MEXICO CITY — Outrage grew in Mexico and El Salvador as Mexican authorities said Monday that an autopsy of a Salvadoran woman who died in police custody confirmed that police broke 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 Saturday afternoon as a female police officer knelt on her back to cuff her hands behind her. Salazar was face down on the street and barefoot. Her feet flailed. A couple people passed slowly by on a bicycle. There were food stands a few yards away.
Clips of video cobbled together give no sense of how much time elapsed. Then three other officers are seen standing around her motionless body still facedown, chatting casually. Later, three officers lift her still handcuffed body into the back of a police pickup truck and drive away.
Video circulating on social media does not show events before Salazar was face down on the street with the officer on top of her.
An autopsy concluded that Salazar died from a broken neck. The examination found, “a fracture of part of the upper spinal column produced by the rupture of the first and second vertebra which caused the loss of the victim,” Quintana Roo State Prosecutor Oscar Montes de Oca said in a video.
The injuries were “compatible y coincide with submission maneuvers applied to the victim during her detention” and demonstrate a “disproportionate” use of force. He said his office was preparing femicide charges against the four police officers.
Salazar had been living in Mexico for some years on a “humanitarian visa,” El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said. “She was brutally murdered by Tulum police officers 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,” Bukele said. “They are as outraged as we are. Let us not forget that it was not the Mexican people who committed this crime, but rather some criminal in the Tulum police.”
López Obrador swore Monday that those responsible would be punished.
“She was brutally treated and murdered,” López Obrador said. “It is an event that fills us with pain and shame.”
Salazar’s brother, Rene Olivares of Sonsonate, El Salvador, told a local news outlet that her teen daughters lived with her in Tulum where she worked in a hotel. On Monday, Olivares was meeting with foreign ministry officials in San Salvador and declined to immediately comment.
Quintana Roo state prosecutors said Sunday they were investigating four municipal police officers in Salazar’s death.
Protest marches were scheduled for later Monday in Tulum and Mexico City.
The scenes were reminiscent of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. Floyd was declared dead after a white police officer pressed his knee against the Black man’s neck for about nine minutes, holding his position even after Floyd went limp.
Floyd’s death was captured on widely seen bystander video and sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.
The Quintana Roo prosecutor’s office said four Tulum police officers — three men and one woman — were under investigation for their probable involvement in the Saturday evening incident. They said fingerprints and forensic evidence were being examined in the case.
“There will be no impunity for those who participated in the death of the victim, and all the force of the law will be brought to bear to bring those responsible to trial,” the office said in a statement.
The woman’s death seemed likely to ignite tensions in Quintana Roo, where police used live ammunition to ward off a throng of about 100 demonstrators in Cancun in November.
The protesters were demonstrating against the killings of women and some smashed windows and burned documents outside the city hall, while others tried to tear down a plywood barrier at an entrance.
Police fired into the air, but people were injured when protesters rushed to escape as the shots rang out. The state’s governor condemned the use of force and the state police chief was forced out.
Aleman reported from San Salvador, El Salvador.
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