MEXICO CITY -- A clean-cut former Bible salesman, Gibran David Martiz had a career on the rise. He’d become a finalist on Mexico’s version of the NBC singing show “The Voice” and was preparing a new disc. He liked the punchy Latin music style known as reggaeton.
Then on Jan. 14, state police in Veracruz broke into his apartment in the city of Xalapa and led the 22-year-old away. His body was found Tuesday at the scene of a shootout.
What happened to Gibran Martiz is unknown, and it’s fueled the concern of many Mexicans about police in Veracruz and in other states with high levels of kidnapping and violence. His killing came just days after Mexico’s top security official lauded the Veracruz police as a “reliable and efficient” force worthy again of public trust.
President Enrique Pena Nieto has sought to build confidence in law enforcement and portray Mexico as a nation on the mend from runaway organized crime. But inconvenient events keep getting in the way. The death of Martiz is one example.
After a spike in killings in 2011 in Veracruz, a sprawling, steamy state on the Gulf of Mexico, the state and federal governments began throwing money at police reform, using U.S.-promoted and -financed techniques on police vetting that involved methods such as polygraph tests.
“One of the most shocking facts is that most of the police officers involved in kidnapping have gone through vetting,” said Juan Salgado Ibarra, an expert on law enforcement issues at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, a Mexico City institution. “It shows that the system is not working.”
The father of Gibran Martiz, Efrain Martiz, said in a telephone interview that he was sure the police were involved in the snatching and death of his son.
“In every process of cleaning up the police, there are always some bad elements that remain behind as new people come in,” he said.
On the day his son vanished, the father said, his son’s two roommates were driving a silver sedan in the state capital of Xalapa when state police stopped them for having windows that were tinted more darkly than permitted. The police had them lead the officers to their apartment. It was there that the younger Martiz was detained, his father said.
Since father and son hold dual Mexican-Panamanian citizenship, the father sought the help of the Panamanian consul, who accompanied the father and his wife to the state prosecutor’s office. They were initially told that the assailants must have been criminals using “cloned” vehicles and uniforms to appear as if they were police.
But the Martiz family used photos taken by neighbors to track down one police cruiser that had been snapped at the scene to a police compound.
His brother, Erick, took to Facebook to publicize what they found:
“This is the patrol unit and its number (20-1178) in which my brother Gibran Martiz was taken away, and we still know nothing,” Erick Martiz posted.
The father went back to the chief state prosecutor with the information.
“There was little he could do but keep his mouth shut,” Martiz said.
Added Panamanian consul Ruben Dario Campos: “He had no other alternative but to acknowledge that this was a possibility.”
At a news conference earlier this week, Veracruz prosecutor Amadeo Flores Espinosa said seven public safety officials had been arrested in Martiz’s death and had been charged with abuse of power, breach of duty and other charges.
He maintained, however, that assailants who later got into a shootout with state police south of Xalapa had killed Martiz. He didn’t explain how Martiz had gotten out of the custody of the police and into the hands of the two gunmen.
The case is a matter of embarrassment to Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the most powerful man, after Pena Nieto, in Mexico’s government. Osorio Chong spoke at a ceremony Jan. 14 for graduating state-police recruits in Veracruz, saying the state’s police force had become a model for “police transformation” three years after entire municipal police forces in the state had been dissolved amid evidence they’d been bought off by powerful crime gangs.
Efrain Martiz said it was “too early to sing victory” but that Veracruz officials were likely doing so to create “an image of a cleaned-up police” before the Ibero-American Summit of 22 heads of state that will be in Veracruz later this year.
Salgado, the law enforcement expert, said he thought that Osorio Chong, who controls a newly centralized federal security apparatus, had found dealing with the nation’s rampant crime and corruption to be a monumental task.
“I think he’s absolutely overwhelmed,” Salgado said.
Even as the Martiz case has surged into the national spotlight, some obscure forces have sought to portray Martiz as a gangster, releasing photos of him holding an assault rifle and handguns.
The production company handling his career, Supernova, issued a statement earlier this week that said Martiz was using the guns – which it said were toys or fakes – for an upcoming but unfinished video, which it said it would release shortly to “put the lie to these anonymous photos that are trying to muddy the image of Gibran David Martiz.”