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.
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.