Tag Archives: impunity

The Health Sector: César Duarte’s Goldmine, By Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

News magazine Proceso first published this article on January 2, 2015. This article is about former Governor César Duarte of Chihuahua. Duarte is one of eight former governors in Mexico who are wanted for corruption, among other charges. Unlike the other seven governors, Duarte is still on the run and has not been arrested.

Good investigative journalism about corruption in Mexico exists but is sometimes hard to come by. The simplicity with which Mayorga tells a complex story — one that weaves together confidential and anonymous sources along with freedom of information requests and corresponding contracts and other documents —  about corruption in Mexico is one of the reasons this article deserves translation. The fact that Duarte has so far escaped justice demonstrates Mayorga’s article is still timely, still relevant. The power of Mayorga’s investigative journalism reminds us why she is one of Mexico’s threatened journalists. 

Mayorga’s article has been translated in anticipation of her receiving the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Press Freedom Award this November. The Mexican Journalism Translation Project will translate more work by Patricia Mayorga into English in the coming weeks and months so that readers who do not readily speak Spanish can familiarize themselves with the work of this brave Mexican journalist. At least 11 journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2017. – PT

César Duarte, Former Governor of Chihuahua

The Health Sector: César Duarte’s Goldmine
By Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

Complaints and accusations are piling up against the governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte Jáquez. Charges have been filed against Duarte at the federal Attorney General’s office for embezzlement, corruption, overstepping his powers as governor, and misappropriating funds: he transferred state resources to a bank where he holds shares. Duarte now faces  conflict of interest charges for giving state business to certain companies that supply Chihuahua’s health sector and to which he has ties.

CHIHUAHUA, Chih. (Proceso). – In 2011 — and two months after being sworn in as governor — César Horacio Duarte Jáquez of Chihuahua entered into an arrangement with Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica, S.A. de C.V. and Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K. Thanks to him these companies became the state health sector’s top suppliers. Duarte showered them directly with million-peso contracts – in spite of complaints against them for selling overpriced drugs. Duarte’s registered tax address for his not-for-profit and his business is also the same address used by these medical supply companies.

Duarte shares the tax address at 8725 Periferico de la Juventud in the Lomas Universidad neighborhood in Chihuahua with Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K (Farmacias Economik). Duarte’s business, Union Ganadera División del Norte and his not-for-profit Que el Cielo Bendiga a Chihuahua are also domiciled at this address. The not-for-profit was only just registered with Mexico’s Institute for Industrial Property.

Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica’s directors work out of the governor’s business office, even though the company’s address is 11368 Rudyard Kipling Street in the Chihuahua Industrial Complex (“Complejo Industrial Chihuahua”). The directors put the governor’s business office address on their business cards.

A scandal already surrounds Duarte for transferring state resources to the Progreso de Chihuahua Bank, where he is also a shareholder. Attorney Jaime García Chávez and the PAN-ista legislator Rocio Reza Gallegos have filed complaints against Duarte for embezzlement, corruption, misappropriating funds and overstepping his powers. Forty senators and thousands of citizens who have established an anti-Duarte movement back García Chávez and Reza Gallegos. They filed their complaints at the federal Attorney General’s Office.

The pharmaceutical companies present a different sort of case, this time about conflict of interest and favoritism to businesses. Between 2011 and 2013 the health sector spent almost 3 billion pesos (about USD$161million) purchasing drugs, according to the Transparency and Access to Information Law (“Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información”).

Eduardo Almeida Navarro owns both Ymmarsa Farmacias Economik and Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional, S de RL de CV. Almeida Navarro belongs to the PRI, Duarte’s party, and he backed Duarte’s election campaign. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 more than half of the state budget for purchasing medicines and medical supplies went to Almeida Navarro’s pharmacies. The 2014 expenditures are not yet public.

Since Duarte became governor the state’s expenditure on pharmaceuticals has increased by 32 percent or 301.9million pesos, about US$16 million. Yet state health centers noticeably lack stocks of drugs and medical supplies. The state auditor (“Auditor Superior del Estado,” acronym in Spanish: ASE) has reported that warehouses lack appropriate stock controls.

Audits indicate that businesses linked to Duarte fail to fulfill requirements, or other suppliers file complaints against them showing that their medicines are priced significantly higher than their competitors. And yet still their bids win government tenders.

One group of citizens – supported by doctors who suspected conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds – requested an investigation by the federal Ministry for Public Performance (“Secretaría de la Función Pública”). The Ministry turned down their request, arguing that the correct agency is the state comptroller. But former PRI legislator Liz Aguilera García runs the state comptroller’s office. Aguilera García is close to Duarte and may run as a candidate for Mexico’s federal Congress.

On November 28, 2014, these citizens – and with Proceso already aware of their complaint – filed another before federal auditors. Its received a status of “study and analyze.” In this document citizen petitioners accuse the government of colluding with officials from the health sector and violating the Law of Acquisitions, Leases, Service Contracts and Public Works and the Law of Responsibility for Chihuahua’s State Public Servants.

More Money, Less Stock
The alliance between these pharmacy companies meant that the Chihuahua’s Ministry of Health increased its medicine budget. From 2011 to 2013 the budget surged by about 190 million pesos (around USD$10million).

A summary of the budget document obtained under the Transparency Law makes it apparent that State Health Services spent about 3 billion pesos just on buying drugs and medical supplies. Chihuahua’s Institute of Health (acronym in Spanish, ICHISAL) also manages the federal health program Seguro Popular and it spent around 600 million pesos on similar items for the state pension system, around 1.5million pesos (US$80,000).

However, in one of the most used hospitals for people with Seguro Popular, there have been significant shortages in drugs and medical supplies since 2013. The last available report states that between 2013 and July 2014 no month went by when stock exceeded 90 percent. Instead, for those nineteen months average stock rates were around 58 percent. In previous administration, even with a smaller budget, public officials say the average stocking level hovered around 80 percent.

Some experts cannot believe the increased spending on medicine. “This situation needs to be compared against population increase (…). The previous administration barely covered eight percent of the state’s population. But the current administration covers 45 percent of Chihuahua’s population. The point is that they haven’t taken into account that half of the people in Chihuahua have access to federal health insurance through IMSS [meaning they don’t need duplicated coverage from Seguro Popular],” says an official speaking on condition of anonymity because he is close to Chihuahua’s health minister Pedro Hernández Florez.

There’s a difference of opinion over what is going on: “Maybe they are buying at too great a cost, making poor purchasing choices, or overcompensating after they look at the lack of supply in the hospitals, perhaps both of these things are happening. Buying poorly comes from defective analysis of statistical reports about illnesses. Or, that the reports have not been given appropriate consideration. The favored supplier is given priority and they sell through an intermediary seeking maximum profit, expending minimum effort. The drug might be about to exceed its expiration date or maybe it is not used that frequently.

So, he says, auditors find it difficult to uncover poor practices because they are not doctors trained in administration. He says that when Hernández Flores took up the position the situation worsened.

Another high-level collaborator from the Ministry of Health said on condition of anonymity that the state health sector had taken on these supplies though intermediaries instead of contracting out supply separately and directly with their makers, something that would result in big savings. “Basing drug supply on intermediaries goes against cost saving and opens the door to corruption,” he told Proceso.

Shady Businesses
Ymmarsa and Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K are apparently one and the same. Their partners are the same, they work out of the same offices and they buy medicine and medical supplies from different laboratories at low cast and in bulk. But when these businesses began to supply the state in 2011 they were not prepared to sell to its public health sector, nor that of other states where they have contracts.

Two brothers, Juan Hiram and Jorge Márquez Rodríguez opened Economik Pharmacies as a family business in Durango in 2004. In 2011 they created Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica so they could supply the public sector. Juan Hiram took the business on and invited Jesús Miguel Robles Villareal to be his partner.

“They had drugs stored on the floor or exposed to the light, even though they are meant to be in a controlled environment. They operated like that for a year until the State Commission for the Prevention of Risks to Health (acronym in Spanish: COESPRIS) put a stop to it,” asserts one of the company’s administrative employees speaking under condition of anonymity. State auditors confirmed this situation in their 2012 audit.

One administrative employee interviewed in the offices located at Periférico de la Juventud says it is the location where they deal with the contracts as they see fit: “A week before announcement of a request for proposals they prepared everything they would need to compete. That’s what they stuck to because they were the ones who set the contracts’ terms. The government sent them contracts and they dealt with them however they wanted.”

Ymmarsa took control over the pharmacy franchises belonging to Economik in 2011. These had sprung up as a family business in Durango. They opened 7 stores there. They started out in Chihuahua in 2011. Today there are nine branches in Chihuahua City, Parral, Ciudad Juárez and Cuauhtémoc.

When somebody asks for Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K at 8725 Periférico de la Juventud the inquiry first goes to Jesús Miguel Robles Villareal, one of the Ymmarsa partners. This person—who handed over a business card for Médicas K at the same address as the governor’s business, even though the company is registered at 11368 Rudyark Kipling Street—said an agreement existed over the registered tax address.

When asked for an interview with one of the people in charge of Médicas K Robles Villareal suggested contacting its legal representative. The lawyer failed to respond to the request. People consulted by Proceso and familiar with the company confirm that it’s the same but is using a different name (Ymmarsa and Médicas K).

Robles Villareal denies any relationship with Unión Ganadera División del Norte, established by Duarte in 2005. “We even had problems with them over parking, but we don’t have anything to do with them,” he asserts then adding, “they pay the rent.”

Ymmarsa – which supplies both the pension systems for the state of Chihuahua and the city of Chihuahua – stands accused of inflating prices by 300 percent and still winning contracts. There are complaints from Chihuahua, Tabasco and Durango; Nuevo León rescinded a contract on June 27, 2014.

The state auditor found that for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 the state Ministry of Health poorly distributed drugs, and did not have control over warehouses or when supplies expired, something that implicated Médicas K . Even so the State Congress unanimously approved the Médicas K account.

The state’s health services directly have handed over at least 500 million pesos (about US$26 million) to Médicas K since 2012. This year alone it received 321.1million pesos (about US$17 million) for drugs and medical supplies for Seguro Popular. That’s what contract D250517 indicates under direct tender 282/2012.

In 2013 while Médicas K received 183.5 million pesos (US$9.8 million) because it supplies the Ministry of Health, other suppliers received only between 106,000 (US$5,600) and 600,000 pesos (US$32,000) and only one other supplier received as much as 68 million pesos (US$3.6 million), according to freedom of information request 087242014.

In 2012 the state auditor commented to Chihuahua’s Health Services for awarding this company contracts D20517 and D20518 worth 417.5 million pesos (US$23 million) without putting them first out to tender. The state’s Health Services awarded the contracts even though the company, Médicas K, did not have the required health license.

Ymmarsa also has its own history. In 2012, Marketing Medicinal and others suppliers complained publicly that the state pension scheme awarded this Durango-based company a contract for 345 million pesos (US$18 million), even though they inflated their prices. Of the 881 drugs and medical supplies the pension agencies needed, Marketing Medicinal provided 738 of them, meaning that it controlled more than 80 percent of the drugs and other items supplied under contract LP002012.

The complaints from other suppliers offer more examples. Ymmarsa bid 1,503 pesos for each of the 700 boxes of Bicalutamida (to treat prostate cancer) even though distributor México Hospitalaria bid 500 pesos for the same drug. For Fenitoína (an anti-epileptic) Ymmarsa bid 394 pesos per box even though Laboratorio Pisa bid 14 pesos. Ymmarsa won the bid for Prozac, an anti-depressant, at 398 pesos per box when the year before it cost 7.50 pesos.

The other suppliers complain that fraud costs the state at least 100 million pesos (US$5.4 million). These companies allege that Ymmarsa was not even asked for a letter to show that it does not have a history of failing to fulfill contracts, as contract requirements state. But Ymmarsa cannot show this type of letter because the company was created in 2011 and it has never supplied public health agencies.

For Chihuahua City’s municipal pension scheme 67% of the drugs are overpriced.

In 2012, Marcelo González Tachiquín, current education minister and who served as director of the pension system, confirmed that he had fired the person in charge of purchasing, Edgar Hermes Sandoval Tarín. However, Sandolva Tarín did not leave the agency until August 2014.

And Prosalud, Too
The third favored provider is Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional—known as Prosalud. It belongs to Grupo ALSA. Eduardo Almeida Navarro owns the holding company. He donated to Duarte’s gubernatorial campaign. The businessman owns a Cessna 402 plane with license number N3403. In June 2014 he was nominated as the PRI’s president in the city.

Grupo ALSA is made up of seven firms. Three supply the state government and Chihuahua’s city government: Construcciones Corporativas Inmobiliarias, SA de CV, Comercializadora Corporativa Internacional, SA de CV, and Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional, S de RL de CV.

These companies are in charge of installing public lighting, renovating buildings, selling machinery, constructing and remodeling schools, and selling pharmaceuticals.

Prosalud provides drugs and medical supplies to Chihuahua’s government. In 2012 the State of Chihuahua paid it 180 million pesos (US$9.6 million). The company’s website indicates that its holding company was created in 2003 and in 2011 it reactivated itself to open the pharmacy Prosalud. It supplies at least nine pharmacies, along with public health providers in Chihuahua: IMSS, ICHISAL, and, of course, the pension agencies.

Investigative reporter Patricia Mayorga is a prize-winning Mexican journalist from Chihuahua. She works with Proceso, Mexico’s premier investigative news magazine. After the murder of her friend and colleague Miroslava Breach in March 2017 in Ciudad Chihuahua, she went into exile and is currently in hiding. The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor her with its Press Freedom Award this November.

Translator Patrick Timmons is human rights investigator and lawyer, and a journalist. His articles have appeared in the Texas Observer, CounterPunch, NACLA, Foreign Policy in Focus, and Horizontal.mx. In September he provided freelance coverage of the Mexico City earthquake for ITN’s News at Ten, ITV London’s Good Morning Britain, and The Daily Telegraph. Timmons collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego. He is participating in #agendadeperiodistas, a new group formed by journalists to protect journalists. He lives in Mexico City.

 

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Human Rights Abuse in Mexico: A Decade Without a Single Public Official Guilty of the Crime of Torture (Tania L. Montalvo, ANIMALPOLÍTCO)

This article was published on 24 April 2014 in AnimalPolítico. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Human Rights Abuse in Mexico: A Decade Without a Single Public Official Guilty of the Crime of Torture
By Tania L. Montalvo (ANIMALPOLÍTCO)

– Investigations Exist but no Punishment for Public Officials in either Military or Civilian Jurisdictions

Over the past decade — and in response to public information requests — figures provided by the Federal Attorney General (PGR) and the Ministry of Defense (SEDENA) show that not a single official has been published for the crime of torture, neither in civil nor military jurisdictions.

The PGR’s General Inspector confirmed that from 2002 to 2012 there have only been 39 preliminary investigations into torture and that there have been no criminal proceedings or warrants issued.

According to the Military Prosecutor, since 2002 – and until the 2012 Supreme Court decision to impose limits on military jurisdiction – there were 142 preliminary investigations for “violence causing torture” and another 821 similar proceedings for “violence causing wounds” which might include torture. But of these 963 investigations, only six went to trial, and resulted in no criminal punishment.

The Ministry of Defense responded to a request for public information presented by the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, Guerrero.

Notwithstanding these figures, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) confirmed last October that between 2006 and 2012 there have been at least 7,253 cases of torture. SEDENA and the PGR are the federal agencies with most complaints against them for torture.

According to information from the CNDH, between 2000 and 2012 the Army was responsible for 75 cases of torture and 3,580 cases of cruel treatment. Meanwhile, the PGR is responsible for 34 cases of torture and 2,025 cases of cruel treatment.

No Protocols, No Effective Investigations

When Tlachinollan met with Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – who is visiting Mexico from 21 April until 2 May to evaluate the crime of torture in Mexico – the human rights organization explained that Mexico does not have protocols to avoid torture during detention. Nor does Mexico hold investigations as a way to protect victims.

SEDENA responded to another of Tlachinollan’s public information requests by saying that either protocols or mechanisms to help safeguard the physical integrity of the detained “do not exist.”

The PGR, for its part, confirmed that in torture investigations it applies a specialized Medical/Psychological Checklist, an adaptation of the Istanbul Protocol, an internationally validated test to determine if a person was the victim of torture and cruel treatment.

From 2002 to 2012, the PGR applied the Checklist on 302 occasions and in 42.3% of those cases it could determine “the existence of wounds possible derived from torture and/or mistreatment.” No penal sentences resulted against those responsible.

Civil society organizations have demanded that the Attorney General allow independent, expert application of the Istanbul Protocol, something the PGR rejects. Civil society organizations say that the Attorney General is not an impartial judge of whether its agents have committed torture.

Using the CNDH’s figures, Tlachinollan has pointed out that during Felipe Calderón’s period in office (2006 to 2012) complaints for human rights violations rose 453 percent, with a 235 percent increase specifically for the crime of torture.

Mexico is party to various international instruments to combat and abolish torture, such as the Convention Against Torture and Other Inhuman, Degrading, or Cruel Treatment. Mexico’s Constitution also prohibits these practices under Articles 19, 20, and 22.

Journalist Tania L. Montalvo reports for AnimalPolítico. This article first appeared in Spanish under the title, “Diez años sin un solo culpable por el delito de tortura,” available at: http://www.animalpolitico.com/2014/04/diez-anos-sin-un-solo-culpable-por-el-delito-de-tortura/#ixzz2ztSYK3aH.

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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The Mournful Murders of a Married Journalist Couple: Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos & María Elvira Hernández Galena (Andrew Kennis, Nuestra Aparente Rendición)

This article appeared first in Spanish in the book, Tú y yo coincídimos en la noche terrible by Lolita Bosch and Alejandro Vélez Salas, published by Nuestra Aparente Rendición in 2012. It is published at the MxJTP for the first time in English and with the permission of the author, who reserves all rights to the English original.

The Mournful Murders of a Married Couple: Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos & María Elvira Hernández Galena
by Andrew Kennis

On a typically hot and rainy night in the southwestern part of Guerrero, several gunmen briskly walked inside an Internet cafe owned and operated by a married couple who both practiced journalism. The gunmen proceeded to pull out their revolvers, after having gotten out of a black car with tinted windows, and shot and killed the couple at close range. He was shot three times, while she was shot four times. The date of the double-murder was June 28, 2010.

Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos, and María Elvira Hernández Galena, were respectively aged just 49 and 36 years-old when they were murdered. Rodriguez’s child was just 17 years-old when he witnessed all seven bullets end the lives of both of his parents.

In a chilling display of the kind of impact that widespread journalist killings have had in Mexico, colleagues reached for comment at El Sol de Acapulco, where Rodríguez had been working for the last half decade, produced reactions full of trepidation and fear.

“I didn’t have any relationship with him, aside from that of a working relationship,” the editor Carolina Santos whispered into the phone. “But I can say that he was a friendly person and always very respectful of everyone with whom he worked,” Santos added, albeit with hesitation.

Immediately following that comment, however, my call was transferred over to a reporter who made it a point to mention that she never knew Rodríguez and that no one was “authorized” to talk about him except the publisher of the paper.

What the silence amongst Rodríguez’s colleagues left in the wake of his death does not prevent us from finding out about, however, includes the following: Juan Rodríguez had been practicing journalism in Coyuca de Benítez, located within the Costa Grande region north of Acapulco, during the previous two decades. When he was killed, Rodríguez was the local stringer writing for El Sol de Acapulco, as well as El Diario Objetivo of Chilpancingo.

Just hours before his death, Rodríguez had been on-the-scene reporting on a march commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Aguas Blancas massacre, which occurred after police had attacked a march of peasants in Coyuca de Benitez, murdering 17 of them in 1995.

Apart from his stringing and Internet cafe duties, Rodríguez was also a trade union representative for the National Union of Press Editors. Just days before his death, Rodríguez and several dozen of his journalistic colleagues had roundly condemned the persistent violence against journalists, which in 2010 was reaching a fever pitch. Eight journalists had been killed in Mexico and one had been missing at the point that Rodríguez and Hernández were killed in 2010, putting it as a year to out pace 2009 in terms of total journalists murdered, which saw 13 journalists slain. Further, the deaths marked the third and fourth murders of journalists during 2010 in Guerrero alone.

While a spokesperson for the state prosecutors told media and human rights investigators at the time of the murder, that suspected robbery was the cause, local journalists anonymously quoted by the press, spoke disparagingly about this explanation holding much weight. Internet cafes typically have no more than 600 pesos on hand and are not prime targets for robberies.

The double-murder attracted international condemnation and disdain. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said that these kind of crimes must not go “unpunished.” Carlos Lauría, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s senior program coordinator, said that the wave of murders was causing “widespread self-censorship.”

In a curious footnote to the killings,.38 caliber bullets were found at the scene of the murder, which occurred during a year that the controversial and since revealed U.S.-based Fast and Furious gun-walking program was at its height. .38 caliber revolvers were among the leading weapons that were walked under the program that resulted in thousands of high-powered weaponry winding up in the hands of the leading drug cartels in Mexico. However, since less than 5% of murders ever result in any significant investigation or prosecution, no suspects for the murder have ever been revealed, much less whether Fast and Furious weapons were used in the scene of a heinous murder and an apparent attack on journalistic freedom and autonomy.

International investigative journalist Andrew Kennis teaches in the journalism department at the University of Texas at El Paso. Follow him on Twitter: @Andrew_Kennis. This article first appeared in translation in Spanish by Nuestra Aparente Rendición under the title, “El triste asesinato de un matrimonio,” available at: http://nuestraaparenterendicion.com/tuyyocoincidimosenlanocheterrible/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=77:juan-francisco-rodriguez-rios#.U1CRN-ZdVmA

 

 

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José Armando Rodríguez Carreón, “El Choco” (Martín Orquiz of El Diario for 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).

Translator’s Note: This translation is dedicated to the work of past, present, and future journalists at El Diario de Juárez. PT

José Armando Rodríguez Carreón, “El Choco”
by Martín Orquiz (El Diario) 

On the morning of 13 November 2008, the best crime journalist in Ciudad Juárez, forty-year old José Armando Rodríguez Carreón, became headline news.

A little before 8am, El Choco, as the El Diario reporter was known, got ready to climb into a Nissan car owned by his employer. One of his daughters, 8 years old at the time, accompanied her father.

When he put the vehicle in reverse, an individual whose identity remains unknown walked up to him firing a 9mm pistol, emptying its chamber. The bullets broke the car’s windshield, hitting Armando in his body.

His body, lifeless from rapid blood loss, slumped forward, head resting on the steering wheel. His daughter was not physically injured.

In an instant began another story of impunity where justice, until today, has failed to shine.

Armando got the nickname of El Choco – because of the shade of his skin – while he at secondary school in his hometown of Camargo, Chihuahua. The day he died, he became embroiled in a story that grabbed headlines in El Diario: a fatal attack on two Chihuahua State Police commanders.

Nonetheless, from January 2008 and until his assassination Armando had already covered the news of more than 1,000 murders, an unprecedented escalating wave of violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. He had also covered other subjects like drug trafficking, corruption, and the infiltration of criminal organizations in government and police forces.

As with the majority of killings before and after that 13 November, the crimes against Armando languish unpunished, even though the Federal Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists (subsequently called the FEADLE) announced immediately that it would take over the case from state authorities.

More than three years and three different federal prosecutors later, Armando’s murder still hasn’t been investigated at the federal level, and it hasn’t been clarified.

In May 2012 the Attorney General for the northern part of Chihuahua took a similar position. Staff at the Attorney General’s office reported that the murder investigation file should remain in state jurisdiction and that Mexico’s federal government should not take over the case, even though there an open, parallel federal investigation existed.

Around that time, the FEADLE – the federal prosecutor’s office for crimes against freedom of expression – petitioned the public to come forward with information that could solve the Juárez journalist’s murder.

“Different justice department officials have traveled to Ciudad Juárez to investigate. Unfortunately, some members of the public – whether out of fear or ignorance about the process – refuse to approach us to clarify the facts.” So said Laura Angelina Borbolla, the new federal prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression.

In September 2010, the federal Attorney General and President Felipe Calderón announced the arrest of a person connected to the murder. But later it came out that the person under arrest had been detained for other crimes, that he had been tortured, and that even a year later no outstanding warrant had been issued in the journalist’s murder.

Armando was born on 18 June 1968 in Camargo, Chihuahua where he studied primary, secondary and high school. In 1986 he decided to move to Ciudad Juárez to continue with his professional training. In Juárez he studied for a degree in Communication Sciences in the Social and Political Science Department of the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua. He graduated in 1991. Even before graduating he had begun his career as a journalist. In 1987 he began work as a technician and then as a cameraman for Canal 44, where he specialized in remote broadcasts. In 1992 he worked as a technician for Canal 56 in Juárez, but then he became a cameraman for broadcast journalists, where he met his wife, journalist Blanca Alicia Martínez de la Rocha. In 1992 he began writing for print media and started working for newspaper El Norte, and that’s where he began reporting about crime. The next year, on 10 June 1993, he joined El Diario de Ciudad Juárez where he worked for two years, until 1995, until he resigned from the paper.

Two years later, on 21 August 1997, he returned to El Diario where he worked until his murder.

Journalist Martín Orquiz reports on crime for El Diario de Juárez. This article first appeared bearing the title, “José Armando Rodríguez Carreón, El Choco,” available at: http://nuestraaparenterendicion.com/tuyyocoincidimosenlanocheterrible/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=61:jose-armando-rodriguez-carreon&tmpl=component&print=1#.U1ALOeZdVmA.

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. He thanks Andrew Kennis for inspiring this translation.

 

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Unprecedented response to Mexican journalist’s murder (Patrick Timmons, CPJ Guest Blogger)

Unprecedented response to Mexican journalist’s murder (Patrick Timmons, CPJ Guest Blogger)

The disappearance and murder in Veracruz from February 5 through 11 of local journalist Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz remains mired in controversy.

In mid February, after Jiménez’s murder, a group of journalists traveled to Veracruz and investigated the authorities’ response to the journalist’s killing. On March 19, the group, called Misión de Observación, published the findings of its unprecedented investigation in a report called “Gregorio: Asesinado por informar” (Gregorio: Murdered for Reporting). Their report documented Jiménez’s disappearance and murder, the state’s ineffective response, and the less-than-supportive working conditions of his newspapers in southern Veracruz.

CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE TO KEEP READING

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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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When the Zetas are Your Editors (Marta Duran de Huerta, EL TOQUE)

This article first appeared in El Toque on 10 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexcian Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Zetas’ Editorial Line
By Marta Duran de Huerta

– “Their press releases come via a sub-editor. The Zetas carefully monitor everything that is published and whose byline is on the story,” an exiled Mexican journalist reports.

“We are journalists displaced by violence. First they put a car bomb at the entrance to my husband’s newspaper. Later, I had to leave the state,” says Raquel Suma*, a Mexican journalist forced to flee abroad.

“I used to be the editor of a Tamaulipas newspaper, an area fought over by two of the largest organized crime cartels. To save our lives, my whole family had to leave,” she adds.

A survivor of several attacks, Suma explains “the Zetas are in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. The Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo) is on the northern border. We used to think that we could be safe while the Zetas weren’t in the state capital. That nothing would happen. But when car bombs started arriving at the entrance to newspaper offices and at the big broadcasters like Televisa we exclaimed, “Holy shit!” That’s when we knew the Zetas had arrived.”

Organized Crime has a News Agenda

Raquel Suma is young and stands out for her investigative journalism in Mexico: “from 2010 — and as much as I was able — I spoke out on the media and in meetings about how the Zetas use the media. Here’s how things work: the Zetas call you by phone; they have all your numbers: cell, office, and house phones. They usually contact a reporter who speaks for the crime beat. They send a press release that can refer to any subject.”

She goes quiet, then continues her story: “They can also order you not to publish anything. Their press releases come via a sub-editor. The Zetas carefully monitor everything that is published and the byline the story carries. They check to make sure if you followed orders and published what they ask,” the journalist explains.

From her exile, this Mexican reporter specifies that if the Zetas find out that you didn’t publish what they wanted you to, “they round up the journalists and hit them with large, rough, meter-long pieces of clapboard with nails in them, just like a faquir’s “bed”. They beat you until you pass out. Zetas never ask. You have to publish what they want or “they order you.”

Seated, she begins to drum her fingers on the table. “It’s difficult for me to overcome the jitters,” she explains, adding: “At first they asked for news about police matters. Now they want news about their events: from baptisms, to first communions for their children. They want these things in the newspaper as if they were big news. If it’s useful to them, they even want coverage of citizens’ protests.

If the Zetas want a spotlight on the sporting achievements of some team or athlete who is part of their group, it has to be done. “Of course they don’t pay for this coverage. If there’s a confrontation between them and they don’t want anybody to know, nobody is going to publish a word. But if they kill one of their enemies, well, you have to publish that,” says the reporter.

Voice breaking, she continues with her story: “While I worked at the paper, I tried to avoid the Zetas’ instructions. So, if they wanted a piece of news to stand out on the front page of the crime section, I used to shrink it, and hide in the newspaper’s last page. I used to say, “They can’t kill us! Maybe that’s what enraged the Zetas,” she says.

She doesn’t go into details. Raqul Suma limits herself to explaining how she became filled with fright and had to flee Mexico, taking her children but leaving everything else behind. She is thousands of miles from home and has no way of going back. The young journalist continues: “As editor-in-chief, I had to call the newspaper’s owner to tell him what had happened. I used euphemisms but I told him: The kingpins want this thing… and he always used to say to me: You know the routine. Do what you have to do. So I picked up the phone and called all the editors from the other outlets to ask if they had received the same instructions, and if they would run what they’d been told to print. If everyone accepted, then we would publish it, too. Our families’ lives depended on that.”

Politicians Pay the Zetas

Raquel picks up her story where she left off. Even though the interview’s being conducted in a safe place, the reporter doesn’t stop looking around.

“The worst thing about the last two years is that politicians pay for protection from the Zetas. That means that journalists can´t reveal any scandals about local officials in cahoots with organized crime.”

 “We can’t even report on protests about the rise in energy prices, or a neighbourhood protest where residents demand resumption of their water supply. Nothing. Zetas have managed to make money in unimaginable ways,” says Suma.

What’s even worse is that Zeta’s have the backing of officials from the three levels of government: local, state, and federal. “They even have the loyalty of the governor, the public prosecutors, the mayors, all sorts of officials,” the journalist maintains.

“Reporters in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, won’t publish a thing – either for or against organized crime – save for obligatory news items. Conversely, on the border, all the news goes against the Mexican Army. There’s a marked anti-Army line and the Gulf Cartel is behind it. The Cartel even uses the media to attack the Army. But the Zetas do not. The Zetas are timely and snappier. They have it very clear who they are going to attack and who they will defend.”

“When you see some news from the south or centre of Tamaulipas that complains about Army abuse and the violation of civilians’ human rights, you can rest assured it has nothing to do with investigative journalism. That story won’t even be put together by the newspaper, but comes straight from the Gulf Cartel. Since 2009, one or other of the organized crime cartels has determined news coverage,” Raquel Suma concludes.

*Raquel Suma is an invented name. The journalist is under threat from the Zetas and lives in exile.

Journalist Marta Duran de Huerta is a Mexican sociologist who has published seven books. This article first appeared under the title, “La mesa editorial de los Zetas,” available at: http://eltoque.com/texto/la-mesa-editorial-de-los-zetas?fb_action_ids=291984727617323&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%5B814827085200141%5D&action_type_map=%5B%22og.likes%22%5D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D.

 

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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The Enemy (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RÍO DOCE)

This Malayerba column, a regular feature, was first published in RíoDoce on 16 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Enemy
by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

A policeman arrived at the commander’s office. Not just any policeman, he was an officer. He said to the commander: the boss sent me. His people want you to run with them. They don’t want you making a fuss. There’s this. To show you they are good people. It’s just for starters. Let them do their work. That’s the only thing they want. That’s all.

The commander looked at him. He turned to look at the briefcase. He opened it. Wads of bills tied together with rubber bands poked out, spilled out, almost jumped out from the briefcase. No, he replied. I can’t accept. He doesn’t tell him that he’s already taken. Or that he’s honest. He doesn’t say that he works for the government and serves citizens. He simply says, no: take the bag, and remember that nothing happened here. You’ve got no problem with me.

The officer went away, crestfallen. Mouth sealed and right hand clenched tight into a fist. They said goodbye at a distance, as if they didn’t want to touch each other again. Minimal courtesy. The officer didn’t even face the commander, only gave a half turn towards him as he was stepping out. He seemed to be in a hurry. As if he was beating away on a fast retreat.

The commander watched him. He picked up the phone and asked someone to come in. A uniformed officer entered. He told the commander that the officer who left was working for a kingpin from a neighboring city, that he was doing everything he could to get into their city to control everything. Silver or lead. That’s the way they do things, boss.

Two weeks later, the commander was leaving his house. His bodyguards waited for him in another car. The commander took his assigned patrolcar. He was taking his son to school. It was early because at 0810 the school shut its gates. He heard a shot, then another, and then a hail of bullets. The guards ducked in response. The shots went everywhere: buzzing, whirring, and grazing. Hot.

He turned to look at his son. Blood ran down his arm. Even as the bullets flew, he decided to take him to hospital. The guards covered his exit, fighting fire with fire. Two were injured: one policeman and the commander’s son. Another was killed: an alleged hitman. The policeman and his son were out of danger.

The commander reported that the attack came in retaliation for his work fighting crime. He hit their interests, he told the reporters. He returned to work after a few days. Then he had to appear at the prosecutor’s office. They had already started to investigate.

We are going to invesigate. To give it to them. An official promised that justice would be done, commander. We won’t leave this alone, he reassured him. He continued by introducing the officer in charge of the investigations, heading up the special group. The officer came in. The commander trembled: it was the same officer who had offered him the briefcase. Oh, what a pleasure to meet you.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “El Enemigo,” and is available at http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/el-enemigo. You can meet Valdez Cárdenas at Mexico City’s Feria Internacional del Libro in the Palacio de Minería this Sunday 23 February at 3pm.

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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El Salvador’s Amnesty Law Up for Review by Supreme Court (Juan José Dalton, El País)

This article first appeared in Spanish in El País on 6 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

El Salvador’s Amnesty Law Up for Review by Supreme Court
by Juan José Dalton (El País)

–       The High Court orders unprecedented investigation into a massacre from 1981

On 25 July 1981, a twenty-soldier patrol from the El Salvadoran Army arrived in the town of San Francisco Angulo. It was around 1100 in the morning. Without a word, they murdered 45 people. In 2005, the victims’ families began to demand justice, and that they knew the truth had been covered up. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) offered a ray of hope in the case, ordering the Attorney General to investigate the case to identify who committed the murders.

During El Salvador’s civil war, between 1980 and 1992, such butchery resulted from a “scorched earth” counterinsurgency tactic. The strategy attempted to “drain the water from the fish” – meaning, eradicate the guerrilla’s social support.

In some massacres, like those of El Mozote and Río Sumpul, about 1,000 people died in each. The UN Truth Commission documented these crimes against humanity. Judges in El Salvador have never reviewed these atrocities: impeded as they are by a 1993 Amnesty Law, passed during the government of Alfredo Cristiani.

The Constitutional Chamber’s judgement now favors victims’ families: Higinio Ponce Ruiz, Ina de los Ángeles Arias de Rodríguez, Miguel Romero and Blanca Nohemy have demanded since 2005 their right to know the truth about what happened. Although 40 victims’ bodies have been exhumed, the Constitutional Chamber considers “that the Attorney General violated rights of access to justice and to know the truth about what happened. The Attorney General failed to discharge its duty to investigate the group murders in San Francisco Angulo, unjustifiably delaying its investigations. The investigations have until now neither been serious, exhaustive, diligent, nor conclusive.

Claudia Interiano, who represents the families for the Madelaine Lagadec Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights says, “the judgment is unprecedented within El Salvador. It is the first time that the Court has spoken of a constitutional rights’ violation: access to justice, and as part of that it’s the first time it has found a violation of the right to know the truth.”

Interiano explains that the current Supreme Court of Justice has opened its doors so that the victims’ families and survivors of the Tecoluca massacre can receive emotional, psychological, and physical restitution. “It’s a step forward for the health of El Salvador’s society,” emphasizes the activist.

Sectors of society linked to human rights and rule of law groups in El Salvador have demanded the Constitutional Chamber annul the 1993 Amnesty Law. The Chamber admitted the petition last year and the expectation is that it will issue a favorable judgment. This week’s Tecoluca massacre decision points in that direction, asserts Interiano.

Editor Juan José Dalton reports for El País and DPA from El Salvador where he edits Contrapunto a daily online newspaper. This story first appeared in El País bearing the title, “El Supremo de El Salvador cuestiona La Ley de Amnistía,” available at, http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/02/06/actualidad/1391717629_342220.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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No Sugarplums for Christmas: Torture, Democracy and Memory in Argentina (Cecilia González, Crónicas del Espacio Memoria & CounterPunch)

WEEKEND EDITION FEBRUARY 7-9, 2014 from CounterPunch


No Sugarplums for Christmas

Torture, Democracy and Memory in Argentina

by CECILIA GONZÁLEZ

Translator’s Note

This article about the ongoing trauma of Argentina’s dictatorship by Cecilia González won first prize in a contest organized by the former Navy Mechanical School (ESMA), Argentina, which is now the Space for Memory. The purpose of the competition is to contribute to the construction of material that promotes collective memory and the meaning of democracy within society. As González describes, Argentina is the only country in the world that, after some uncertain starts, has systematically tried crimes against humanity of a past regime.  – PT

Carlos Loza didn’t celebrate Christmas in 1976 with a sugarplum.

There was no roast, no cold veal, and no nougat. Not even a fruit salad for pudding. No possibility of celebrating a toast with wine, champagne, or cider. He only swallowed one sugarplum, something he’d hardly been able to hold in his shackled hand, and he couldn’t even see it because the hood covered his eyes. Carlos was being held in the Navy Mechanical School (ESMA), and there he spent the bitterest year’s end of his life.

For Carlos the lonely, tiny piece of candy revealed the depths – in all the word’s meanings – his tormentors could reduce him to at any moment. He was 23 years old and his family did not know what had happened to him. He lived with his mother in Villa Tesei. She spent the holidays searching for him, in desperation. His brother had been stationed in Campo de Mayo, performing his military service. The sugarplums the guards gave to all the prisoners seemed to be a sick joke: after that they did not know if they were going to kill them.

Carlos was taken to the Navy Mechanical School (ESMA) early in the morning on 17 December 1976. The day before, in the afternoon, a gang of youths had kidnaped him from the Communist Party branch offices in Barracas, together with some fellow port workers from Buenos Aires. They bound their hands, covered their heads, and piled them into an ambulance. On arriving at the extermination center, they were given identification numbers. Carlos Loza: 738; Héctor Guelfi: 739; Rodolfo Picheni: 740; and Oscar Repossi: 741. A basement torture session served as their welcome to ESMA. They lost track of time.

Today, almost 37 years after his kidnap, Carlos is a diligent witness to the hearings in the third court case about the crimes committed in Latin America’s most emblematic of clandestine prisons. Usually he sits in the public hearing room. He listens attentively to every testimony. He weaves together the victims’ stories. Above all else, he is part of the group making sure the guilty face justice.

“I have been able to know in greater detail the stories of the fallen compañeros of the ESMA,” says Carlos one morning with a proud smile that intensifies a heavenly, wide-eyed expression.

***

By the middle of 2013, Argentina had concluded 104 trials for crimes against humanity. Among eleven still ongoing trials, there is one known as ESMA III, a case that involves the largest number of victims (789), torturers (68), and witnesses (930). The first ESMA trial, ESMA I, began in 2007 but was suspended because of the cyanide poisoning of the only person accused, prefect Héctor Febres. By contrast, the second ESMA trial, ESMA II, finished in 2011 with life sentences against twelve torturers, thanks to the testimony of 160 witnesses (Carlos among them). Another four were found guilty and sentenced to prison for 18 to 24 years, with acquittals for two more.

This sixty-year-old man – who always carries a folder or notebook under his arm – testified in the third ESMA trial. Focused, he told the story yet one more time. A story about kidnap and torture that he doesn’t think of as just his own, but of belonging to society.

“Around the 23 December 1976 we managed to figure out what the day was,” he recalled at court – because I knew the dates of the final football championship. When I heard someone say that Boca had one, that’s when I knew what day it was.”

Days in the ESMA revolved around the darkness of the torture chambers, the guards’ unending shouts and threats, the pain from the handcuffs on the wrists and the shackles around the ankles. Resting was impossible. The prisoners sucked on bread because they had been so badly beaten up they could not chew food. For Carlos and his compañeros sleep came from exhaustion, but uncertainty never left them. Sometimes they spoke, when they were transferred to the “Capuchita” where there were fewer prisoners. If the guards caught them whispering among themselves or with other prisoners, they would hit them. In captivity Carlos came to know Hernán Abriata, a member of the Peronist Youth in the Faculty of Architecture. “I am a prisoner like you all, as you’ll find out,” said the young, still disappeared man. He was trying to console them: they wore hoods of a different color to his, a sign they weren’t going to be killed.

“We spoke to each other to find out our names, who we were. There was a tacit agreement: whoever gets out of here has to tell the story. We promised each other because you had to see how it was to not become terrified. That’s what the killers wanted. There’s a place where they can’t win, and it’s called the mind, so you shouldn’t infect others with fear. Not everybody managed it. Some left the ESMA terrified. They even forgot their own names. They quit working, stopped being activists. But we felt we had to tell what we’d seen because it concerned our dignity.”

The kidnapped lived through things that would give them nightmares for the rest of their lives. Carlos once heard a prisoner say, “Nothing’s going to happen to you because you’re pregnant.” Today the port unionist is still investigating who that woman might have been.

From his interrogators he learned of a young priest with a bright future. The priest was told he should collaborate because his father was dying and his family tremendously missed him. That he could go free if he revealed what he knew, giving up his compañeros’ names. Many years later Carlos managed to find out that the priest was Pablo María Gazzarri whose disappearance forms part of the ESMA case.

On 6 January 1977 a guard called Carlos and his compañeros by number. He told them they were going to be set free. He removed their shackles, handcuffs, and hoods. Carlos and Rodolfo were put together in a grey Falcon. Héctor and Oscar went separately, in two other vehicles. The workers from Buenos Aires thought they were being freed but they also feared a trick to kill them. They left them in different parts of Buenos Aires, after telling them they had ended up in ESMA for collaborating with the Montoneros.

Carlos withdrew from activism for a few months. He was afraid. But bit-by-bit he began to meet up with his compañeros from the port. In 1979 they were already calling for strikes and a return to politics. That’s what resistance was like until 1983, when Argentines resurrected their democracy.

***

Democracy brought with it faltering first steps to bring the torturers to justice. Judgments came down against the governing juntas, followed by pardons and decades of impunity. The stalemate continued until 2003 when Congress and the Supreme Court struck down the End Point and Due Obedience Laws, meaning that the judicial processes could restart, now en masse, against many more accomplices, not just against those at the top of the chain of command. Ever since then, Argentina has been the only country in the world to systematically try crimes against humanity.

For each trial to end with a guilty verdict, survivors’ testimony proves crucial. It’s never easy for any of the survivors, even those who are experienced human rights activists. It’s not easy to testify in the presence of torturers and murderers.

“Their sitting in front of us is a new torture. It makes you feel uncomfortable, threatened,” Carlos adds.

When the unionist appeared at hearings for the second ESMA trial, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, a former marine and director of the clandestine prison, sat just a few steps away. Cavallo was engrossed in his computer screen, bearing the evasive attitude he maintained at every hearing. At the third ESMA trial, Carlos spoke in front of Juan Carlos Rolón, but he only realized it later after he had accused him of being a rapist, an allegation that would weigh against the former lieutenant more than torturer or murderer.

The trials afford relief, an easing for the witnesses.

“They help us mend,” recognizes Carlos, “but in a contradictory way. Justice has come very late and what’s happened cannot be repaired. When they issue rulings, you celebrate, but you also think that it would be better if the murdered or disappeared compañero could be by your side. It’s a pain that nobody can heal.”

The ever-present pain prevents many survivors from even getting close to the Navy Mechanical School (ESMA).

Carlos was one of those. After his kidnapping, he always avoided walking down those streets, especially if it was night. Things changed on 24 March 2004 when Nestor Kirchner offered the state’s apology in front of thousands of people, ordering that the clandestine prison should be turned into a Space for Memory. On that day Carlos braved entering the place where he had been kidnapped and tortured, together with his friends. Overcome by tension, by the memories, but supported by his wife and their two children, he walked about Capucha and Capuchita. He observed a change in the color of a window, the stairs, and the back of the water tank where he spoke to Hernán Abriata, the disappeared man who gave him hope during his captivity. He baptized his only son in honor of Hernán.

Carlos’s tour around ESMA was sufficient. He will never go back. It was too heavy on his spirit. It had been terrifying remembering that in this place neither justice, nor God. Nothing existed there, only the remains of a human being, civilization in retreat.

“It provokes deep thought. The concentration camp diminishes a human being, so one values little things like being able to move your hands around your body. A lot of pain comes with the retreat to primordial times: fighting for food, the loss of dignity, behaving like an animal.”

Carlos recognizes that part of Argentina’s society does not understand the importance of trials for crimes against humanity. There are those who insist that this is past history. Yet all the while the victims, their family members, human rights organizations and other groups have constructed a historical narrative that explains those crimes from the perspective of those who were involved.

That’s why Carlos attends most of three-times a week hearings held in Comodoro Py. He takes note of the testimonies. He looks over the witness lists. He puts together lines of investigation. He discovers the names and numbers of victims whose files can be joined to future processes. He describes operations, dates of kidnappings and names. He uncovers photos of the disappeared. He criticizes the defense witnesses. He proposes measures to speed up the trials, like grouping cases into one procedure, analyzing events according to chronology, to line them up with dates of captivity in the ESMA. Patiently he waits for the judgment to be handed down, by the latest at the end of 2014.

***

Carlos can tell many stories about the twenty-one days he spent in the Navy Mechanical School. But there’s one that scarred him.

One prisoner was delirious. He wouldn’t eat, and he took off his hood, so they hit him. He asked to see his father. “First officer, Montonero, doctor,” he shouted to identify himself. A guard kicked him until he killed him. He covered his corpse with a blanket, leaving it for hours beside Carlos and his friends. Five years ago Carlos got to know a woman named Alejandra Mendé who told him about the disappearance of her bother, Jorge. When they started to piece things together, they discovered that he was the same man that he and his friend had seen die. There hadn’t been many doctors who were first officers in the Montoneros.

Rodolfo Picheni, the port worker freed in the same Falcon as Carlos, never overcame his kidnapping and torture, nor of being an impotent witness to Mendé’s murder. Depression pursued him and worsened every time a new anniversary of his kidnapping came around. On 5 December 2012 a little after the third ESMA hearings began he hanged himself. “Now I am going to be number 30,0001. I’ll be taking care of them,” he wrote in a note.

Since 1976, end of the year celebrations have always been particularly nostalgic for Carlos. But his friend’s suicide last year saddened him. He didn’t let it overcome him. He celebrated Christmas and the New Year with his family, as is his custom. He dined. He toasted. He laughed.

He did all those things. But he’s never tasted a sugarplum again.

Cecilia González is a foreign correspondent for NOTIMEX based in Argentina. Her book, “Narcosur: la sombra del narcotráfico mexicano en la Argentina,” was published by Marea in 2013. This prize-winning article first appeared in Spanish under the title, “Sin confites de navidad,” available at: http://www.espaciomemoria.ar/noticia.php?not_ID=378&barra=noticias&titulo=noticia.

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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