A lawyer fought for justice after a Mexican massacre. Then the government made her a suspect.
Delgadillo fought all the way to the Supreme Court to force the government to divulge details on the 2011 massacre, widely blamed on the Zetas cartel. Finally, she won. This year, authorities turned over the 271 volumes of their investigation to her human rights group. And there, in Volume 221, the 48-year-old lawyer found something startling.
The Zetas, it turned out, weren’t the only suspects in the case.
She was one, too.
Mexican authorities secretly opened an organized-crime investigation into Delgadillo and two other women trying to unravel what happened in San Fernando, according to more than 200 pages of court documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
Opening the investigation gave prosecutors special powers to surveil the women. They obtained records of their phone calls and texts. Federal police then mapped their communications.
The three women are among the leading figures documenting Mexico’s crisis of the disappeared, in which more than 94,000 people have vanished. One is an award-winning journalist, Marcela Turati. Another is an acclaimed anthropologist, Mercedes “Mimi” Doretti.
The court records, which have not previously been revealed, provide a rare look at how Mexico’s government aims its considerable surveillance capabilities not only at criminals but also at human rights activists, journalists and other critics. The revelations come amid an outcry over the use of the special organized-crime statute.
The law gives prosecutors authority to monitor suspects’ communications, jail them without charge and limit their access to lawyers. It was passed in 2008 to fight narcotics groups so powerful that they were viewed as an existential threat by the Mexican government. Yet the measure has been used in recent years against politicians charged with corruption, business executives suspected of fraud, and even 31 scientists accused of budget irregularities.
The investigation of the three women “is an extremely revealing case of a dysfunctional, incompetent judicial system that is routinely used for abuse of power,” said José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch.
On Monday night, Delgadillo filed a lawsuit demanding that authorities close the investigation and examine abuses by the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime. “It seems that they did this to try to find something and get us out of the way,” she said. “I can’t think of any other explanation.” She noted that some of the staff members who opened the investigation were still working in the unit.
The Mexican attorney general’s office denies that it uses organized-crime charges to target critics. It declined to comment Tuesday on the case against the women. Alejandro Encinas, the sub-secretary for human rights at Mexico’s Government Ministry, told The Post that the probe “is a clear sign of the arbitrariness that reigned under the old regime and in the [attorney general’s office], which criminalized journalists and human rights defenders.”
There is no sign that the probe revealed any evidence of wrongdoing by the three women. No charges were ever filed.
Delgadillo said the investigation formed part of a pattern in which the government has tried to deflect attention from its botched handling of the San Fernando case, in which local police allegedly cooperated with the Zetas. Families of victims have complained of mix-ups in receiving bodies and of cremations performed without their permission.