Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 7 News List

No genocide warrant in Mexico

MASSACRE Without explanation, a judge has refused to issue a warrant for a former president who is accused of ordering the slaughter of dozens of demonstrators

AP , MEXICO CITY

Juan Velazquez, defense lawyer for former Mexican president Luis Echeverria, speaks on the phone outside Echeverria's house in Mexico City on Saturday.

PHOTO: EPA

A judge has refused to issue an arrest warrant for former Mexican President Luis Echeverria, who faces genocide charges for the killing of protesters in a clash with pro-government thugs during a 1971 demonstration.

Judge Jose Cesar Flores did not explain why he declined to issue arrest warrants Saturday against Echeverria and other former top officials allegedly responsible for the deaths.

But defense lawyers had argued there was insufficient evidence to link Echeverria to the killings and that the statute of limitations had run out.

Echeverria, first as interior secretary in the 1960s and as president from 1970 to 1976, allegedly fought a decade-long counterinsurgency campaign against the student pro-democracy movement, as well as small and violent leftist guerrilla groups.

Special prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo, following a two-year investigation, claimed that dozens of students died in the "Corpus Christi massacre" on June 10, 1972, but defense lawyer Juan Velazquez claimed only about 11 were killed.

Velazquez also said charges of genocide are not applicable because of a 30-year statute of limitations -- a claim Carrillo rejected.

Prosecutors said they would appeal Flores' decision to the Supreme Court.

"We will exhaust all pertinent legal recourse," Carrillo said.

Carrillo said the judge "did not fully analyze the evidence contained in the 14 volumes, consisting of 9,382 pages, probably because of time constraints." Flores had only one day to review the case file.

The case against Echeverria, the first former leader to face criminal charges in the country's modern history, has threatened to create a crisis in President Vicente Fox's already troubled relationship with Congress. Echeverria's Institutional Revolutionary Party holds the largest bloc of seats and could stop cooperating with Fox if the charges go through.

Many critics question Carrillo's decision to press genocide charges against Echeverria, 82. Most agree that Carrillo filed the genocide charges mainly because it was the only charge -- apart from "forced disappearance" -- on which the statute of limitations had not already run out, though defense lawyers argued that time limits apply even to genocide.

"This was the wrong way to do this," said former national security adviser Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, who had urged Fox to form a truth commission rather than try former leaders on what he saw as shaky charges that would only divide the nation further.

"If you can't prove these charges, then it just leaves people thinking there was some lack of commitment, or political maneuvering," said Aguilar Zinser.

"The question is whether genocide was committed on Corpus Christi, or whether they did not have anything else to charge them with, so they chose a crime that might not fit the events," Aguilar Zinser said.

Even victims' activists had expressed some suspicion about the charges, which had also reportedly been brought against former interior secretary Mario Moya and former attorney general Julio Sanchez Vargas.

"We don't have any hope," said Rosario Ibarra, who has led a 30-year campaign for justice after her son, an alleged guerrilla leader, disappeared in 1975.

"Charges come and go, arrest warrants come and go, they get injunctions, and in the end nothing is ever done," Ibarra said.

But Ibarra, who has frequently confronted Echeverria personally about the crimes, vowed "we will not rest until we find out what happened to our loved ones."

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