American says he witnessed corruption in Mexican prison

By Alfredo Corchado and Angela Kocherga

The Dallas Morning News

Published: Saturday, Dec. 10 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

"They had just taken all our clothes off and laid us all on the ground close together," Huckabee said. "And all we hear is a rafaga (burst of fire) of the rifles.

"We're like what's going on, what's going on? Well they had shot him. And all the guys, the feds, started cocking their rifles, and we're like, 'Great. This is what they're doing.' We're all laid here on the ground, and they're going to start opening fire.

"Then it came over the radio, 'It's OK, we just shot another pig. It was one of our guys that shot one of theirs. Don't worry.' ... The next day we found it was a leader and who it was and a guy I actually knew."

Among the 17 people killed in the riot and crackdown was a man identified as Nicolas Frias Salas, known as El Nico and leader of the Double AA gang, a group associated with the Sinaloa cartel.

Emails seeking comment from the federal police and the office of President Felipe Calderon also were unanswered.

In November, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch released a report that accused the Mexican government of torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the government's five-year war against organized crime. The report detailed violations at all levels of authority, from prosecutors who allegedly give detainees prewritten confessions for signing to medical examiners who classify beatings and electric shock as causing minor injuries.

Huckabee, who said he was beaten with a rifle butt and given electric shocks, said he and other inmates tried denouncing the incidents to human rights activist Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, but the activist was not allowed in the prison. De la Rosa Hickerson confirmed that the police chief barred him from entering the prison.

"I don't see any justice," Huckabee said. "I see corruption. I see lots of corruption."

The corruption begins with guards who "want their 20-30 pesos for a favor here or there" to judges who "ask for a certain amount of money and you'll be out. I couldn't pay the amount of money that they wanted. It was astronomical," in the tens of thousands of dollars, he said. "For a drug dealer, it's a good thing for them; they can pay their way out."

Some policy analysts in Washington question whether the incidents described by Huckabee will further dampen U.S. support for continued aid to help Mexico's fight against drug traffickers, including the training of federal police, and to strengthen its judicial system. Under terms of the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative aid package, Mexico could lose 15 percent of the aid if there is evidence of human rights violations. The State Department is required to issue a report in the first half of 2012 on whether Mexico is fulfilling its human rights requirements.

"This case raises the profile in Mexico and makes it harder for the State Department to argue that enough progress is made," said Maureen Meyer, Mexico program director at the Washington Office on Latin America. "This ups the ante because this involves a U.S. citizen, and the Department of Justice determined that he was tortured."

On Thursday, the Mexican federal police received a Black Hawk helicopter, the latest installment of U.S. aid.

(c)2011 The Dallas Morning News Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com

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