A potentially thorny legal matter between Mexico and the U.S. related to the 2011 Coahuila Massacre surfaced this week. Juan Jose Yanez Arreola, Coahuila state deputy prosecutor, confirmed to the Mexican news agency Apro that the state government had initiated the paperwork needed to extradite three men currently in the U.S. who could have key information linked to the murders and disappearances of as many as 400 people more than three years ago.
“We are requesting that the U.S. authorities allow us to interview Hector Moreno Villanueva, Mario Alfonso Cuellar and Jose Luis Garza Gaytan about the (Coahuila) case,” Yanez said.
What’s more, the three men are wanted for kidnapping and should pay for their crimes in Mexican prisons, Yanez said. The state official added that the extradition request was sent to the federal attorney general’s office (PGR) for processing through the proper diplomatic channels.
Under Coahuila state law, the men could receive up to 70 years in prison if they are tried and found guilty of kidnapping. The Coahuila state attorney general’s office has also asked the PGR to confirm whether a fourth man said to have information about the Coahuila Massacre is in U.S. custody on drug charges.
The legal action came amid pressure from the non-governmental organization United Forces for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (Fundec) a relatives’ group which advocates on behalf of the missing, and stems from what could be the worst mass slaughter of the so-called narco war in recent times.
According to Mexican press accounts, Hector Moreno and Jose Luis Garza, both juniors of well-heeled families who studied in private schools in Monterrey, worked for the Zetas crime syndicate exporting large amounts of cocaine to the U.S. and laundering money in race horse transactions. Cuellar, meanwhile, was reputedly the second-in-command of the Zetas organization in the border city of Piedras Negras.
But in February 2011, Moreno and Garza headed to the U.S. along with five million dollars in cash and ledger books related to the money laundering operations. The men purportedly became informants for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino then reportedly warned Moreno and Garza to return the money and books or he would kill all their relatives and friends. Subsequent developments bore out the threats.
In March 2011, suspected Zetas gunmen systematically abducted anyone with the last names Garza Gaytan and Moreno Villanueva in Allende, Coahuila, a town of about 20,000 people which is located about 35 miles south of the Texas border. Domestic employees and construction workers who had been employed renovating family homes likewise went missing. Homes were ransacked and partially destroyed by heavy machinery utilized by the raiders.
Once empty, the homes were looted by townspeople of furniture, doors, windows and even bathroom piping. Kidnappings and killings spread to Nava, Morelos, Piedras Negras and other border-area localities. Women, children and the elderly were reported among the victims. According to media accounts, many if not all of the forcibly disappeared persons were murdered and their bodies incinerated.
Three years later the wife of one of the laborers disappeared in Allende said she still had no definitive answers about what happened to her husband.
“I suppose he is dead,” the woman told a Mexican reporter. “It was heard in those days that they were killed at the Garza Ranch.” Although the pillaging of Allende occurred more than three years ago, it wasn’t until early this year that Mexican security officials conducted a broad inspection of the ruins left behind.
In June, an action by the Coahuila state government and municipal government of Piedras Negras to demolish 26 homes of disappeared persons stirred controversy. The activist group Fundec protested the demolitions, arguing that the half-destroyed homes constituted crime scenes as long as the former residents were still missing.
Complicating a resolution of the massacre is the status of the three men wanted in Coahuila. Reportedly, the three Mexicans nationals are U.S. government witnesses in the money-laundering trial of Jose Trevino Morales, brother of imprisoned Zetas leader Miguel Trevino Morales (Z40), in Austin, Texas.
Up against a monstrous scandal and feeling the pinch of public pressure, Coahuila Governor Ruben Moreira Valdez recently pledged to speed up the criminal investigations related to the Coahuila Massacre. Given the magnitude of the crimes, the involvement of public officials in allowing or covering up the mass abductions and slaughter is widely suspected.
Sources: Proceso/Apro, July 31, 2014. Article by Juan Alberto Cedillo. Milenio/Agencia Infonor, July 22, 2014. La Jornada, June 16, 2014; July 9 and 23, 2014. Articles by Leopoldo Ramos and editorial staff. Vanguardia.com.mx, February 21, 2014. Article by Diego Enrique Osorno.