyer, told the San Antonio Express-News, that Uribe was lying and his declarations were “pure fantasy.”
In response to Tavira’s assertions linking Ruben Moreira to the Zetas, state government officials claimed conflicts in the supposed dates of the events Tavira supposedly had knowledge about as well as the witness’s detention by U.S. authorities at the time they occurred.
“They are falsehoods and lies…,” a press statement from the Coahuila state government said about Tavira’s testimony, adding that the biggest proof consisted of state actions resulting in arrests and the reduction of violence. Tavira is reportedly serving a 30-year sentence in the U.S. for trafficking arms and drugs.
The San Antonio trial has returned Humberto Moreira to the headlines in Mexico. The former governor and ex-president of President Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party became a top story when he was arrested in Spain and jailed for a week last January, in an investigation by the Spanish anti-corruption prosecutor of money laundering and organized crime. However, Spanish judges soon freed Moreira on the grounds that the case lacked sufficient evidence. Moreira quickly returned to Mexico, and the case was filed away.
But the controversial politician is still in the sights of U.S. law enforcement. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the U.S. is investigating whether Moreira and other Coahuila officials laundered money in San Antonio. So far, no charges have been filed against Moreira in this country.
Moreira, meanwhile, has filed a 10 million peso defamation lawsuit against Sergio Aguayo, a prominent Mexican journalist, author and academic, who accuses the ex-governor of attempting to undermine an investigation into the Allende Massacre. Aguayo said he is coordinating an investigation into the carnage launched by El Colegio de Mexico in conjunction with the Executive Commission for Victim Attention, an agency created by Mexico’s federal government to assist relatives of disappeared persons and human rights victims.
“The climate of intolerance tolerated by authority is what we have to expose and fight according to our possibilities, because what is at stake in this lawsuit is freedom of expression and trying to get to the historic truth of what happened in a massacre so terrible as that of Allende, Coahuila, in 2011,” Aguayo said in response to the litigation against him.
Moreira lashed back, declaring that he wasn’t even the governor when Allende happened. Defiantly, he vowed to file a second lawsuit against Aguayo.
“I will answer all the falsehoods that are published against me as always with the law in hand,” Moreira said in a statement. In addition to the lawsuit against Aguayo, Moreira is pursuing similar legal action against the Coahuila newspaper Vanguardia and three other individuals.
Sources: Vaguardia.com.mx, July 15, 2016. Proceso/Apro, July 8, 13 and 14, 2016. Articles by Juan Alberto Cedillo and editorial staff. San Antonio Express-News/ Vanguardia de Saltillo, July 14, 2016. San Antonio Express-News, July 6, 2016. Article by Jason Buch and Guillermo Contreras. Aristeguinoticias.com, May 25 and July 13, 2016. Articles by Isabel Perez Ocana and editorial staff.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico