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Mexico divided over video of alleged robbers being abused

Many were shocked by images of five youths being beaten and abused, but some online comments justifying the attack highlight the toll of rampant crime, bloodshed and homicides.

October 27, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson

MEXICO CITY — The video of the beating and sexual abuse of five young alleged thieves at the hands of vigilantes has provoked widespread outrage here. But in some quarters, there have been disquieting voices of approval.

The video landed on YouTube. It shows the cowering teenage boys being slapped in the face and forced to French kiss one another. Each is forced to say that they are about to be raped as punishment for robbing houses.

In the state of Nayarit, where the incident took place, many people suspect that the abusers might be police officers. (Authorities deny that.)

Nayarit Gov. Ney Gonzalez Sanchez was furious when he learned of the video and the abuse. Speaking over the weekend, he gave state prosecutors until Monday to produce results in the case -- "definitive, serious results, without scapegoats," he said. "No one has the right to take justice into their own hands."

Gonzalez was echoed by human rights organizations and an editorial Monday in El Universal newspaper, which said: "Were [the boys] thieves? We don't know. But even if they were, nothing justifies the torture to which they were submitted, especially if the interrogators were police."

However, in comments posted online to the editorial, a different school of thought emerged, one that reflects a Mexican society increasingly wearied by rampant crime, endless kidnappings and a soaring homicide rate.

"Let's be honest. The majority of us are happy with what happened to these rotten kids," one said. "We must guard our houses and be prepared."

Another said: "I'm not pleased with this, nor do I applaud it, but these kids were up to no good. They only reaped what they themselves sowed."

Profound fear of crime, combined with a lack of confidence in the police, has created in Mexico the kind of environment where vigilante justice could thrive. There is no clear evidence of a sustained, well-organized vigilante movement, however, and the government has vowed to prevent it. Still, the frustration runs dangerously deep.

"Unfortunately, there are people involved in dirty businesses, whose power seems to exceed the ability of the state to fight it . . . and that leads to isolated cases," said Joel Jimenez, of the Nayarit Citizens Movement. "But it is extremely worrying when people take the law into their own hands."

Nayarit state prosecutor Hector Bejar Fonseca met the governor's deadline and on Monday announced the arrest of four suspects in the assaults. The men are not police officers, he said, and were arrested after being overheard in a bar bragging that they made the video. Bejar Fonseca said the suspects were drug dealers and that they had five accomplices who remained at large. It was unclear what the motive was for the alleged abuse.

Bejar Fonseca said investigators from his office had contacted the victims to get additional evidence but that they had refused to cooperate.

Mexican journalists seemed to be having more luck. One of the youth told El Universal that he and the others were handed over to their abusers from inside the state prosecutor's headquarters. The youth, whom the paper did not name, said they were repeatedly beaten, threatened and intimidated. He said the owner of the house that the youths allegedly tried to rob joined in. The incident occurred Oct. 14, according to the paper; the video began circulating late last week.

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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