Mexico Police under Fire after Woman’s Death in Custody

Outrage has been growing over the death in police custody of a Salvadorean woman in the Mexican resort of Tulum on Saturday as more details of the incident emerged, BBC reports.

A post-mortem examination suggests Victoria Esperanza Salazar’s neck was broken after a female officer pinned her to the ground. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said she had been “murdered”. The incident comes amid growing protests against femicides in Mexico.

The 36-year-old from El Salvador had been in Mexico since at least 2018, when she was granted refugee status for humanitarian reasons. Her mother says she left her hometown of Sonsonate five years ago to escape the violence which El Salvador’s notorious street gangs were spreading.

Victoria Salazar lived with her two daughters, aged 15 and 16, in the resort town of Tulum, where she worked as a cleaner in hotels. On Saturday afternoon local time, she entered a small supermarket in Tulum. CCTV footage broadcast on Mexican media shows her walking around the store waving a large empty water bottle.

The footage suggests most of the customers and staff continued about their business, but it later emerged that the store’s manager had called the police. Four municipal police officers, three male and one female, attended the call and detained Victoria Salazar on the street outside for allegedly disturbing the peace.

Unverified footage broadcast by news site Noticaribe shows her crying out as a female officer is kneeling on her back while the male officers stand by.

The post-mortem examination has revealed that Victoria Salazar died from a broken neck, the attorney-general for the state of Quintana Roo said on Monday.

Oscar Montes de Oca said that she had suffered “a spinal fracture caused by the rupture of the first and second vertebrae”. He said that the officers had used “disproportionate force” against Salazar. Four police officers have been detained and will be charged with femicide, Mr Montes de Oca added.

The incident has been widely condemned both in Mexico and in Salazar’s native El Salvador. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that Salazar had been “brutally treated and murdered”.

“It fills us with sorrow, pain and shame,” he said, and promised that “all those responsible are going to be punished”. “They are already in the process of being prosecuted and there will be no impunity,” he added.

Salvadorean President Nayib Bukele wrote on Twitter [in Spanish] that he was “sure that the Mexican government would apply the full weight of the law to those responsible”.

In a later tweet on Monday, he said that “the case of Victoria is much worse than we thought”. Without giving further details, Mr Bukele alleged that “there are more aggressors” than previously thought and that not all of them had been arrested yet.

Rene Olivares Arriaza, a half-brother of Salazar Arriaza, told Reuters news agency that he had seen the video and that his family had been informed of her death by mutual acquaintances. Describing the family’s keen sense of loss and his “powerlessness” at seeing the video, Olivares said he could not understand how she had died, and also called for justice.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said it was unclear why the woman had been detained and that the cause of her death was still under investigation. Three male officers and one female officer had so far been questioned, the office said.

Local media reported that police had initially said they arrived at the scene to respond to a report of “disturbing public order”. Alejandro Encinas, Mexico’s deputy interior minister responsible for human rights, called the incident an act of “police abuse”.