Missing in Mexico: Coahuila’s State Government’s Fails to Inform about Disappearances
by Inés Santaeulalia
– Authorities in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila sow doubt and offer contradictory explanations about an alleged operation to locate the remains of the disappeared
The State Government of Coahuila, in northern Mexico, reported recently that an operation had found human remains in narcofosas (narco graves) in 11 townships. EL PAÍS wanted to see the results of the search and traveled to a state that according to some official figures has experienced at least 1,665 disappearances in the past 14 years. The state government promised to show us the results of the successful operation on Wednesday 5 February in the city of Monclova. But then on Tuesday afternoon the state said that it had decided to suspend work for an indefinite period.
Attorney General Homero Ramos and the sub-prosecutor for missing people, Juan José Yáñez, who heads the operation, received EL PAÍS on Wednesday in Saltillo, the state capital. Ignoring a request for information, the authorities failed to show a map of the work areas. Nor did they permit us – in spite of their initial promise – to see the discovered remains that supposedly had arrived at the forensic medical service the same day.
The constant communications by members of state Government to journalists, with repeated calls throughout the day, became irksome and inexplicable: none of these calls helped to prove if the state had conducted an operation. “It’s a shame that you didn’t come yesterday (Tuesday) because if you had you would have been able to see everything,” rued the Attorney General on several occasions.
The Government said it would provide photographs of its work and sent an email containing images. Their dates, which can be traced through appropriate photo analysis software, correspond to 2005 and 2011. Officials also told journalists that Governor Rubén Moreira, from Mexico’s ruling party the PRI wanted to see them, but he never confirmed an appointment.
“It is the first large operation at a national level,” reassured Attorney General Homero Ramos. The government talks about a force of 250 people, from the state and federal police and Mexico’s army, trained dogs and radar to comb through an indeterminate number of ranches in 11 townships where, allegedly, drug cartels tore up their victims.
This newspaper could not find any indication that the authorities undertook an operation, aside from the information provided by the authorities. The sub-prosecutor and head of the search operation, Juan José Yáñez, admitted it is impossible to know how many people the remains came from. According to his information, they found burnt bones among the remains and several large drums used by criminals to reduce the bodies to ashes. “There are bodies that will never be identified,” he added.
Last Saturday, various media outlets reported the remains of 500 people had been found in the graves, but by phone Yáñez denied the information. “I have never spoken of numbers. All the bones could come from just one person. You can’t do this overnight,” he said. This Monday, the state’s governor admitted to the press that the published information was incorrect and that there had only been “small finds.” On the same day, the largest association of families of the disappeared, The United Force for Coahuila’s Disappeared (Fundec) decided for the first time to break off its dialogue with the state government, because of the operation’s mismanagement.
Last Wednesday, the day when state functionaries agreed to accompany EL PAÍS to Monclova to witness “the first national operation” in search of the disappeared, two government officials picked up the press from the city of Monterrey in Nuevo León to take them to the Attorney General’s offices in Saltillo. After the meeting with the Attorney General, sub-prosecutor Yáñez limited the visit to a tour of the offices. Our trip raised more questions than it answered and revealed that Rubén Moreira’s government is not disposed to share information. At one moment, before the evident mistrust of the reporters, one state official asked, “I don’t know what you expecting to find. What did you want to see, a dead body?”
Journalist Inés Santaeulalia reports on Mexico for El País. This article first appeared under the title of “Los pretextos del Gobierno de Coahuila por no informar,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/02/10/actualidad/1392065468_652785.html.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.