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News (Media Awareness Project) - US TX: US Man Relates Abuse In Mexican Prison
Title:US TX: US Man Relates Abuse In Mexican Prison
Published On:2011-12-11
Source:Dallas Morning News (TX)
Fetched On:2011-12-13 06:05:12
U.S. MAN RELATES ABUSE IN MEXICAN PRISON

Ex-Inmate Describes Seeing Corruption, Killing, Beatings

A U.S. citizen from the El Paso area, recently freed from a Mexican
prison in Ciudad Juarez, said he witnessed government corruption,
heard the killing of a gang leader by federal police, and personally
watched a controversial police chief beat inmates with a two-by-four.

The firsthand account by Shohn Huckabee, 24, provides a rare view
into life behind bars and reaffirms allegations made by thousands of
Mexican prisoners, whose complaints often go nowhere. The allegations
also raise questions about how much Mexico has done to improve its
weak judicial system, one of the goals of U.S. aid under the Merida
Initiative.

A spokesman for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said Thursday
that the State Department should carefully vet "Merida funding in
order to ensure that it is being used for its intended purposes and
effectively," and "should investigate the reported torture of Shohn
Huckabee, and we look forward to receiving those findings."

Huckabee spent nearly two years at the municipal prison known as
Cereso after he and a friend, Carlos Quijas, also a U.S. citizen,
were arrested while returning home from Juarez. Both were convicted
of drug trafficking after Mexican soldiers said they discovered
marijuana in their car, a charge both men denied.

Last September, Huckabee was transferred to the United States under a
U.S.-Mexico treaty. He was released last week after the U.S. Justice
Department parole board determined that he had been tortured by
Mexican authorities while in custody. On Thursday, Quijas was
transferred to a U.S. prison.

Huckabee signed deportation papers stipulating that he must stay out
of Mexico for 10 years, but he vowed: "I won't ever return to Mexico.
I don't plan to visit there ever again because this could happen to anyone."

His parents support the decision to share his story. "It's a tragedy
for an entire nation that needs to be told to the rest of the world,"
said his father, Kevin Huckabee.

In an interview at his home in the El Paso area, Huckabee described a
series of violations at the prison. He said he lived through a deadly
riot in prison in July and the brutal crackdown by authorities that
followed. He said he witnessed municipal police officers and Police
Chief Julian Leyzaola beat inmates with two-by-four pieces of wood.

"He was hitting them personally," Huckabee said of Leyzaola. "I saw him."

Huckabee said he saw inmates "blue and black and bruised up."

Allegations of torture

Leyzaola, a retired army lieutenant colonel, has been credited with
cleaning up the border city of Tijuana and more recently with
reducing crime in Ciudad Juarez. But allegations of torture and
corruption have followed him.

According to a July 14, 2009, diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks,
U.S. diplomats raised suspicions that a drop in violence in the city
of Tijuana had more to do with Leyzaola cutting a "look-the-other-way
agreement" with the Arellano Felix drug cartel than with the overall
government strategy.

Leyzaola has denied the allegations and has described himself as
nothing more than a patriot trying to rid Mexico of criminals. After
Leyzaola's success in Tijuana, the Juarez mayor, state governor and
top business leaders personally recruited him to take the Juarez job.
Calls and emails to his spokesman in Ciudad Juarez were unanswered.

Huckabee said federal police were the first to enter the prison after
the riot in July and used deadly force even after prisoners were
disarmed and stripped. 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 A gang, a group associated with the
Sinaloa cartel.

"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."

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

Human rights report

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 Lat-in
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.
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