REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- In a rare punishment of military personnel, 14 Mexican soldiers and army officers were sentenced to long prison terms in the shooting deaths of five women and children at a checkpoint in the state of Sinaloa four years ago, authorities said. [link in Spanish]
The number of human rights atrocities blamed on the military -- including killings, torture and the forced disappearance of civilians -- has soared since the start of President Felipe Calderon’s war against drug cartels five years ago. But few cases have been prosecuted.
In the Sinaloa case, the family of Adan Abel Esparza was traveling to a funeral in a pickup truck in the summer of 2007 when they apparently failed to stop at a military checkpoint. Soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, killing three children aged 2, 4 and 7, and two women.
The Defense Ministry, in a statement, described the incident as a “regrettable error." [link in Spanish] Nevertheless, a military tribunal sentenced the officer in charge that day to 40 years in prison for homicide and related crimes; another officer received a 38-year term, while 12 soldiers were sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The statement was made public Thursday night and said the sentences were handed down last week. It did not identify the military personnel by name or rank.
Mexico’s military has been under intense pressure to show that it can mete out justice when it comes to abuses committed by its personnel. Most cases are relegated to military courts, where they tend to languish without resolution.
An estimated 45,000 troops are deployed across the country to combat powerful drug-trafficking cartels.
-- Tracy Wilkinson