History of abuse for Mexican police unit in migrant massacre

FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2021 file photo, German and Maria Tomas pose for a photo holding a framed portrait of their grandson Ivan Gudiel who they believe is one of the charred corpses found on a rural road on the Mexico-US border township of Camargo, at their home in Comitancillo, Guatemala. A dozen special operations officers have been ordered held for trial on charges they shot to death at least 14 Guatemalan migrants and two Mexicans on a rural road in the border township of Camargo. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2021 file photo, German and Maria Tomas pose for a photo holding a framed portrait of their grandson Ivan Gudiel who they believe is one of the charred corpses found on a rural road on the Mexico-US border township of Camargo, at their home in Comitancillo, Guatemala. A dozen special operations officers have been ordered held for trial on charges they shot to death at least 14 Guatemalan migrants and two Mexicans on a rural road in the border township of Camargo. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

CIUDAD VICTORIA – When state police in northern Mexico allegedly shot 19 people, including at least 14 Guatemalan migrants, to death in late January near the border with Texas, it was a tragedy that critics say authorities had been warned could come.

In 2019, prosecutors charged that the same Tamaulipas state police unit, then operating under a different name, pulled eight people from their homes in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, posed them in clothing and vehicles to make them look like criminals, and shot them to death.

Now, a dozen officers of the 150-member Special Operations Group, known by its Spanish initials as GOPES, have been ordered held for trial on charges they shot to death at least 14 Guatemalan migrants and two Mexicans on a rural road in the border township of Camargo. The bodies were then set afire and burned so badly that three other corpses are still awaiting identification.

Authorities had ample warning of the problems in the unit, which was created last year from the remains of the special forces group accused of the 2019 killings and other atrocities. A federal legislator even filed a non-binding resolution in Mexico's Congress in early January to protest beatings and robberies by the unit.

As recently as November, a Tamaulipas business association charged that officers in the GOPES unit had broken into a member’s home and stolen cash, other belongings and appliances. The group said the victim even took remote photos through her home’s security cameras showing uniformed officers with guns slung over their backs robbing her house.

The complaint was ignored, and nothing was ever done to rein the unit in.

“If back then they had done something, if any attention had been paid, perhaps today we would not be mourning the deaths of 19 people,” said Marco Antonio Mariño, vice president of the Tamaulipas Federation of Business Chambers.

Tamaulipas has seen rival drug cartels fighting the longest, bloodiest, best-equipped turf war in Mexico's history for over a decade now. Bands of gunmen with names like “The Troop from Hell” regularly drive around in home-made armored trucks.