The new top law enforcement official for the northern Mexican border state of Coahuila said this past weekend that 1,700 people have been forcibly disappeared in the entity since 2000.
At a press event attended by Coahuila Governor Ruben Moreira Valdez, the state’s newly-named attorney general announced that committees will be formed to investigate the disappearances. The working groups will count on the participation of law enforcement, the official state human rights commission and victims’ relatives, said new State Attorney General Homero Ramos Gloria.
“We have all the intentions of quickly showing results in the search for the disappeared,” Ramos said.
The figure of 1,700 forcibly disappeared people greatly surpasses the estimated 600-1100 people who are still missing from the Mexican government’s national campaign against guerrilla opponents and dissidents during the late 1960s and 1970s. Nationwide, as many as 20,000 people could have been forcibly disappeared in the so-called narco-violence that’s swept Mexico in more recent years.
The Coahuila state government’s announced initiative on disappeared persons followed a long campaign by FUUNDEC (United Forces for Our Disappeared), an association of victims’ relatives, as well as a visit last year by a United Nations delegation probing the local human rights situation.
Last month, FUUNDEC criticized a new state law on forced disappearance for being approved without civil society participation, and in lacking sufficient penalties for both the practitioners of forced disappearance and the authorities responsible for investigating them.
The new law, FUUNDEC asserted in a statement, “does not comply with international human rights standards and shows a lack of legislative and executive commitment with the families of disappeared persons....”
FUUNDEC maintains a blog (http://desaparecidosencoahuila.wordpress.com/) that documents some of the cases, mainly those of men.
Bordering Texas, Coahuila has been the scene of bloody gangland conflicts variously involving the Gulf, Zetas, Sinaloa and Juarez crime syndicates. In addition to the border zone proper, the state capital of Saltillo and the big city of Torreon have been particular hot spots for murder and kidnapping. And like neighboring Chihuahua, the state of Coahuila has witnessed an upsurge in femicides and women’s disappearances during the same general time period.
The parents of Silvia Stephanie Sanchez Viesca Ortiz are among many suffering the grief and anguish that’s afflicting their state. Known as “Fanny,” to her family, the 16-year-old student from Torreon left home to play basketball one evening in November 2004. Her family has not seen her since then.
“It’s been seven years and we see there are no advances, and nothing is being done,” charged Silvia Ortiz, Fanny’s mother. “It can’t be like this.”
Frustrated and emotionally sapped like other relatives of missing persons, Fanny’s parents recently recounted how their daughter’s case was passed from the state to the federal authorities, and from one department to the next.
The first state official in charge of the investigation, Enrique Ruiz Arevalo, was himself forcibly disappeared. Ruiz was the head of the state anti-kidnapping squad in Torreon at the time he was snatched, purportedly because of his links to organized crime. Other state officials connected to the Sanchez investigation were likewise disappeared, according to Fanny’s parents.
In a now-common, even routine ritual in Mexico, Fanny’s parents embarked on their own investigation. The couple now suspects their daughter may have been kidnapped for prostitution somewhere in northern Mexico.
The Sanchez family learned that Fanny, unable to locate a friend on the night of she vanished, was on her way to catch a bus home but had to pass by a new bar that was being inaugurated by people who had arrived in trucks with license plates from the United States. According to a Facebook page dedicated to Fanny’s story, a high-ranking Mexican federal official sent the Sanchez family on a wild goose chase to the U.S. where Fanny was supposedly living with a big-shot gangster and a new baby.
Fanny’s father, Oscar Sanchez, said he could understand the ineptitude and “corruption” at the state level in regards to his daughter’s case, but could not accept the lack of inaction from federal authorities. “Where are my authorities?” Sanchez asked. “Where is the justice?”
Last month, Silvia Ortiz traveled to Mexico City to meet with an official from the federal SIEDO anti-organized crime unit who pledged to get Fanny’s investigation moving.
In Coahuila, the new chief of state public security, Jose Luis Moran Delgado, acknowledged that the state lacks the type of intelligence capability that organized crime enjoys. Moran said the state authorities would begin building up their own network of informants. And reportedly, the state law enforcement official in charge of investigating the cases of missing persons is being replaced.
Kent Paterson edits Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news, provided by Center for Latin American and Border Studies of New Mexico State University at Las Cruces, New Mexico.