“They were taken alive, and we want them back alive!”

  • The 26,000 people missing due to the war against the drug cartels haunt Mexico
  • This coming Friday, their families want to condemn the absence of any investigation on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

They plan on bringing clothing belonging to their missing family members and setting them down in front of the Federal Prosecution building. These clothes, devoid of their owners, symbolize their absence. In Mexico City on Friday, on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the families of those who are officially “non-located” will organize several actions to demand serious investigations from the authorities and an end to impunity.

Over 26,000 have disappeared between 2006 and 2012. Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, in power since last December, recognizes this fact. According to civilian associations, most of these cases are linked to drug cartel conflicts and ex-president Felipe Calderón’s military offensive that was launched against them. Among those most affected are young people, whether or not they’re involved in organized crime, and police officers, as well as Central American immigrants who fall into the hands of the gangs.

“The worst part is the uncertainty, which only increases with time.” Lucìa Baca conveys her growing suffering in just a few words, and she presents her son, “Alejandro, 35 years old if he’s still alive.” She has spent thirty-one months with no news. Thousands of families are living the same nightmare. They don’t even know where to look for their loved ones – under the ground or still among the living. They welcome the government’s recognition of the issue as a “first step”. Under the last presidency, there was hardly any mention of the missing. The 70,000 missing people were categorized among “criminals” who share the same rank as the dead. “Making someone disappear is a form of terrorism. Families often don’t report it because they suspect the authorities of being accomplices,” explains Santiago Corcuera. The lawyer, like many experts, is a former member of the United Nations workgroup on enforced disappearances. He points out that the mobilization of 50,000 troops aggravated the violence and the human rights violations. Between 1970 and 1980 already, during the aptly named “Dirty war”, the military orchestrated the disappearance of hundreds of leftist opponents.

Recently, Human Rights Watch was outraged at the “ongoing cost of an ignored crisis”. It accuses the repeated failure of the Mexican State to investigate. In the past twelve years only two people were convicted in these cases.

And, every day, the gaping wound left by these disappearances becomes harder to ignore. In the north of Mexico, over 150 mass graves were uncovered containing hundreds of bodies. The families of the missing wander from site to site of these “narco-graves” in search of their loved ones. Very few bodies are identified. Unlike other Latin American countries, Mexico has no genetic database that might allow them to identify the missing. The prosecutor’s office was contacted, but it declined any interview. It simply referred to the recently adopted measures, such as the agreement with a group of Argentinian forensic specialists who are responsible for exhuming bodies. Lucìa Baca echoes back to all these “no comments”, stating “The new government has good intentions, but we need action”. Her son, Alejandro, disappeared in January 2011 while he was traveling on a road in the north. Two hundred such disappearances were reported on this route which runs through Zetas territory. They are a particularly bloody cartel. The police don’t dare investigate in that area, confirming that it’s too dangerous. Lucìa holds on to the hope that her son, an engineer, may have been captured by the Zetas who might be forcing him to work for them.

Yolanda Montes thinks that her daughter, a police officer, was probably a victim of her superior officers. She disappeared in the northern city of Durango in 2010. “My daughter must have discovered her superiors’ corruption. They felt threatened and made her disappear.” For four months the authorities refused to meet with her parents and recognize her disappearance. “There has been, to date, no investigation.”

Last May, a group of mothers camped in front of the prosecutor’s office on a hunger strike. The government yielded after ten days, and it announced the creation of a special unit dedicated to searching for the missing. “One more place to slam a door in our faces,” the mothers say bitterly. “We want to find them, alive”, they point out. They wonder, however, if the authorities are really looking for their loved ones or if they’re simply trying to forget them and bury them among the dead to hide the scourge.

EMMANUELLE STEELS

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One Response to “They were taken alive, and we want them back alive!”

  1. Paul says:

    There’s a “wonderful” film, actually a long-drawn dialogue, called “El Sicario”, wherein the horror and “system” of drug-related gangs is perfectly related. The “sicario” (assassin) explains how he got involved in the cartel, first by being financially encouraged to enroll in police school; he graphically explains the variable techniques for killing a victim needing processing, variable according to type; life as gang member; the drugs…and the final countdown “I want out, out, out”….religion. There is a strange athmosphere in Mexico, a fascination with skullbones and cemetary picknicks, you might Google “La Catrina Mexicana” to see what I mean. Mexican society has always been a hallucinatory orgy of violence, passion, religious fervor and chocolate gastronomy. Of course this fascination with the symbolics of death do not replace a disappeared loved one, but somehow it might provide a form of explanation for the excessive cruelty of these macho cartels. I dearly love Mexico and its people, very, very nice. And when they aren’t, you’re dead.

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