Monthly Archives: June 2017

Real Stories of Mexico’s Missing — Searching for His Sister: Carlitos Looks Among Human Remains in Mexico, by Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Real Stories of Mexico’s Disappeared: Carlitos and the Search Among Human Remains for His Missing Sister

By Javier Valdez Cárdenas, Correspondent (La Jornada)

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Around 60 search party members from 11 states in Mexico look for missing or disappeared people in the towns of El Quelite in Mazatlán and Sataya in Navolato. Photograph by Javier Valdez. Published in La Jornada.

Culiacán, February 8, 2017—Carlitos says that he loves his sister and that he is not going to leave her unprotected. At his tender age he already feels guilty for something he did not do, for having failed to take care of and protect Zoé Zuleika. She has been missing for a year.

Carlitos – that’s what we’ll call him – is barely eight years old and he searches for missing people: a searcher of human remains who carries a small staff and pickaxe. His grey and black striped sweater keeps him from the morning chill. He is Mexico’s youngest searcher of the disappeared.

When you ask him what he is going to say to his sister when he sees her again, the boy answers: That I love her; that I am going to protect her. Around the Navolato community of San Pedro, in the deciduous forest, the little one looks among whoever’s human remains, but really he’s searching for his sister.

With blows from his staff and still more from his pickaxe he looks for Zoe like someone who knows he will find her. His lively, black eyes light up like fireflies and he smiles when he thinks about her.

The last time he saw her, he remembers, was a year ago in his father’s truck, in Soledad, a town in San Luis Potosí.

He says that when he finds her he is going to protect her, including from his father whom he suspects took her. Carolina Gómez Rocha, 40, is mother to both children. She comes from San Luis Potosí, and she searches for missing people, even though she realizes it is unlikely she will find Zoé in the state of Sinaloa.

I do these searches to strengthen the families who are here searching, not to find my daughter. I know that she is alive. I am her mother and my heart tells me so. I am here to support the cause. It has been an immense experience, and yes it does help me, it strengthens me, she says. She’s a few yards from the Culiacán River, between the sand sifters and the cornfields.

She has four children: 8, 18, 20, and Zoé, 6. The youngest worry her and give her hope. The day Zoé disappeared Carolina’s family had gone to a party. They went at the insistence of her father in law.

The girl, who was already tired, fell asleep in her father’s truck. A few minutes after midnight they decided to leave but the young girl was not there anymore.

Safety Belt

Carolina and even Carlitos suspect his father. He does not ask about the girl. He has not joined in the searches or gone to the authorities even after they filed the criminal complaint. Her husband’s family acts just the same: indifferent. That’s why they don’t dismiss the idea that they have Zoé or know where she is.

Less than a kilometer from where the search party is looking, the prosecutor set up a roadblock. Two women police officers approach, ask questions in a friendly way, and allow or deny entry. Few get close. Further on, where they are conducting the search, there are four federal police patrol cars. They have dogs with them, dogs trained to search for human remains, and experts with their kit.

About thirty members of the Third National Search Party have come together to excavate and ask questions. This search will last two weeks. A Catholic priest is participating, as are many young women and several members of the Marabunta organization. Most of them wear white shirts with black text: Where are they?

According to statistics from the state prosecutor, around 2,200 people disappeared in Sinaloa during the last six years, the period when Mario López Valdez was governor. His term ended last December.

Some searchers look near the heavy machinery. Others go to another site in the truck belonging to the prosecutor’s forensic team. Still others seek shade under the poplars.

They laugh. They poke risqué fun at the young priest, circling in on each other. Even during the search there is time for fun yet memories still weigh heavy.

They are more than 60 searchers from 11 states. Right now they are looking for human remains in two graves: in El Quelite in Mazatlán, and in Sataya, Navolato. They have managed to unearth one body. It still has not been identified.

Some yards away, in an overgrown corner, Lucas, the police dog, digs again and again. So much so that it looks like he’s playing. The agents say he lifts his ears and his tail goes straight and he goes stiff when he finds human remains. He doesn’t do any of that today.

There’s Carlitos. With his staff and his pickaxe. Sometimes he wants to leave and attaches himself to his mother’s skirt. The two bob through the mess of dry branches, big leaves and uneven earth. It looks like they are crossing a swamp but they emerge clean.

After his sister disappeared, the boy went through a bad time at school. He enjoys math: but his grades went from 9s and 10s to 6s and 7s.

He carries himself aggressively. He locks himself in his room. He throws himself on his bed and cries, all the while clutching a photo of Zoé. He speaks to her. He cries over her. That’s why he goes to therapy. He falls down and het gets up. Here he raises his staff and plunges it into the ground.

– When you speak with your sister, what will you tell her?

– I will tell her I love her and I miss her and that I will protect her. That I can take care of her. That I won’t let my father leave her in his truck.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on May 15, 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this story in La Jornada on February 8, 2017. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction to Sinaloa by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator in the Americas, an investigative journalist, and historian. NACLA, the CPJ BlogThe Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.

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Evil Commander, Javier Valdez Cárdenas

[From RíoDoce, published on October 12, 2014.]

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From a distance he saw the commander abusing some farmers so he shouted at him. As he approached the officer he continued having a go at him. What are they doing to you? Don’t mistreat ordinary people! Just because you’re in a squad car and you’re armed and wearing that uniform. If you want to accuse them of something well detain them and take them to the prosecutor. But don’t go around insulting them and messing with them.

The commander looked at him, face furrowed. The deep lines appeared on his face at the moment when he reacted to the man who was stopping him from taking his anger out on the farmers. Putting heat on them wasn’t even worth the few notes in their pockets.

He saw the truck the unknown shouter got into. He felt offended, brought low. With his power interrupted in front of other police officers, in front of those lowlifes he always saw as enemies, the point men for the other narcos, the criminals with power, angry and cornered for all the security operations underway.

He took a note of the license plate and asked an officer to investigate. I want to know who that bastard is. It wasn’t a huge deal: just an honest man who delivered building materials, who sometimes had money and at other times couldn’t even afford to eat or to pay for his children’s school. A businessman and a bricklayer, a driver, freighter, seller and distributor, with two employees in his pay. He was also a brave citizen, upright and dignified.

One afternoon the man’s loader broke down. He went to a nearby city with one of his workers to replace the broken piece. In the repair shop they told him it cost five thousand pesos. Big money. He went to look for a used one and he found it for fewer than two thousand. Some guys he knew invited him for a beer: no thanks man, I don’t drink when I am working. The engine’s still running.

He moved off in the truck. He came across a roadblock. What are they going to stop me for? They’ll run their eyes over the truck, ask me for identification, papers. That’s what he thought. He said it’ll be two minutes and we’ll be off. A witness said that they made him get out. They opened the truck’s seats with knives, stripped the dashboard and beat it all up. They were looking for drugs, weapons. They did not find anything, but they took the men off. Handcuffed, hunched over, made small. That’s how they put them in the patrol car.

Two days later they found them. They were in the same truck, in an irrigation ditch. Handcuffed. Their feet tied together. There clothes were ripped. Bruises on their heads and bodies.

The witness said the man at the front of the roadblock was the same commander the man confronted for abusing the farmers. It was the same uniform, the same squad car. They called him Evil Commander.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on October 12, 2014. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction to Sinaloa by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator in the Americas, an investigative journalist, and historian. NACLA, the CPJ Blog, The Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.

 

 

 

 

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