The massive leak of army emails to which EL PAÍS had access exposes a dark part of Mexico’s most hermetic public institution. This newspaper has reviewed more than 1,000 files that chronicle dozens of sexual assaults by superiors and civilians, sometimes in groups, others involving torture practices, which the Secretariat has recorded over the years but which it has kept secret and with little action against it. Previously unknown cases that describe everyday life in the barracks, military hospitals and the behavior of some of their members who have been sent to the countryside. The facility’s precarious and sometimes nonexistent response leads many of the victims to request a change of destination to prevent their reported superiors from retaliating against them or being fired outright.
The documents, found among more than 4.1 million emails, also reveal the Department of Defense (Sedena)’s knowledge of these complaints, involving at least 42 soldiers. Some of them have been convicted and are in prison, others are on trial, and many have simply been transferred to another department. Some reports contain complaints from complainants for dismissing those who were encouraged to report cases of sexual abuse and harassment. The Sedena was questioned by this newspaper about the information leaked when their servers were hacked, and their reply was a curt “we’re investigating”.
A military formation during a ceremony November 20, 2021. Gladys Serrano
The leak of more than six terabytes of internal information from the army includes complaints describing the same modus operandi by the attackers, in which they often take refuge in position and uniform — in cases against civilians — to order victims to go to one go remote, lonely place where there are no witnesses. They obey the lieutenant or the captain and are cornered. According to victims, in many cases where they accused their bosses, they were threatened with the idea that no one would believe them or, if they were in remote or isolated places, reminded that they were alone there and the only ones with power were the high command.
A Secretariat document dated November 9, 2021 reports that 308 soldiers have been charged, prosecuted or convicted of human rights violations. Of these, 23 cases of qualified rape or sexual abuse are reported. Five were convicted, ten charged, and the others had their cases filed. They relate to investigations from 2009.
Other more recent complaints this newspaper had access to date from 2021 and involve health lieutenants from the capital’s military school for health officers, civil engineers from Mexico City and junior officials against a 19-year-old civilian in La Paz, Baja California. This last case tells how three soldiers attacked a boy in this community as he was leaving his home and tortured him with a metal pipe.
A Navy rear admiral stationed in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, in March this year sent the defense a series of reports received from Chihuahua state, in which soldiers said they had been victims of sexual abuse and harassment were from middle and senior management of the Secretariat. The compilation includes the story of a National Guard woman stationed in Ojinaga, Chihuahua, who reported that in November 2021, a Navy supervisor in the position of second captain used her to stage an “excessive” demonstration in front of his classmates, allegedly to inflict a detainee teach inspection. “He started examining me in an exaggerated manner, pressing on my chest with both hands and hurting me,” the woman said, “later running his hands over the rest of my body, which made my classmates laugh.”
Women new to the National Guard. They’re setting up a guard in Mexico City, Hector Guerrero
According to the report, the same supervisor had “force hugged” her in a previous episode when they were alone in the laundry. The woman also denounced another boss, a captain, “who is intimidating and scary” for having her taken to an office in March 2021, where he hit on and forcefully kissed her. The context he describes was so tense that it included threats and intimidation from the commanders: “I’m afraid they’ll hurt me.” Given the possibility that his grievance did not go further, he requested transfer to another location, a measure normally used as punishment within the army and in this case required of the victim to “avoid any retaliation” because dared to raise his voice. “Other Navy colleagues have filed complaints about other events and against other Sedena employees without success as they don’t care and choose to leave, say nothing or change seats,” adds he added.
This compilation of complaints includes the story of another soldier who, around the same time, reports that Secretariat commanders sexually harassed workers at a military coordinator in Punta Naranjos, also in Chihuahua state. According to the applicant, the high officials of the town entered the rooms where the women lived without any concern, even if they were naked, and approached them “to select those that pleased them”. Those who did not consent to sexual relations with their bosses were victims of physical and psychological reprisals, the woman says.
Several complaints were received from this unit, ranging from discrimination to ill-treatment. The stories, signed by name and surname, are repeated with the accusatory finger always pointing to high positions. The bosses excused everything with one sentence: “Now you will feel what it is like to be under the command of the Sedena.”
A non-commissioned officer from Punta Naranjos says in a document from February this year that his boss called him because a colleague had accused him of sexual harassment and abuse of office, but nothing came of the fact. “He told me, ‘This time I will forgive you, let it be the last time because the next time is a boat related to the military prison,'” he says in the document.
One of the photos accompanying the complaint.
The Secretariat’s actions to deal with this type of abuse within the institution go through protocol courses on respect for the rights of detained victims and gender workshops, but were not found in the documents checked, nor were they announced. no vigorous public policies to halt a momentum that has been entrenched in the barracks for decades.
In some cases, the reporting person becomes a target for the institution. Evidence of this is a document sent to the Army’s Office of Gender Equality in August 2018, which alleges surveillance “by conduct” of a sergeant who was transferred to Chihuahua “because she was the victim of sexual harassment by her boss.” The report said that “monitoring of his military and civilian conduct” would be maintained in order to “neutralize” the situation, although he admitted he had not shown any “conduct contrary to military discipline” to date.
One of the few measures the army seems to have taken is a letter in which its members promise not to harass anyone or violate their human rights. According to the emails, in June this year the document for the military to sign began circulating through the Secretariat’s offices, in which they claim to be aware of what attitudes may be considered sexual harassment and promise to ” committing no acts of this nature “nature”. Forms signed by soldiers and sent to their superiors are recorded from this date.
Specifications to be signed by the new members.
Some cases escalated and, after overcoming several obstacles, reached the military courts where the victims had to confront their perpetrators, in some cases assisted by high-ranking military officials. This is the case of a female soldier who had to wait two and a half years and listen to numerous hearings from various army commanders to deny that a lieutenant and a second lieutenant had sexually abused her in a closet at the Central Military Hospital in Mexico City in July 2018. After subjected to numerous convictions, attempts to discredit her and use money to silence her, she managed to get her sentenced to the minimum sentence of six years in prison and a fine of 5,300 pesos, about $260. A long nightmare to become one of the few successful sex abuse justice cases within the army.
Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS México newsletter and receive all the informative keys on current affairs in this country
Subscribe to continue reading