June 8, 2023 6:43 pm

Activist appears targeted at Mexican president’s press brief

A human rights activist in Mexico’s dangerous northern border city of Nuevo Laredo said Wednesday that he suspects the Mexican army — and the government in general — are behind claims linking him to a drug cartel, which could put his life at risk.

The issue is a sensitive one in a country where dozens of activists have been murdered in recent years. In many parts of Mexico, being called a drug cartel collaborator can be a death sentence.

Over the last decade, activist Raymundo Ramos has investigated a number of killings and disappearances carried out by the military in Nuevo Laredo. On Sunday, Ramos denounced the killing of five young men by soldiers, events the army eventually confirmed.

Soldiers said they opened fire on the pickup truck that the young men were traveling in in response to a bang sound bang when the truck sped away in the pre-dawn hours on Sunday. The killings sparked angry confrontations between soldiers and residents of Nuevo Laredo, and the army said the incident was under investigation.

Carlos Dominguez, who runs a web site called Nacion 14, was the first person selected to ask a question at President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s morning press briefing, where he claimed Ramos worked for a drug cartel. Ramos has denied the accusations. Dominguez played a taped intercept of a telephone call purportedly between Ramos and a supposed drug trafficker.

López Obrador did not openly endorse the claims of Dominguez, whose news site largely echoes the president’s statements. But the very few people allowed to ask questions at the morning briefings are personally selected by the president.

“This is clearly a response by the Defense Department. They are using the morning press briefing to smear me and to discredit the victims’ complaint,” Ramos said. “They are misusing journalism,” he said, referring to the fact the president allows people — some of whom have only a tenuous connection to journalism — to air accusations at the widely covered briefings.

López Obrador has given the army a greater role than any other modern Mexican president, and the army may have been embarrassed by the revelation of Sunday’s killings.

Ramos denies working for the Northeast cartel, which dominates Nuevo Laredo, and investigations have shown that Ramos’ phone was hacked with Pegasus spyware in 2020.

The Pegasus hack was confirmed by a forensic investigation by the University of Toronto group Citizen Lab. The company that makes Pegasus says its spyware is only sold to governments.

Dominguez, the reporter who made the accusations, did not say where he obtained the taped phone call. But Dominguez did suggest that guns had been found with the bodies of the five men killed Sunday in Nuevo Laredo — something that does not appear in any reports from the crime scene or the army about the incident.

“These people have been found with high-powered weapons,” Dominguez said. He said Ramos “is just another operator for drug cartels, in this case, the Northeast cartel.”

There were no guns listed in the prosecutor’s crime scene report or army report. Still, the cartel accusation could be deadly.

“There is a war between cartels in Mexico, so any other cartel could attack me or my family,” Ramos said.

It may be a dispute between a web site operator and an activist, but the attitude toward Ramos is consistent with other government statements.

Ramos was the first person to publicly denounce the killings. On Tuesday, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission told Ramos to be quiet about the Nuevo Laredo case “to avoid spreading disinformation.”

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