MEXICO CITY – Outrage grew in Mexico and El Salvador when Mexican authorities said Monday that an autopsy of a Salvadoran woman who died in police custody confirmed police had broken her neck.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador flatly said that Victoria Esperanza Salazar was murdered by police in the Caribbean resort of Tulum.
Victoria Esperanza Salazar let out a scream on Saturday afternoon when a policewoman kneeled on her back to cuff her hands behind her. Salazar lay face down in the street and barefoot. Her feet lashed out. A few people slowly passed by on their bikes. There were food stalls a few yards away.
Video clips cobbled together give no indication of how much time has passed. Then three more officers stand around her motionless body, still facing down, casually talking. Three officers later lift her handcuffed body onto the back of a police pickup truck and drive away.
Videos shared on social media show no events before Salazar was on the street with the officer above her.
An autopsy revealed that Salazar died of a broken neck. The investigation found: “A fracture of part of the upper spine caused by the fracture of the first and second vertebrae that caused the loss of the victim,” Quintana Roo prosecutor Oscar Montes de Oca said in a video.
The injuries were “compatible and consistent with the subjugation maneuvers used on the victim while in custody” and demonstrated a “disproportionate” use of force. He said his office was preparing femicide charges against the four police officers.
Salazar had lived in Mexico for several years on a “humanitarian visa,” said El Salvador President Nayib Bukele. “She was brutally murdered by Tulum police in Quintana Roo, Mexico,” the president wrote. He said the government would support Salazar’s two daughters.
“I see thousands of outraged Mexicans demanding justice for our compatriot,” said Bukele. “You are just as outraged as we are. Let us not forget that it was not the Mexican people who committed this crime, but some criminals in the Tulum Police Department. “
López Obrador swore on Monday that those responsible would be punished.
“She was brutally treated and murdered,” said López Obrador. “It is an event that fills us with pain and shame.”
On Monday there was a small potted plant and a few candles in front of the supermarket where Salazar was killed. Someone wrote “This is where they killed Victoria” in big purple letters on the sidewalk.
Salazar left Sonsonate about five years ago about an hour west of San Salvador to look for better options and escape the street violence in the area, her mother Rosibel Emerita Arriaza said. She was a single mother of two daughters.
She left her daughters with her family and set out for Mexico. In the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, Salazar applied for and received refugee status. The Mexican National Immigration Institute confirmed this Monday.
After gaining legal status, she moved to the seaside resort of Tulum on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Tulum was a more relaxed alternative to Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Salazar found work plastering in hotels and brought in her daughters aged 16 and 15.
On Monday, Arriaza worked with the Salvadoran authorities to repatriate her daughter’s body. She also planned to travel to Mexico to reunite with her granddaughters
“I want justice for my daughter because what they did to her is not fair,” Arriaza said. “She was a woman who wasn’t armed just because she was a woman and I don’t know what happened.”
According to the results of the autopsy, Quintana Roo state security chief Lucio Hernández Gutiérrez said that in addition to the four police officers involved in the events, the Tulum police chief was also fired on Monday.
He called the video of the murder “shameful and conclusive”.
Tulum Mayor Victor Mas Tah said: “I understand and share the outrage and pain of the whole of society.” He said the former police officers would be arrested in the coming hours.
Manuel Barradas, owner of a small grocery store, said Salazar appeared “absent” to him. When she approached his shop, he barred her entry. Authorities did not mention that Salazar was under the influence of anything when discussing the autopsy. The police arrested her a short time later.
Protest marches were planned for later Monday in Tulum, Mexico City and San Salvador.
The scenes commemorated the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. Floyd was pronounced dead after a white police officer pressed his knee to the black man’s neck for about nine minutes and held his position even after Floyd limped.
Floyd’s death was captured on widely watched video and sometimes sparked violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning of the breed. The trial of this officer began in Minneapolis on Monday.
Quintana Roo prosecutors said four Tulum police officers – three men and one woman – were under investigation on Saturday night for their likely involvement in the incident. They said fingerprints and forensic evidence would be examined on the case.
“There will be no impunity for those involved in the victim’s death and the full force of the law will be used to bring those responsible to justice,” the office said in a statement.
The woman’s death appeared to spark tension in Quintana Roo, where police held off around 100 protesters with live ammunition in Cancun in November.
Protesters demonstrated against the murder of women and some broken windows and burned documents outside City Hall, while others tried to tear down a plywood barrier at an entrance.
Police fired in the air, but people were injured as protesters rushed to escape when the gunfire rang out. The state governor condemned the use of force and the state police chief was evicted.