Doubt cast on confession in Rodríguez murder

The man who Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa said had confessed to taking part in the murder of reporter Armando Rodríguez Carreón was tortured, the newspaper El Diario in Ciudad Juárez reported today. On Wednesday, Calderón told a delegation from CPJ and the Inter American Press Association about the man’s alleged involvement in the killing. Mexico’s attorney general, Arturo Chávez Chávez, cast the confession as a breakthrough in the case. 

Rodríguez, a renowned crime reporter for El Diario, was shot in front of his young daughter in November 2008. Since then, the investigation has stalled and his newspaper has campaigned persistently for state and federal authorities to produce results. There had been none until Calderón’s announcement on Wednesday.

Chávez said the man had confessed to being the driver in the killing and had identified the gunmen and mastermind. The motive, according to Chávez, quoting the alleged confession, was Rodríguez’s many unfavorable stories about organized crime.

But all that is called into question by today’s story in El Diario, which cites unnamed sources as saying the man, Juan Soto Arias, was tortured. Mexican authorities could not be reached late Friday for comment on the El Diario allegations.

According to the editor and a reporter at El Diario, the information about the alleged torture was developed from two unrelated streams of information. First, an employee of the paper reported to management that a relative in police custody was being taken out of the state prison by state agents who were torturing him and demanding he confess to killing Rodríguez, according to Pedro Torres, the paper’s editor. The El Diario employee said this began several months ago, Torres told CPJ. “Our man says his brother admits he is a hit man for a cartel and his has killed many people. He doesn’ deny that. But he refused to confess to killing Rodríguez,” Torres said.

Then, a month ago, the reporter who replaced Rodríguez on the police beat, Luci Sosa, began hearing that a prisoner was being taken from the prison to a military base and being tortured, she told CPJ. Allegedly this man was also being told to confess to the Rodríguez killing. It turned out the prisoner in both instances was Soto, according to Torres and Sosa.

The Rodríguez case has become a yardstick for the collapsed criminal justice system in Ciudad Juárez, where so far this year there have been 2,200 murders associated with a war between two cartels and the government’s weak efforts to fight them both. Despite having as many as 7,500 soldiers and 2,500 federal police officers, the government has failed to make the city a model for reasserting authority over organized crime. There are few arrests and many fewer successful prosecutions.

In the Rodríguez case, the main federal investigator was gunned down on the street last year and days later the investigator who replaced him was murdered.

Only last Sunday, El Diario published an editorial that said publically what most in Juárez have been saying for more than a year. The editorial said that state and federal authorities no longer have control of the city. It is being run, El Diario said, by criminal gangs.

(Reporting from Mexico City)