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Mexico’s Disappeared Who Won’t Disappear 

As in previous years, Mexicans commemorated August 30, the International Day of Victims of Forced Disappearance. Marches, protests, masses and meetings were held by relatives of the disappeared and their supporters in different regions of the country, including the states of Chihuahua, Jalisco and Guerrero, where the numbers of forcibly disappeared persons keeps climbing into the thousands.

In Chihuahua City, a downtown march focused renewed attention on the disappeared, including seven communications technology workers who went missing on August 22, 2015, in the northwestern part of the state. Ranging from 17 to 55 years of age, the men were reportedly installing an antenna for an anti-drug national telecommunications system financially supported by the U.S. government’s Merida Initiative.

In a communique, the Chihuahua City-based Women’s Human Rights Center criticized the state government’s response to the disappearance of the men, alleging that justice officials argued they were hampered from progressing in the investigation because “they don’t have money for gasoline.” The Galeana 7 is among the “1,799 disappeared persons in the state of Chihuahua who are not looked for,” the civil society human rights organization contended.

Four hours to the north in Ciudad Juarez, human rights organizations “symbolically closed” the local headquarters of the Chihuahua State Prosecutor in a protest against the unresolved disappearances of both men and women. Among the participants in the action were Father Oscar Enriquez, director of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center; Imelda Marrufo, founder of the Ciudad Juarez Women’s Roundtable; parents of feminicide victims; and other civil society groups.

The Paso del Norte Regional Popular Assembly later added its voice in support of the demonstration, charging the government with waging a war against the people, as if it was directed against organized crime, and “covering up illegal businesses, including the sexual exploitation of disappeared women.”

On August 30, Chihuahua Governor-elect Javier Corral met with representatives of the Women’s Human Rights Center, the Commission in Solidarity and Defense of Human Rights and Justice for Our Daughters.  He pledged to create a special prosecutorial division tasked with investigating forced disappearance and other serious human rights violations.

Acknowledging that forced disappearance is “one of the phenomena that shame us in the state of Chihuahua, above all in Mexico,” Corral cited the case of Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, where hundreds are reported disappeared.  A city located on a strategic narco route to and from the Sierra Madres, Cuauhtemoc “is a point of concentration of this problem, of this tragedy,” Corral said.

In the violence-torn, southern state of Guerrero, where reports of at least 500 forced disappearances since 2013 join hundreds of other cases from previous years stretching back to the Dirty War of the 1960s and 1970s, an estimated 700 people conducted an August 30 march in the state capital of Chilpancingo.

Turning out for the protest were parents of the 43 disappeared Aytozinapa college students, current Ayotzinapa students, relatives of disappeared persons in Acapulco, Chilapa and Iguala, teachers affiliated with the striking National Coordinator of Education Workers, and other social movement activists. A police riot squad greeted the marchers at state government headquarters.

The previous day, Ayotzinapa parents and other family members of disappeared persons attended a Chilpancingo forum where different cases were analyzed and discussed, such as the mass kidnappings and killings that have surrounded a narco battle for the city of Chilapa, Guerrero.

Jose Diaz Navarro, representative of the Siempre Vivos (Forever Alive) collective told how five of his relatives along with two friends, architects who happened to be visiting Guerrero, were forcibly disappeared from Chilapa and mutilated in November 2014. “My relatives aren’t delinquents…,” Diaz declared.

Adriana Bahena Cruz, president of Iguala’s Other Disappeared organization that formed after the mass disappearance of the 43 Aytozinapa male college students led to the discovery of secret graves outside the Guerrero city that contained the remains of other victims, updated the forum on the efforts of her organization.  “We managed to exhume 149 bodies in search of our disappeared,” Bahena said. “We got genetic profiles from the search and managed to bring peace and quiet to 18 families belonging to our collective.”

Edgardo Buscaglia, renowned international organized crime expert, told the attendees that real justice would come from civil society, not the state. Buscaglia recommended that transnational justice, as in the form of truth commissions, be applied to Mexico.

Overall, August was a busy month for anti-forced disappearance activists. In the lead up to the International Day of Victims of Forced Disappearance, another round of national protests focused on the Ayotzinapa 43. In Acapulco, about 100 members of Acapulco Families in Search of Our Disappeared staged a march down the main tourist strip of the Pacific port city. “People, wake up, violence is at your door!” the marchers clamored.

In Ciudad Juarez, relatives and supporters repainted the pink crosses that symbolize the struggle against the murder and disappearance of women. They also posted new missing persons posters in the streets, which tend to deteriorate or get torn down after time.

In comments to the Mexican press, Ciudad Juarez resident Norma Laguna, whose daughter Idaly Juache Laguna was identified as among the victims discovered at a clandestine burial ground in the Juarez Valley during 2011-13, said gender violence and the disappearance of women remained a grave problem, with at least 27 homicides of women and 16 new disappearances occurring in the border city this year.

On the Facebook page dedicated to Puerto Vallarta’s Erika Cueto, who vanished in November 2014, loved ones contrasted the rapid response of authorities to the recent snatching of Chapo Guzman’s son and five other men from a Puerto Vallarta restaurant recently (Chapo’s son was later reported released) to their assessment of the official handling of Cueto’s disappearance, which has been marked by failures to gather evidence and take witness statements, “half-way work” and investigative slowness, according to a page post.

“We demand that all the disappeared are looked for with the same resources, rapidness and efficiency,” the Facebook reads. “It’s only when economic interests or the image of a tourist destination like Puerto Vallarta are affected that there is a hurry to investigate. Enough of wanting to cover the sun with a finger, Vallarta is not a safe place for its citizens. More than 100 disappearances and counting, plus those that are not denounced because of fear.”

Additional sources.  

Elpuntero.com.mx, August 30, 2016. Article by Joel Rodriguez. Arrobajuarez.com, August 30, 2016. Lapolaka.com, August 29 and 30, 2016.
El Diario de Juarez, August 27, 2016. Article by Luz del Carmen Sosa.
El Sur, August 28, 30 and 31, 2016. Articles by Karina Contreras and Lourdes Chavez. La Jornada, August 18 and 30, 2016. Articles by Ruben Villalpando and Sergio Ocampo.

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Kent Paterson writes for Frontera NorteSur

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