The murder of three Americans in Mexico has thrown a spotlight on an elite police unit whose members are now suspected of carrying out the execution-style killings. According to some who witnessed the abduction of the three victims, men in police uniforms attacked the three Americans, hooded them and drove them away in trucks. These men apparently identified themselves as members of Grupo Hercules – the Hercules Group – and threatened witnesses into silence.
Those accounts have yet to be verified, but the existence of the elite Hercules Group is a reality. Thought to be around 40 strong, the Hercules Group is made up of police officers who formerly served in the Mexican military and is tasked with sensitive policing operations and providing personal security for city officials in the border town of Matamoros, in northeast Mexico. Matamoros is in the state of Tamaulipas, considered one of the most dangerous states in Mexico and one that is largely controlled by the drug cartels. Tamaulipas is the home state of the notorious Zetas and other drug cartels.
Little information on this police unit is available, although it appears to be an almost paramilitary force, dressing in camouflage fatigues, with its officers sometimes wearing face paint. Its existence was unveiled in September, by Leticia Salazar, the Mayor of Matamoros. Salazar herself has been seen wearing the same camouflage uniform as the members of the Hercules Group. Salazar has not responded to requests for more information about the police unit. Juan Sanchez Alvarado, who heads the city’s transit police and public security office has stated that the Hercules Group does not take its orders from him.
The unit’s commander, Joe Mariana Vega, said it is a “shock group,” tasked with intelligence gathering and high-risk policing, as well as personal protection duties. The Hercules Group appears to have no federal recognition. Matamoros has been without a municipal police force for some time, since the police there were disarmed and confined to their barracks by federal authorities attempting to deal with rampant corruption in the city.
In light of the deaths of brothers Alex Rivera, 22, and Jose Angel Rivera, 21, along with their sister, 26-year-old Erica Alvarado Rivera, questions are being asked about the Hercules Group and nine police officers serving in the unit are now being questioned. The three Americans were visiting from Texas. They were abducted on October 13 and their bodies were discovered Wednesday. The three had been shot in the head and their hands had been tied. The body of a Mexican man, 32-year-old Jose Guadalupe Castaneda Benitez – Erica’s boyfriend – was also found with them.
Tamaulipas Congressman Jorge Valdez is demanding answers. “We want the mayor to explain to lawmakers what the real position and the legal basis of the ‘Hercules’ group is,” he said, “because this killing cannot go unpunished…”
Mexico has a long-standing problem with drug cartels which have become so powerful they have coerced or corrupted local government officials and police forces across the country. Kidnapping is rampant and American citizens are often targeted: US officials in Mexico have received reports of almost 70 kidnappings just this year, between January and June. Mexico is also reeling from the recent abduction of 43 students from a teachers college and the discovery of a mass grave, uncovered during the hunt for the students, whose whereabouts and fate is still unknown.
Referring to the murders of the three Americans, Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre Cantu said “We will apply the full force of the law and zero tolerance.”
Graham J Noble