Category Archives: disappeared

The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ´Cuco´(Galia García Palafox, NUESTRA APARENTE RENDICIÓN)

This article appeared originally in the book, Tú y yo coincídimos en la noche terrible, a collection of essays about murdered or disappeared Mexican journalists, by Lolita Bosch and Alejandro Vélez Salas, published by Nuestra Aparente Rendición in 2012. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’
By Galia García Palafox (Nuestra Aparente Rendición)

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Cuco is the story about a boy who wanted to be a journalist.

He hadn’t finished secondary school but Manuel Gabriel needed to work to take money home. He got a job cleaning the house of Araceli Shimabuko, a journalist in his town.

Araceli stopped him from cleaning and set him to hand out the magazine she edited, Paisajes. He took a taxi every day from his neighborhood to the center of town. While she reported he distributed the magazine to government offices. It was the closest he had been to these two worlds: inside and behind the scenes at the town hall, a view from afar of its mayor, some press conference or other when he went with Araceli. Her secretary, that’s what some officials and journalists called him.

After work they ate something or met with other reporters. Manuel Gabriel was fascinated. He became friends with journalists in Acayucan, a town of 83,000 residents in the south of the state of Veracruz. He didn’t skip the opportunity of going with somebody covering an accident, a fire or a fight. Manuel Gabriel knew immediately what the news world wanted, especially when it came to the police blotter.

He started helping journalist friends collect information, making visits to the public prosecutor, taking photos. One day he came home with a newspaper in his hands. His parents and his brother, Ricardo, could hardly believe it: at home Manuel Gabriel was known as José and in the news world somebody nicknamed him ‘Cuco,’ and he had published a story. He was a sixteen-year old reporter.

From that moment on his parents asked him to take care with what he published. He mustn’t get himself in trouble.

Somehow he got hold of an old, roll camera. He took photos and he took the roll to be developed. From a cybercafé he sent photos and news to magazines where he had begun to work.

One day he went to El Diario of Acayucan. He asked to speak with its owner. He didn’t want to talk with anybody else. Marcos Fonrouge, chief editor, dealt with him. He had heard talk about him. He had read him. Cuco wanted work and there was a position open for a reporter covering the crime beat. The job was his.

Fights between drunkards, men who beat people, car crashes. Cuco covered those stories. “They all made him proud,” Fonrouge says. Night and day he looked for an exclusive. He took it for granted he would get it. “Hey, I have the exclusive,” that’s what he said to reporter colleagues when he met them. He spent nights in police stations or in the public prosecutor’s office to get the scoop. He got home early in the morning.

Don Juan, his father, remembers that some days he only used to come home to change clothes after a visit to the morgue, to get rid of the smell of a body. Other times they didn’t used to see him at home until dawn. “He used to get home when we were all asleep, at one a.m., two in the morning. He used to bring us memelas [akin to a tostada (hard tortilla) with savory toppings] and empanadas and he got us all up to eat,” says Ricardo, his little brother. “He used to tell us that he had seen dead people or accidents.” He used to tell, he tells. He used to arrive, he arrives. He was, he is. Everybody who talks about Cuco changes verb tenses. Not Cuco used to be, no: Cuco is.

Cuco liked the dead. On one occasion his boss sent him to cover a social meeting of lawyers. Cuco returned with photos so bad that Fonrouge knew that it was his way of telling him that he did not want to be sent to cover events that weren’t part of the crime beat.

After a spell at El Diario of Acayucan, Cuco went to El Mañanero, a new daily with five reporters and a circulation of three thousand issues. He graduated from film to a digital camera. He used to show it off to people who wanted to see. And he showed it off to those who did not want to see it, too.

Saturday 17 September 2011 was his day off. In the morning he played cards with his brother. Five peso hands. He didn’t have any luck at the cards. He lost.

Ricardo went to play football. Cuco went to El Mañanero’s offices to collect his pay. He spoke with his boss for a few minutes. He told him he was going to eat some tamales nearby. Cuco was always ready to party.

That night he didn’t return home to sleep. His father went to look for him. He did not find him. In the newspaper they were waiting for his Sunday stories. They never arrived. His phone went straight to voicemail.

On Monday his father went to ask at the newspaper. The journalists had begun to mobilize. A group went to look for him in a neighboring town where a party was rumored to have taken place. There was no sign of Cuco. Another group met in an ice cream parlor to decide what to do. One of them called a deputy prosecutor and they filed a complaint. They started to investigate: did anybody see him in the park with a friend on Saturday night? Another said that he had been at the morgue. Did a witness see him get into a car with a sandwich seller? It wasn’t a sandwich seller but the hotdog seller. Rumors and rumors. Criminal investigations. More rumors. Nothing convincing.

El Mañanero has a policy of not publishing news about criminal groups who might endanger its workers. Cuco had not published anything compromising. Maybe he saw something he shouldn’t have seen. Maybe they weren’t going for him. Maybe he opened his mouth too much. Maybe he fell in with bad company. More rumors.

 

Journalist Galia García Palafox is editor in chief at Milenio Digital. She has reported for news outlets in the United States and Mexico and graduated with a Master’s from the Columbia School of Journalism. This article was first published under the title, “Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’,” and is available at: http://nuestraaparenterendicion.com/tuyyocoincidimosenlanocheterrible/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=84:manuel-gabriel-fonseca-hernandez#.VANQzWSwLBw.

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. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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The Ranch of Horror (Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.Expediente.Mx)

This crónica was first published on Blog.Expediente.Mx on 19 June 2014 and has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Keys of the Murdered and the Missing of El Diamante, Tres Valles, Veracruz. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Keys of the Murdered and the Missing of El Diamante, Tres Valles, Veracruz. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Ranch of Horror
By Ignacio Carvajal (Blog.Expediente.Mx)

Tres Valles, Veracruz.- “Can you take us to the graves at El Diamante, please?” somebody asks an official from Tres Valles township. Until that question, the bureaucrat had been welcoming, good-humored even; but on hearing where they wanted to go, his face reddened. He looked around from place to place. His chin trembled. He did go there, but reluctantly and at the first opportunity he fled – full throttle, ignoring speed bumps, puddles, and potholes.

The entrance to El Diamante is the opening to Eden. At the end of the meadow on this ranch, once the property of the late Fernando Cano Cano, first mayor of Tres Valles, trees are laden with fruit, a fish farm to one side. Pastures spring up at the corners to the property. A river runs through it.

It’s a golden dream for any farmer. But for the thirty-one people who were murdered and buried here, it’s where they went from paradise to hell.

After three months, last Monday night Navy personnel finally acknowledged it as a burial site. Nobody could have imagined that, under leafy trees on one side of a ravine hid horror: death, suffering, and shame half-covered by soil.

A smell hovers over the site. Green flies swarm around rotting flesh, crawling with maggots. There are thirteen holes. From each one they have exhumed two or three people. The investigators left a short time ago. They worked with nothing. Help came from soldiers stationed in Xalapa and Veracruz.

One person who was there, and whose identity is being protected, says that the investigating agents couldn’t cope. After hours of digging and removing rotten flesh, exhaustion overwhelmed them.  Officers from the Veracruz Investigations Division (AVI) had to lend a hand, putting their firearms to one side to pull on rope to extract the dead. “The exhumed bodies were tied up. It was complicated because they didn’t have hands or feet. Sometimes we had to help.”

“We tired from pulling up so many bodies. There was this moment when we had to shovel and blood and rotting stuff came out,” the official said.

 

OFFERINGS TO THE SKINNY WOMAN

Dirty dishes. Leftover food. Smelly mats. Damp towels. Pirated CDs. Dirty clothes scattered all over. Medicine. A shrine to the Santa Muerte. Black candles. The Seven Powers of Santería.  A toilet overflowing with crap.

It’s the inside of the house located on the rise of the El Diamante ranch. In this place, about two kilometers from the police station and town hall of Tres Valles, twenty-four men and seven women were murdered. How was it possible to massacre so many people so near to the police station?

Until a few days ago the inhabitants were a group of hitmen. They got into the ranch through a breach that runs from the city, along railway tracks, through groves of trees and a red clay trail.

Inside the building, what causes most fear is the image of the Santa Muerte.  It’s clearly a copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà, with Christ lying at the feet of the skinny woman.

The thirty-centimeter image is mounted on a box with a twenty-liter capacity. Around it are more than a dozen candles of the Seven Powers of Santería: Obatalá, Elegguá, Oggún, Orunlá, Yemayá, and Ochún.

More candles are placed inside the dwelling. They could be more than forty, or thirty-one. Perhaps the same number of victims buried in the clandestine cemetery.

Still inside, one finds chile, tomatoes, a frying pan filled with potatoes and sausage and on a chair, a saucepan filled with potatoes. They were about to eat. At present, the scant unofficial information provided by military sources doesn’t mention detainees, pointing to a timely escape.

The mats – from the National System for Overall Family Development (DIF) – stand out, strewn all over. It’s a mess left behind by officials who didn’t pay attention to a single detail: dozens of keys left behind beside the well – keys to houses, cars, drawers, and boxes. Keys that once belonged to the people dragged here and murdered.

 

POSSESSED

El Diamante is a watchtower: from its rise there’s a view of Tres Valles, and on the other side a meadow sown with fine, nourishing pasture. A sonorous ravine nearby snakes below the ranch, shaded by fruit trees.

Police reports call it an “abandoned ranch.” But its infrastructure looks in good shape.

In the town they confirm that it belonged to the late Fernando Cano Cano, a member of the Party of Institutional Revolution (PRI) and the first mayor of Tres Valles. Nobody can say how a group of murderers and death fanatics took over the ranch.

The difference between the last tenants and the owners is clear: they were very religious. In a corner, there’s a chapel to the Virgin of Juquila.

The Chapel to the Virgin of Juquila at El Diamante (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Chapel to the Virgin of Juquila at El Diamante (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Inside the three-by-three chapel, with an altar in the middle, and cubbyholes in its walls, are mats, used condoms, excrement. There are signs of frantic sex, wild nights, alcohol, torture, and decapitation.

The thugs used this place for everything but praying to Christ’s mother. Her images are no longer in the cubbyholes: they have been destroyed.

In the chapel, they didn’t leave flowers or candles to the Virgin. But they left bottles of whisky and a bag of bread rolls to Death. An offering.

 

HOPE LIVES ON

The smell of death rattles the nerves of all of Cosamaloapan and its neighboring villages. “I had to wash my clothes again because I’d hung them out to dry the day the bodies arrived. But the smell penetrated everything and it stinks,” relates one of the people who lives by the morgue here in Cosamaloapan.

The smell lingers in the air and pervades all of Cosamaloapan, penetrates the poorest neighborhoods, the low-income areas where there are the most cases of missing people.

“We came here from Xalapa [the state capital, 300 kilometers away], because we knew there were a bunch of dead people here and in our neighborhood four boys are missing. A truck blocked their path and took them,” says a woman, who along with the others, seems not to be made sick by the smell or the heat.

They are wives, mothers, aunts, grandparents or partners of disappeared people. For them, Cosamaloapan and the neighboring towns amount to a badly healed wound bursting with pus. They are desperate.

“Sometimes I just want to find her and be done with it. Tell me if she’s dead or whatever,” says one woman, whose daughter, Wendy Cruz, has been missing since May.

Her granddaughter, Wendy’s daughter, holds a photo of her mother: dressed in a red blouse and tight white pants. Just beside the Papaloapan River. The last time they saw her she was going to Alvarado to eat with a friend.

Wendy Cruz. Last Seen went she went to Alvarado for a meal with a friend. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Wendy Cruz. Last Seen when she went to Alvarado for a meal with a friend. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Another family of women and children seeks shade under a fig tree. The oldest carries a photo of her sixteen-year old grandson who went to a party in Tuxtepec two weeks ago and never returned.

“They treated us very badly inside. We aren’t from here. We came from Oaxaca. Inside the morgue they told us we should deal with things in Oaxaca. They say there aren’t any bodies here. That they took them all to Xalapa,” says one of the women.

At some moment in the afternoon they could not wait any longer. They were huddled around the entryway where at least two stood waiting. They approached the slabs. They raised the sheet from one corpse and confirmed that it wasn’t their relative. They entered with fortitude. They left alone.

 

JOINED TOGETHER IN PAIN

On the Cosamaloapan-Acayucan highway, two hundred kilometers from the graves, a man enjoys some pineapple juice, happily looking at the cargo on his truck: twenty coffins.

The man has been informed about the region’s toughest news. “Clandestine Graves at El Diamante in Tres Valles.” Rather than being afraid, the funeral director in Cuenca del Papaloapan seems energized. He begins making calls to all his contacts, mostly those at the morgue, whom he rewards if they pass on the news to him first. He knows that the cargo he’s bringing from the Federal District won’t be of any use if he doesn’t hurry up and do the paperwork at Cosamaloapan’s deputy prosecutor’s office. “I don’t think they are going to be enough. We are going to have to ask for more,” said the driver.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal reports from Veracruz. Follow him @nachopallaypaca on Twitter. This article was first published under the title, “El rancho del horror,” at blog.expediente.mx available at: http://blog.expediente.mx/nota.php?nId=6974#.U7NQUI1dVjY.

 

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. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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Missing in Mexico: The Disappeared During Peña Nieto’s Presidency (Paris Martínez and Daniela Rea, AnimalPolítico)

This is the second of six articles published by AnimalPolítico about disappeared people during Peña Nieto’s Presidency. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Disappeared during Peña Nieto’s Presidency
By París Martínez and Daniela Rea (AnimalPolítico)

 

Marisol Hidalgo Juárez, almost 15 years old. Victim of a disappearance in March 2014.

Marisol Hidalgo Juárez, almost 15 years old. Victim of a disappearance in March 2014.

 

The information provided by the National Register of Missing People does not provide a clear profile of the victims: it fails to include socio-economic data, educational attainment, work and health status. But it is possible to pull out some demographic features that characterize those who have disappeared in Mexico during the first ten months of the Peña Nieto presidency.

For example, women twelve to fifteen years old are the population most affected during this period and number 519 disappearances. According to the National Register, one of every five disappearance cases is that of an adolescent woman. Marisol Hidalgo Juárez, a girl of fourteen, belongs to this group. A resident of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, two months ago on the 13 March 2014 an unknown person abducted her. “What the neighbors who saw everything say is that a man entered the house and took her by force,” said her father, “my girl had barely just started secondary school…”

When she was abducted, Marisol was a month from her fifteenth birthday. In fact, in the photo used to advertise the search for her, she wears the dress she was going to use for her party.

“She has brown hair, two big eyes,” murmurs her father, his voice shaking with anxiety, “the Public Prosecutor, the Army, the Navy, and the State Police are all looking for her now, and all of them have her photo but still they have not found anything… and I want to ask people who see her, or the person who has her, that they return her to us. We aren’t going to do anything against that person, we just want her brought back to us. We want to know that my girl is alright…”

Journalist Paris Martínez reports for AnimalPolítico and may be followed on Twitter @paris_martinez. Journalist Daniela Rea reports for AnimalPolítico and newspaper El Universal. Follow her on Twitter @danielarea. This article, the second of six in a series, first appeared in Spanish with the title, “Los desaparecidos de Peña Nieto.” The full series, in Spanish, is available, here: https://readymag.com/animalpolitico/31859/2/.

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. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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Missing in Mexico: 2,618 Disappearances In Peña Nieto’s First Year as President (Paris Martínez and Daniela Rea, AnimalPolítico)

This first of six articles was published by AnimalPolítico on 3 June 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Missing in Mexico: 2,618 Disappearances In Peña Nieto’s First Year as President
By Paris Martínez and Daniela Rea (AnimalPolítico)

A group of armed men abducted six workers from outside the Bolívar Mine in Piedras Verdes, Chihuahua on 9 February 2013. They also took their tools. Five welders and the camp cook disappeared; their whereabouts are still unknown.

According to the miners’ relatives, nobody tried to find them: neither the state nor federal authorities, and not even their employer Dia Bras de México, an affiliate of the Canadian mining company, Sierra Metals, Inc. So led by supervisor engineer Abraham Mendoza, nine days later fifteen fellow welders went after them. They left the state capital and headed towards Urique township in search of their missing colleagues.

This second group, however, was ambushed when they arrived at the Piedra Verdes mining camp: a group of armed men set upon the welders, gagging, beating, and hitting them for being in the region. The attackers freed eleven welders, but continued to hold three others captive including their supervisor, warning: “If you are still here when dawn breaks, we will kill them.”

These survivors were forced to flee from the Bolívar mine knowing that ten of their colleagues remained captives of the criminal group that controlled the region. Since then, each of them may be considered a victim of forced disappearance. (Translator’s note: the facts, as described, do not seem to conform to the international legal definition of a forced disappearance. According to international law, state agents must have participated in, or have authorized, supported, or acquiesced to, the acts which led to the disappearance. See, Article 2, the International Convention for the Protection of All People from Enforced Disappearance. PT) “It wasn’t a common kidnapping. They never called to ask for ransom,” says María del Carmen de Jesús Ventura, the mother of Arturo Chacón, a disappeared welder. “They took them with their team, and with their tools, with their machines, with their computers, and with Abraham Mendoza’s truck, the welders’ boss.”

The names of the abducted workers from the Bolívar mine are: Arturo Chacón de Jesús, Gustavo Ornelas, Abraham Mendoza, Sergio Ávila Jiménes, José Guadalupe Terrazas Urbina, David Fuentes González, Mauro Orduño Muela, Benjamín Reyes Palomares, along with the camp cook, Guadalupe, whose surnames have been ignored.

The ten miners belong to the 2,618 “missing” people since Enrique Peña Nieto became president of Mexico. To be exact, these are the victims reported during the government’s first ten months, in the period from December 2012 to September 2013, when officials last updated those figures.

According to the National Register of Missing People (a publicly-accessible tool that was available online until 25 May – it was then deactivated by federal authorities), during Peña Nieto’s presidency these victims can be broken down into 1,115 women (42.6 percent) and 1,502 men (57.4 percent), and were abducted from 29 jurisdictions. The only states that did not officially register any disappearances from the beginning of the presidential term were: Campeche, Nayarit, and Hidalgo.

Journalist Paris Martínez reports for AnimalPolítico and may be followed on Twitter @paris_martinez. Journalist Daniela Rea reports for AnimalPolítico and newspaper El Universal. Follow her on Twitter @danielarea. This article, one of six in a series, first appeared in Spanish with the title, “Se acumulan 2mil 618 casos de desaparición en 1er año de EPN.” The full series, in Spanish, is available, here: https://readymag.com/animalpolitico/31859/2/.

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. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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Missing in Mexico: Families of Disappeared Women Undertake The Viacrucis (Luz del Carmen Sosa, EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

This article was first published by the Diario de Juárez on 19 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The translation of this article is dedicated to the work of Dr. Alfredo Limas Hernández, professor at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez (UACJ) and co-director of the Observatorio de Violencia Social, Genero, y Juventud. PT

 

Families of Missing Women from Ciudad Juárez on the Viacrucis (Photo: Diario de Juárez).

Families of Missing Women from Ciudad Juárez on the Viacrucis (Photo: Diario de Juárez).

 

Families of Disappeared Women Undertake The Viacrucis
By Luz del Carmen Sosa (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

On Good Friday the families of missing young women performed a viacrucis beginning in the “Maricela Escobedo” Center for Women’s Justice, ending at the local office of the state prosecutor.

The march brought together families that, months before, had walked to Chihuahua City, as well as representatives of social groups.

“For many years this has been our Viacrucis: asking authorities to pursue the cases of our disappeared daughters, and demanding justice if they turn up dead,” said José Luis Castillo, father to minor Esmeralda Castillo, who has been missing for five years, since the age of thirteen.

The group met at ten o’clock in the morning outside the Women’s Justice Center and walked the streets around Sanders Avenue, given that the train was blocking vehicle traffic. [Translator’s note: the proximity of the train that runs through Juárez to Avenida Sanders can clearly be seen, here.]

“From north to south, from east to west, whatever it takes we will search for our daughters,” shouted men and women whose long campaign has been to find their daughters.

And yesterday they walked down Juan Gabriel Avenue carrying a pink cross bearing words in black letters, “God be with the mothers of missing young women, and with those who have been found lifeless.”

“This march shows the authorities our daily viacrucis, one we have been on for the past five years. The authorities promised to do a job, to look for our daughters, alive. The authorities have gone on holiday but have failed to fulfill the work they promised to undertake. That’s why we have to remind them of the work they must do, to find our daughters alive,” said José Luis Castillo.

Journalist Luz del Carmen Sosa reports for the Diario de Juárez, and is a co-founder of the Red de Periodistas de Juárez. This article first appeared under the title, “Familias de desaparecidas realizan su Viacrucis,” available at: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-04-18_9f10549c/familias-de-desaparecidas-realizan-su-viacrucis/.

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.

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Complaint Filed in Disappearance of Veracruz Reporter (Regina Martínez, PROCESO)

Proceso first published this article on 23 September 2011. It is being translated as part of the MxJTP’s attempt to publish the late reporter Regina Martínez’s work in English.

Translator’s Note: Under international and regional human rights law, an enforced disappearance is an ongoing crime until the person’s whereabouts, or remains, have been located. In February 2014 the state of Veracruz reopened its investigation into Manuel Fonseca´s disappearance. But it should never have been stalled, or closed, in the first place. PT

Complaint Filed in Disappearance of Veracruz Reporter
By Regina Martínez (PROCESO)

JALAPA, Veracruz.- Relatives of Manuel Fonseca Hernández filed charges about the cimre reporter’s disappearance. The journalist worked for newspaper El Mañanero in Acayucán in the south of Veracruz.

According to family members, Fonseca Hernández disappeared on Saturday 17 September when he left his home to cover a newspaper event. He did not return home, nor did he call his editors.

The young reporter’s father, Juan Fonseca Aguirre, filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor in Acayucán since he does not know his son’s whereabouts. “We are afraid that something bad has happened to him,” he said.

The judicial complaint is registered under the number for preliminary investigation (averiguación previa) ACA/621/2001.

Journalist Regina Martínez was murdered in Xalapa, Veracruz on 28 April 2012. Even a cursory review of her articles reveals that Martínez was covering stories deeply unpopular to Veracruz authorities. Although one man was prosecuted for her death, months later he was released since his confession had been produced under torture. Since her death, four reporters have been murdered in Veracruz, according to CPJ data. This article first appeared under the title, “Denuncian desaparición de un reportero en el sur de Veracruz,” available at: http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=282251.

Journalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca continues disappeared, his whereabouts unknown. In January 2014, his elderly mother went missing, but then reappeared in Acayucán. Until February 2014, journalists reported the family has received no attention from authorities since Fonseca’s disappearance.

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.

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Missing in Mexico: Tales from Death Highway — Stretch of Veracruz Highway Serves as Dump for Bodies of the Executed (Hernán Villareal Cruz, DIARIO PRESENCIA)

This article first appeared in Diario Presencia on 18 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Missing in Mexico: Tales from Death Highway — Stretch of Veracruz Highway Serves as Dump for Bodies of the Executed
By Hernán Villareal Cruz (Diario Presencia)

– Taxi drivers, teachers, union leaders, and lookouts for organized crime, just some of the victims found in the last ten months on this stretch of highway near Las Choapas, Veracruz

Over the past few months, criminal groups operating in the state’s southern town-ships – among them the towns of Las Choapas and Agua Dulce – have used the stretch of highway between Paralelo and Coatzacoalcos to dump bodies, many of them decapitated. Searching newspaper archives for an estimate of their number yields a statistic of at least a dozen victims.

The area around El Paralelo, from the Las Choapas junction to before the Madisa industrial zone, already sets off alarms about violence and insecurity. But this year the number of execution victims is increasing, without anybody being arrested for them.

The lack of patrols and darkness are key factors that have turned this highway into an ideal place for organized and common criminals to execute or “get rid of” victims. Nobody catches them in the act. In the first part of this year, at least five bodies have been found, one of them a female is as yet unidentified.

The number of dead can only be documented because they have appeared: beheaded beside the road, thrown down ravines, on neighborhood roads or between lots.

Counting up the Bodies

On 13 March 2013, human remains belonging to a man were found inside a black bag on one side of the Coatzacoalcos-Paralelo highway around 32 kms from Agua Dulce town-ship.

The victim has never been identified. Forensic studies show that he could have been murdered. A .45 calibre bullet casing was found in the same place.

Size 32 blue denim pants were found at the crime scene, along with a Hugo Boss belt, a military green t-shirt, white socks, and grey sports boxers.

On Tuesday 1 October 2013, on the same stretch of highway around the garbage dump, a body appeared – covered in blood with a face bound with brown tape, hands and feet tied.

The victim turned out to be 29 year-old Samuel Méndez Martínez, resident of the El Muelle neighbourhood in Agua Dulce. For a time he had worked at the Rabasa oil well. His body showed signs of torture and his death resulted from blows that caused immense bleeding and possible brain trauma.

Union Leaders

On Wednesday 18 October 2013, the leader of the Authentic Federation of Veracruz State Workers (FATEV), Adolfo Sastré Palacios and another worker later identified as Darwin de la Cruz Sarauz, both of whom had been reported missing, were found executed in a clandestine grave near the Rabasa oil well.

Investigations reveal that first they were tortured on a highway stop on the Coatzacoalcos-Paralelo highway. Then their bodies were driven to a lot for burial at the 5.5 kms point on the old highway between Coatzacoalcos Agua Dulce. They were decapitated before burial.

In the murder of the union leader, investigators opened two lines of inquiry: rivalry between the Las Choapas and Agua Dulce unions, and extortion or collection of a turf fee for companies that work for PEMEX, the country’s state-owned oil company.

Two teachers and a taxi driver

On 1 November 2013, workers at a ranch located at the 21km mark on the Coatzacoalcos-Paralelo highway saw a taxi in the undergrowth and a bloodstained trunk area. They got close enough to see a decapitated body. Its head was between its legs.

When the authorities checked over taxi 135 from Agua Dulce, they discovered another body in the trunk. A little while afterwards that body was identified as Juan Felipe Nájera Sánchez, a driver of for-hire vehicles.

On 2 February 2014, the second body was identified. It was that of a teacher, Irving Alor Santander, who had been murdered and decapitated.

Meanwhile, on 4 November 2013, on the side of the same highway, around the 24km mark, the body of a teacher resident in Coatzacoalcos appeared.

They were Members of the Teachers’ Movement in Veracruz (MMPV)

His father, Amílcar Humberto Morales Briones, identified that body. The last time the father heard of his son’s whereabouts he was roaming around in a taxi, drinking with teacher Irving Santander.

Both Irving Santander and Álvaro Montes took part in the seizure of tollbooths in protest against the federal government’s educational reforms. They participated in the Veracruz Teachers’ Movement (MMPV), fighting to prevent secondary legislation and changes to Mexico’s constitution.

Another Taxi Driver

On 11 February 2014, a taxi driver who had disappeared for five days was found decapitated on the other side of the same stretch of highway, this time going in the direction to Villahermosa from Coatzacoalcos. The head was not found. Forensic investigators and the public prosecutor took the remains of the body.

The victim was identified as Otoniel Fabre Torres, 28 years old, who lived in the Centro neighborhood of Agua Dulce. His relatives reported that he had been missing since 6 February. He left his house around 20:00 that night. He never returned.

And a woman

Last 12 February the body of a woman was discovered. It was obvious she had been murdered. Her body was found to one side of the stretch of highway from Coatzacoalcos to Paralelo, around the 6.1km mark. Her body was in an advanced state of decomposition. She had a cloth wrapped around her head.

Owing to the body’s obvious decay, her age could not be calculated. Since a cloth covered her face, there’s an assumption that she had been dumped in that place for at least three days. She still has not been legally identified.

Most recently, on 14 February, a person of indeterminate sex was found. Again, the body was in an advanced state of decomposition. The body was discovered in a bag in a ravine around kilometer 20 of the Coatzacoalcos-Paralelo highway.

Judicial sources revealed that they had only found the body’s limbs, and that they were in an advanced state of decay.

And Those Still Missing…

It’s important to mention that these are only the cases that have come to light in the past few months. The authorities are aware that a large number of people have disappeared and their whereabouts remain unknown.

The Veracruz State Public Prosecutor’s office in Las Choapas currently reports six disappeared people, the result of a round-up by alleged judicial authorities driving around in a white truck last Tuesday, 11 February. But until now, no authorities admit to having detained these disappeared people. A fifteen year old girl is among those missing.

Reporter Hernán Villareal Cruz is one of Mexico’s at-risk journalists. He writes for Diario Presencia in Veracruz. This story first appeared under the title, “Tiradero de ejecutados tramo Paralelo-Coatza,” and is available at: http://diariopresencia.com/nota.aspx?ID=68977&List=%7BE99F52BD-B89D-4D80-A5BB-BCD1566AE98A%7D.

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.

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Missing in Mexico: “It’s not enough to hand over a sealed box then say, here’s your child” (Pablo de Llano, El PAÍS)

This article first appeared in El País on 17 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Missing in Mexico: “It’s not enough to hand over a sealed box then say, here’s your child”
by Pablo de Llano (El PAÍS)

–        Argentine forensic scientist, Mercedes Doretti speaks about the challenges in her work – her team collaborates with Mexico on unidentified bodies

Mercedes Doretti (Buenos Aires, 1959) has helped identify human remains in Argentina, Peru, postwar former Yugoslavia, El Salvador, and the Philippines. After more than thirty years of work she is convinced that governments must deal transparently with the families of the dead.

“Sometimes the problem doesn’t lie with the identification techniques, but in credibility. Sometimes there’s an overblown secrecy to the cases. And the relatives are people who have had the worst thing happen to them: to lose a husband, a son, a daughter. Obviously one wants to know what happened. How did they die? How were they identified? Words don’t suffice. It’s not enough to hand over a sealed box then say, here’s your child. Forensic identification is not an act of faith.”

Doretti, who helped establish the reputable Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, is in Mexico to work with the federal attorney general on the analysis of remains from three massacres of migrants, emblematic of the north of the country’s drug violence. Two massacres from Tamaulipas (in the same township in San Fernando 72 bodies appeared together in one grave in 2010, and in 2011, 193 bodies were distributed between various graves), and another massacre at Cadereyta in Nuevo León where criminals tossed cut up torsos from 49 people across a highway early one morning. Another area she is helping with includes the final identification of 13 young people murdered in Mexico City in 2013 after they had been kidnaped from a nightclub.

Just this week controversy has arisen over another northern Mexican case. Authorities in Coahuila state announced the discovery of narco-graves and, after several days of contradictory information that still has not been verified, the region’s victims called the search operation “a farce.”

In Mexico, the work is difficult but possible. It depends enormously on political will. 

The words of a family member of a disappeared person from Coahuila in an interview with this newspaper reflect the problem of the authorities’ lack of credibility. “If they tell them they are ours, we won’t accept it. We need proof. They can’t just hand them over and act as if the problem is solved.”

Questions about Mexico’s disappeared surged from 2006 to 2012 as a result of the strategy of the full-on assault against drug traffickers. The government confirms that 70,000 citizens died during that period, with about 25,000 of those fatalities unidentified. Add to those 26,000 unresolved disappearances.

Doretti thinks that Mexico confronts a complex challenge, and gives the Argentine example up by way of comparison. “We went through a similar situation, with a very high number of disappeared people. We had to construct a national databank of disappeared family members and an exhumation program that lasted many years. All of this implied that time strengthened the process. The work is difficult but not impossible. It depends enormously on political will.”

Besides the specifics of Mexico’s situation, the Argentine forensic scientist talks about the regional program developed by her team. The Borders Program (Proyecto Frontera). She is building a network of databanks along the American migration corridor, from originating Central American countries to the biggest destination, the south of the United States, passing through Mexico, a huge space along the way.

The databanks require shared labor between public agencies and NGOs in every country. They collect information about the disappeared by interviewing families and taking DNA samples. Doretti explains that an inter-regional system for information sharing does not exist. The network they are building began to operate in 2011. They have added 633 cases and identified 67 migrants.

Her team has an inter-regional identification plan for migrants

Her ambition for Project Borders is that it have the wherewithal and sufficient support to resolve the current situation. Most migrants who disappear without trace vanish forever into a black hole of general lack of interest and institutional inefficiency.

The forensic scientist stressed that these problems don’t just occur in developing countries but also in some poorly resourced local communities in the United States.

She gives the example of Brooks County, Texas, where in 2012 they found 127 migrants’ bodies. The county has no morgue. They failed to identify the bodies as a result, and buried them in a grave. When people found out what happened, protests began and a few months ago Brooks started to send its bodies to another county with a morgue.

Many other Texas counties continue in a similar situation to Brooks: each unidentified body gets thrown down a hole and it’s there a person’s story finishes. A person who traveled thousands of kilometers in an attempt to grow and thrive and who once had a name.

Journalist Pablo de Llano reports for El País from Mexico. You can follow him on Twitter @pablodellano. This story first appeared under the title, “No basta que te entregen un cajón cerrado y te digan acá está tu hijo,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/02/11/actualidad/1392131582_931829.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.

 

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Missing in Mexico: For Victims of Disappearances, Farce over Narco-graves Provokes Rupture with Coahuila’s State Government (Inés Santaeulalia, EL PAÍS)

This article first appeared in El País on 11 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

For Victims of Disappearances, Farce over Narco-graves Provokes Rupture with Coahuila’s State Government
by Inés Santaeulalia (EL PAÍS)

–        Relatives of the disappeared clash with authorities in the northern Mexican state after an alleged operation to find missing people

Mexico is missing 26,000 Mexicans. The anguish of their families puts a face to a debt blighting the country: Mexico has as yet been unable to explain its disappeared peoples’ whereabouts. The latest blow to victims comes from Coahuila State, in the country’s north, a place punished by violence from organized crime between 2006 and 2012. The recent discovery of various narco-graves with human remains resurrected families’ hopes and fears, but it’s been accompanied by confusing, even contradictory information from the state government, causing victims’ patience to evaporate. The United Force for Coahuila’s Disappeared (Fuundec), the country’s largest such association, decided to cease its dialogue with authorities for the first time in four years. “It has all been one big farce,” summarized Rosario Villanueva. She has been looking for her son since 2009.

In Coahuila, a photo in last week’s newspapers stirred up the victims’ tense wait for word about their loved ones. Families learned through the press that the state government had found several narco-graves. Nobody wants to talk about it, but an awful question popped into peoples’ heads: “Could it be my relative?” The authorities – even including Governor Rubén Moreira – sat down last week with Fuundec’s members to inform them about what the press was reporting as “the first large-scale national operation” to look for missing people. By Monday, he had changed his message: Moreira now talks about “small finds.”

“The governor was asked if they were following the appropriate search protocols, and he said they had been taking care with the remains, but that’s all a lie,” explains Villanueva. Images spring to mind of heavy machinery working the ranches where organized crime supposedly buried the victims — the US Spanish-language channel, Univision, filmed the operation in Allende (about 60kms from the US border). “Do you know what they do when they find dinosaur remains? They use brushes and a great deal of care so as not to break anything. Here they turn over the ground when they look for people,” complained Raúl Reyes who has been looking for his thirty-four year old son Raúl Ignacio since April 2009.

The deputy prosecutor for missing people, and the head of the alleged operation, Juan José Yáñez, told this newspaper that 250 people were participating in the operation. The personnel were drawn from the state and federal police, and the army “to comb” an unknown number of ranches in 11 townships. Coahuila is the country’s third largest state and occupies 150,000 square kms. Yáñez stated that the procedure used was to “prick the earth” with sticks so that sniffer dogs could smell for human remains. The operation also used radar for underground mapping.

Last Wednesday EL PAÍS traveled to Coahuila on the state government’s promise to provide access to the operation then underway in the city of Monclova. But unexpectedly the day before our arrival, the authorities said that the operation had finished. In spite of a request, officials would not provide a map of the work areas and they refused to show any discovered remains that had supposedly arrived that same day in the forensic medical service (SEMEFO). This newspaper could find no evidence an operation existed beyond the testimony of state authorities.

The state’s attorney general and the deputy prosecutor explained that they found bones, burnt remains, and various drums that criminals used to make bodies disappear by reducing them to ashes. This information contradicted information given by Coahuila’s governor on Monday. “There are bodies that are never going to be identified,” Yáñez remarked. The DNA analyses of the supposed human remains will take months but the families’ mistrust of the authorities began in no time. “Even if they say they are ours, we won’t accept it because we need proof. We don’t just want bodies returned to us to make the problem go away. We want to know about everything right up until the end: who disappeared them, and why,” said Mr. Reyes.

Coahuila’s government says that the graves were discovered as a result of information obtained during interrogations and detentions, from statements made by mayors, former mayors, and officials from the 11 townships under search. Citizens sent in anonymous tip offs in response to a flyer asking for cooperation in locating the disappeared.

Media outlets slowly leaked news about the operation until last Saturday when the newspaper, El Siglo de Torreón, published the deputy prosecutor’s statement that 500 human remains had been discovered in graves. The very same Yáñez then denied that information to this newspaper. “I never spoke of numbers. The bones could come from just one person,” he said in a phone call.

Coahuila has a population of 2.7 million inhabitants, and lived through an escalation of violence during Humberto Moreira’s governorship (2006 – 2011), brother of the current incumbent and nominated as national PRI president in 2011. Months later Humberto Moreira was removed for an illegal increase in the state budget during his term in office. State authorities say the violence began to decrease in 2011 and that the region has calmed. The state attorney general, Homero Ramos, remembers that in 2011 they fired 33percent of the state police force for corruption and ties to the narco. “Previously we had to combat organized crime. Now we are going after common criminals,” he says.

The debt to the disappeared remains outstanding. The state purports to be one of the few in the country that has “recognized the problem.” As such, in 2011 it created a deputy prosecutor’s office for missing people. It says that it has a full database of the missing, that it has gathered DNA samples, and that it meets twice a month with victims’ families to inform them of any advances in the search for their loved ones. The last of these meetings occurred on Saturday. After the meeting, Fuundec decided to get up from the table and issued a press release. “Fuundec categorically rejects the operation, doubts its results, and is suspending meetings with the state until those responsible … explain publicly and transparently what happened.”

“We feel deceived by the authorities. They make promises, but they never investigate. In three years and nine months they have never offered a single result. We don’t want dead people, we want them back alive,” says Mireia Villareal, the mother of the Cantú brothers. Villareal pounded on the trucks that carried her sons away early one morning in 2011. The two twenty-year olds, Lauro and his brother Jorge, were abducted from their home in Torreón, Coahuila by some men “dressed like soldiers” as their mother wept disconsolately after them.

Others simply disappeared without even a “so long or goodbye.” Four years ago, José Alberto Cerda left his house one morning to head for Monterrey to fix his car. Claudia Risada (25) left her son with her mother and said she was going out to eat with her boyfriend one night in 2011. One afternoon in 2009, Antonio Jaime Aldaco (40) went to buy some cigarettes a few blocks from his house in Saltillo. That’s how they were last seen. In Coahuila there are 1,665 lives on hold.

Journalist Inés Santaeulalia reports on Mexico for El País. This article first appeared under the title, “ Las victimas rompen con el Gobierno de Coahuila por la “farsa” de narcofosas,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/02/10/actualidad/1392064501_991971.html. A photo gallery by staff photographer Saúl Ruiz accompanies the story.

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.

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