A top prosecutor said that he will soon bring charges against 10 former government officials in connection with crimes that cost more than 520 Mexican leftists their lives.
Ignacio Carrillo Prieto said the cases will be the beginning of a "cascade" of charges, including genocide and kidnapping, that he will file in the aftermath of Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling. The court held that there is no statute of limitations on "forced disappearance" cases from the era when the government waged what is called a "dirty war" against dissidents.
Hundreds of Mexicans were arrested from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, never to be seen again. Many were snatched from street corners or their homes by security forces, tortured and apparently murdered, their bodies believed dumped in unmarked mass graves or in the ocean.
Carrillo on Thursday emphasized that top government officials, not the police or the army, were the real authors of the atrocities. "These operations may have been carried out in the basement, but they were designed in the penthouse," he said.
A principal target of the inquiry is former Mexican President Luis Echeverria, whose 1970-76 term in office was the peak period for forced abductions and apparent slayings of dissidents, the prosecutor said. Echeverria has denied involvement in the kidnappings.
All those about to be charged, Carrillo said, are "former public servants." The special prosecutor said also that forensic investigations of suspected mass burial sites have begun in Atoyac de Alvarez in Guerrero state and in Culiacan, Sinaloa. Three unspecified sites in Mexico City and in Michoacan and Jalisco states are also being investigated.
Carrillo said he had asked the International Committee of the Red Cross for assistance in the delicate task of exhumations.
"It is a matter that requires the utmost respect," he said. "You have to put yourself in the place of the families who have suffered and who have waited years and who later are confronted with the reality of events. Finding or not finding [the remains of relatives] is in any case traumatic."
The special prosecutor's office was formed in late 2001, fulfilling a campaign promise of President Vicente Fox to uncover the truth about past atrocities and end impunity for those responsible for crimes against humanity. Carrillo was named to the job in early 2002.
But progress has been slow, partly because of uncertainty over the statute of limitations, which in Mexico ranges from 15 to 30 years in kidnapping and murder cases. In their unanimous decision, the Supreme Court justices said there was no limit in cases of "forced deprivation of liberty."
Newspaper columnists and editorial writers hailed the court's decision as belated but welcome justice.
Carrillo said he expected warrants for the arrests of Miguel Nazar Haro and Luis de la Barreda Moreno, both former secret police officials, to be issued any day by federal magistrate Isidro Gutierrez in Monterrey. The judge's refusal in July to issue the warrants until the statute of limitations question was clarified prompted this week's court decision.
Nazar, Moreno and Juventino Romero Cisneros were indicted in connection with the 1975 disappearance of Jesus Piedra, a medical student who was abducted from a Monterrey street corner and is now presumed dead. His mother, Rosario Ibarra, is a leading advocate for families of the disappeared.
Alfonso Zarate, a Mexico City political analyst, said the investigation constitutes a crucial moment in the nation's history. "This will put the progress of Mexican justice to the test because it is one of the most backward elements of the democratic transition," Zarate said.
Mexico City columnist and social analyst Guadalupe Loaiza said the Supreme Court decision was a welcome surprise.
"Mexicans have grown accustomed to impunity and corruption all these years, so it means that things can change in our country," Loaiza said. "These decisions are real precedents and will generate more respect for the law. Mexicans are more alert to it all the time. Fewer are just crossing their arms and forgetting."