“My brother disappeared when he was 19. He worked as a carpenter in town and one day some of his friends told him to accompany them to take a truck to the mountains. Upon arriving there with the truck, they told them: ‘You are going to stay here to work’ and they gave them powerful weapons and trucks and made them look after the town. They were under the command of a commander, among the people, killing. They put them to kill. But my brother never killed”
The testimony is from a young girl in Chihuahua. It is not a story of those who whisper during family meetings dedicated in the search for one of their own—lost, kidnapped, or missing—those who realize that not all of those who are missing are dead, some are living, enslaved; this story contains data, names of towns, and descriptions of criminals.
|The phenomenon of missing people began to become evident beginning 2007 in areas disputed between organized crime groups and law enforcement.
“They arrived at houses and just like that they would point their weapons at them, they raped women. They treated them very badly, they would go 15 days without bathing, they would give them only Maruchan (Instant noodles) to eat, they would steal from them, they would be armed, patrolling the town.”
-And how do you know that? –they asked.
-My brother would tell us.
-One day he managed to go to the top of the mountain and called my dad to say he was fine, but that they treated them badly. One day he came home…He said that there was a shootout…he had escaped.
A Slow And Cruel Purgatory
The girl speaks softly but does not seem nervous. It seems that she has a need to tell her story. She is at a gathering of families across the country who are looking for one of their loved ones. Here, she learned that her case is not alone, and she has promised to never stop looking for her big brother who returned from a hell and described it, but had to return to it once more, on his own, to save his family from being subjected to a purgatory; slow, cruel, and wild, in this life.
“When he escaped, they called my brother to tell him to return in order for them to not kill us. My parents sent him to Chihuahua with an uncle, but he was worried. He lasted a few days over there. He returned to the house, we believed to turn himself in, and immediately they came for him and took him to the mountains. The last time we heard from him, was a day when he called us crying, saying that he didn’t want to be there, he couldn’t stand it, he saw things, that they committed a lot of crimes. We’ve spent two years without any news from him.
The hell that she describes is that of a prison without bars. A jail in the open; her brother lived with only youths, some recruited by force, others were there on their own will, in an abandoned house on the outskirts of town. They took turns giving patrols and monitored so that no one would come to shoot them. “They were the local police,” she says.
Soon after, human rights organizations began hearing the first reports of people being kidnapped from their homes and who were later seen alive.
Those “policemen” were armed, they patrolled in stolen trucks, they had no rest hours, they ate what they could, they lived “crazily”, stimulated by marijuana or cocaine, and lived excessively often ending with a gunfight or killing each other. They received no pay and couldn’t quit their jobs because their captors knew their families.
“From here there are many young people who Los Linieros (Members of La Línea, armed wing of the Juárez Cartel) have taken. They take some of them to work in Cuauhtémoc, Guachochi, San Juanito, Creel, La Junta, Guadalupe and Calvo, Batopilas, to different places, or close nearby. A few have escaped, but if they return, they are kidnapped.”
The agreement for this interview is not to reveal any information that may help in locating the informant, who now lives in another region of the country. Although she says that there are many youths who are recruited by force, with the same story, anyone could’ve told it.
The possibility that some people who are considered missing are alive, working as slaves, is a certainty for many families who have been devoted into investigating the whereabouts of those missing and also for human rights organizations of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, the City of Mexico and Guanajuato; for migrant shelter staff and the Human Rights Commission of the Federal District (CDHDF), the bishop of Saltillo, Raúl Vera, and even the governor of Coahuila, Rubén Moreira
The reporter has confirmed that families contributed to the current holders of the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and the Secretariat of the Interior this data, that points to the existence of ranches, safe houses, and taverns where organized crime groups have them as slaves, mostly middle aged men. Many are migrants.
The attorney Jesús Murillo Karam asked for time from the families in order to create a unit specializing in searching, which would have an area of intelligence and another area for force, to liberate the prisoners from the drug cartels in operations without any deaths. The families are still waiting.
Raúl Vera is convinced that the missing persons are not dead: “There is very strong evidence that these people may be in concentration camps, where they are doing forced labor. We’ve heard from people who say:‘I escaped’ and they were in camps, being prepared to use weapons. For migrants we know that they were kidnapped in safe houses.”
Not all who are missing are dead, family members say convinced.
Forced To Work
According to reports from civilian organizations, they are forced to work as hawks (Lookouts), hitmen, marijuana pickers, extortionists, tunnel construction workers, cleaning safe houses, feeding of the prisoners, sexual slavery, or installing communication equipment or even to act as policemen in the region where they were taken by drug traffickers.
“It is very likely that they are walking among us, free, but watched over because they have a job to do,” says Alberto Xicoténcatl, head of the Casa del Migrante de Saltillo (House for Migrants In Saltillo), a shelter to those who have become survivors of this tragedy that the PGR has called a “humanitarian crisis”.
In Mexico, the preliminary report for missing persons in the past six years is 27,000 people, and the number is still increasing.
Juan López, attorney for United Forces for Our Disappeared in Mexico (FUNDEM) estimates that one-third of those who have been kidnapped may have been enslaved.
No One Answers
The phenomenon of the disappearance of people began to be evident since 2007 in areas disputed between organized crime groups and federal forces. Soon, human rights organizations heard about the early accounts of people being forced from their homes and who were later seen alive.
One of these testimonies is that of the Mexican-American José Esparza Cháirez, of the U.S. Air Force, who told journalist Carmen Aristegui that after finding his three brothers who disappeared on January 2009 in Cuencamé, Durango, several people reported that they had been working as hitmen in that region, dressed in uniforms of the Federal Police.
Information such as that was hard to believe and advocates attributed them to the hope that their families had in finding their loved ones alive. The theory was that the cartels would kill their victims soon after kidnapping them. Over time, as more families began to group together and detect similar types of cases, the theory changed.
Blanca Martínez, director of the Human Rights Center “Fray Juan de Larios”, which covers the organization of relatives of FUNDEM (Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos) (United Forces for Our Disappeared) AND FUNDEC (Families of The Disappeared in Coahuila), created in 2009 in Coahuila, said: “It took us a while to get to the theory of forced labor. We were very careful to not encourage a utopia. We knew that the families, in their grief, would cling to any hope, but then we had some evidence that it’s possible.”
|The hell that relatives from those missing describe is that of a prison without bars.
They Lose Everything, Including Their Personality
The attorney, Juan López says that although some have known about people “appearing” in other states, they haven’t been able to interview any of them: “The people who have escaped are left broken, psychologically broken. They know that they’ve appeared but are not sure where they are. The experience of reaching their homes is crushing, having to take their belongings and flee. They force themselves to disappear and start a new life far away.”
The priest Pedro Pantoja, founder of the Casa del Migrante de Saltillo, who including himself has dealt with the survivors of that hell: “They arrive skinny, abused, terrified because they would have them ‘working’. They are not always able to speak, and if they are able to they do it in terror of what they lived through in those hotels, warehouses or stores or wherever they had them, where they saw the police arrive. Some were tortured, while others would arrive almost with a loss of personality.”
Such is the trauma of these men and women, who in their duty, had to create a mental health area to serve them.
The human rights organizations in the country reported that most of those missing in areas disputed by drug cartels are men of working age (19-35 years old) and many of them had a specialized job. One example is that of the 12 telecommunication antennae technicians who went missing, 10 of them in Tamaulipas and two in Coahuila.
“Among those who we are looking for are engineers, and you think about it when you see when they’ve discovered a so called “narcotunnel” with the work of an engineer. There are also veterinarians, construction workers, and several others with skills that make them capable of working in a large company such as organized crime” says Blanca Martinez.
They Cover the Necessity of Criminals
Alfonso and Lucía, parents of the systems engineer Alejandro Moreno Baca, who disappeared on January 27, 2011, after passing a booth in Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo León going to Texas, share the assumptions of many families: “They (the criminals) need all kinds of people to operate machinery. It’s logical. They need doctors, nurses, engineers, laborers, construction workers, so they take them.”
The couple discovered that the crew of four car shops disappeared along the same stretch of highway. But it wasn’t until August 2011, after two federal police officers were beheaded in the area, that the Army and the Federal Police conducted raids in those municipalities in Nuevo Leon bordering Tamaulipas and found a camp where they trained some 200 future hitmen, ranches occupied by Los Zetas, 38 antennas in Escobedo and 43 repeaters in Saltillo. They had a gunfight in El Vallecillo where 20 hitmen were killed and 40 escaped.
While he shows that news, Alfonso Moreno thinks over: “Someone has to be operating those antennas that are used by organized crime, we don’t know if that’s where they bring the youths, forced to work, or if they forced my son to be a hitman and he’s one of those who managed to escape.”
On the past June 5th, after months of interviews with relatives of FUNDEC, the governor Rubén Moreira, who has acknowledged that in his state, there have been 2,000 disappearances, and that his government is also looking for those who might be living. Against the national logic, he is not just looking for remains.
Nobody dares to say “I was missing” for fear of their perpetrators, who themselves are protected.
They Recruit Young Men and Women
The signs are evident throughout the country. In Mexico City, Carlos Cruz, director of the Citizen Course organization, which accompanies youths at risk, reports that on the Protection of Minors (He witholds the location for safety) found a group of adolescents aged 15 who were kidnapped from their neighborhoods in Nuevo Leon and for 90 days they were taken from town to town to end up in a weapons training camp of Los Zetas.
The advocate Malú García, of the Chihuahuan organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa A.C. (May our Daughters Return Home, Civil Association) says that from 2008 when the Army and the Federal Police occupied Ciudad Juarez, members of the gang Los Aztecas, diminished “narcomenudeos”(narco stews), and devoted themselves in the trafficking of women. At least 30 have disappeared and the organization presumes that as long as there is a business, they will keep them alive.
Teresa Ulloa, director of the Coalition Against The Trafficking of Women and Girls In Latin America and The Caribbean said that in all of the disputed cartel regions, disappearances of young women occur who are likely to be used as sex slaves for their bosses or for their troops.
A human rights advocate, who asked not to be identified, remembers the testimony of a survivor from a prison in Tamaulipas, “He says that they gave them trucks and weapons and put them in charge of charging quotas. He had to turn in a monthly amount of money and make it on his own. So then they would extort everyone and force the gas stations to fill up their tanks. Even though they had trucks and weapons, they were not free. They were in an open prison and had to pay a fee to the mayor and to the police. The people considered them to be part of the bad guys, but how could they escape?”
An advocate from Chihuahua, consulted for this report, mentioned that they had received news about youths being forced to work in picking vegetables in Sinaloa. Right there they were taken prisoner and forced to grow marijuana. Few have the opportunity to escape in those camps being guarded by armed men.
Another advocate who asked not to be identified, cites the story of a person who in order to find his son, disguised himself and entered a warehouse on the outskirts of a city, also located in the north, and saw people crammed inside (more than 200). He heard their cries, the air smelled of urine, feces, and sweat. He was left traumatized.
|With family members missing or dead, one is the plea.
Testimonies like these are received increasingly more often by human rights organizations, but nobody dares to say “I was missing” for fear of their perpetrators, who themselves are protected.
Source: Proceso #1914 Page 17-20