Mexico City (AFP) – The Mexican army made a rare public apology on Saturday over a scandal in which two soldiers and a policewoman tortured a terrified woman in a video that went viral.
It is just the latest allegation of abuse committed by security forces in Mexico, who are often accused of violent acts against civilians, including murder.
General Salvador Cienfuegos, the defense minister, read out the apology before 26,000 soldiers assembled at a military base in Mexico City.
“In the name of all of us who make up this great national institution, I offer my heartfelt apology to all in society wronged by this impermissible event,” Cienfuegos said.
In the video, which went viral on social media this week, a barefoot woman is seen crying and screaming on the floor as a female soldier puts the muzzle of an assault rifle to her head.
A federal policewoman is then seen handcuffing the woman and proceeding to tightly wrap a plastic bag around her head while one of the officials demands threateningly: “Are you going to talk?”
The incident is reported to have taken place in February 2015 in the town of Ajuchitlan del Progreso, in the southern state of Guerrero.
The defense ministry says it only learned of the video in December.
The male army captain and the female soldier seen in the video were arrested in January and charged with disobeying orders.
Mexican authorities are investigating a policewoman to determine if she was the one in the footage.
“It’s necessary to publicly express our outrage over the regrettable events that occurred nearly 14 months ago,” Cienfuegos said.
“Bad members of our institution besmirch the honorable behavior of thousands of women and men in military uniform,” he added.
“Although isolated, (such incidents) damage in a major way our image and the prestige we have worthily earned.”
Cienfuegos told the soldiers they would continue to be on the frontlines of Mexico’s war against drug cartels.
But he stressed: “We must not, nor cannot, confront illegality with more illegality. Crime is contained with the law in hand.”
Federal prosecutors have been investigating the case officially since January 7 and they plan to try the three troops in a civilian court.
– Abuse allegations –
Human rights groups say police and troops have committed a slew of abuses since the military was deployed to combat drug cartels in 2006 in a massive federal reinforcement surge.
Over the past decade, the violence linked to the drug war has left 100,000 people dead or missing.
And this week, the National Human Rights Commission said two Mexican federal police officers allegedly participated in the disappearance of 43 students — implicating national agents in that 2014 case for the first time.
The attorney general’s office declared last year that police officers from Iguala and the neighboring town of Cocula abducted the students and delivered them to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel.
The gang then killed the students, incinerated their bodies at a garbage dump in Cocula and dropped the remains in a nearby river.
But experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights who conducted an independent investigation said there was no scientific evidence the students were incinerated at the dump.
The case is considered the biggest challenge faced by President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration, prompting protests and causing his approval rating to drop.