Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Photo by: Reuters/Toya Sarno Jordan

An activist for human rights in the perilous border city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, said on Wednesday that he believes the Mexican army and the government are behind allegations linking him to a drug cartel that could endanger his life.

In a nation where numerous activists have been killed recently, the subject is delicate. Being identified as a drug cartel collaborator can result in death in several places in Mexico.

Activist Raymundo Ramos has investigated several homicides and disappearances committed by the military in Nuevo Laredo over the past ten years.

Ramos condemned the shooting deaths of five young men by soldiers on Sunday, which the army later acknowledged, MYSA reported.

In the early hours of Sunday, soldiers claimed they fired upon the pickup truck the young guys were riding in after hearing a boom sound bang as the vehicle sped away.

Armed forces officials announced that an inquiry was being conducted into the killings, which led to furious exchanges between soldiers and Nuevo Laredo locals.

Carlos Dominguez, who runs a website called Nacion 14, was the first person selected to ask a question at President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's morning press briefing, where he claimed Ramos worked for a drug cartel.

Ramos has denied the accusations.

Ramos and an alleged drug dealer were supposedly speaking on the phone, according to a taped intercept of a telephone call provided by Dominguez.

López Obrador did not openly endorse the claims of Dominguez, whose news site largely echoes the president's statements.

But the very few people allowed to ask questions at the morning briefings are personally selected by the president.

"This is clearly a response by the Defense Department. They are using the morning press briefing to smear me and to discredit the victims' complaint," Ramos said.

"They are misusing journalism," he said, referring to the fact the president allows people, some of whom have only a tenuous connection to journalism, to air accusations at the widely covered briefings.

López Obrador has given the army a greater role than any other modern Mexican president, and the army may have been embarrassed by the revelation of Sunday's killings.

Ramos denies working for the Northeast cartel, which dominates Nuevo Laredo, and investigations have shown that Ramos' phone was hacked with Pegasus spyware in 2020.

A forensic study conducted by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto verified the Pegasus hack. The company that creates Pegasus claims that only governments purchase its spyware.

Dominguez, the reporter who made the accusations, did not say where he obtained the taped phone call.

But Dominguez did suggest that guns had been found with the bodies of the five men killed Sunday in Nuevo Laredo, something that does not appear in any reports from the crime scene or the army about the incident.

"These people have been found with high-powered weapons," Dominguez said. He said Ramos "is just another operator for drug cartels, in this case, the Northeast cartel."

Both the crime scene report and the army report from the prosecutor did not include any firearms. Yet, the cartel allegation might be fatal.

"There is a war between cartels in Mexico, so any other cartel could attack me or my family," Ramos said.

It may be a dispute between a website operator and an activist, but the attitude toward Ramos is consistent with other government statements.

The first person to publicly condemn the killings was Ramos. Ramos was instructed to keep silent about the Nuevo Laredo case by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission on Tuesday "to avoid spreading disinformation."

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