Mexicans fight red tape to find missing

2013-08-28 11:05
Relatives of 12 people kidnapped in a bar in May, protest in front of the Mexican Attorney General offices, in Mexico City. (Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP)

Relatives of 12 people kidnapped in a bar in May, protest in front of the Mexican Attorney General offices, in Mexico City. (Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Mexico City - When 12 young bar goers vanished in the heart of Mexico City three months ago, their relatives rushed to hospitals and police stations desperately searching for missing loved ones.

Frustrated with the investigation's slow progress, the families blocked streets in protest, won meetings with the city's attorney general and barged into his press conferences when they felt they were being neglected.

On Tuesday, a Mexican official said 12 of 13 bodies found in a mass grave outside the capital last week were identified as the kidnap victims, but the relatives asked independent Argentine forensic experts to confirm it.

The mass abduction has cast a spotlight on Mexico's struggle to solve thousands of disappearances and the efforts families have to undertake themselves in the face of all-too-often uncooperative officials or shoddy police work.

"Authorities make an effort to investigate in those cases where families make enough noise that the cost for authorities of negligence is too high to ignore," Nik Steinberg, a Human Rights Watch researcher who wrote a report on Mexico's disappeared, told AFP.

"If the families don't exert public pressure in cases of disappearances, they have little hope of investigations even being opened."

26 000 people

The Heaven bar case is Mexico's most high-profile mass kidnapping since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December, vowing to reduce the abductions and murders linked to drug cartels that vexed his predecessor.

"The Heaven case is emblematic because it shows that Mexico is still unable to respond to disappearances committed by organised crime," said Pilar Tavera, director of Propuesta Civica, a civil society group.

In an effort to crack cases, the federal attorney general's office said on Monday it would offer rewards for tips that help them find missing people.

The agency has created a special unit of 12 prosecutors to investigate disappearances. They face a database of 26 000 people who vanished between 2006-2012, but officials say the figure is likely lower because many left home willingly.

The unit's creation is a positive step, Steinberg said, but "Pena Nieto needs to do much more given how widespread the problem is and given the inadequate response of police up to now."

When they do investigate, authorities often fail to carry out "the most basic steps" like visiting morgues or interviewing witnesses, he said, while Tavera said victims are often painted as criminals.

Closure

Countless Mexican families have had to conduct their own police work and track down witnesses at great risk to their own lives, or pressure authorities with protests.

What's surprising is that this happened in Mexico City, considered largely immune from the disappearances and killings plaguing states terrorised by drug cartels.

"If we didn't make a lot of noise, nothing would have happened and [the missing] would have just become statistics," said Eugenia Ponce, aunt of 16-year-old Jerzy Ortiz, one of the 12 who were snatched in broad daylight on 26 May.

Ponce had gone to a police station to look for her nephew, only to be told to look elsewhere. The "Amber Alert" system, which immediately triggers searches of missing minors, was never activated for Ortiz.

They were told they had to wait the customary 72 hours to file missing person reports. It took two weeks for prosecutors to call it a kidnapping after security camera footage showed a group of men bundling the victims into cars.

Mexico City Attorney General Rodolfo Rios defended his agency on Monday, saying it detained seven suspects and would keep working until all those responsible are caught.

He said the kidnapping was payback for the killing of a drug dealer in a dispute between two gangs, but relatives deny the 12 were involved in crime.

Maria Guadalupe Fernandez, a member of the United Forces for Our Disappeared in the northern state of Coahuila whose son disappeared in 2009, said the Heaven case ended tragically but that at least parents will have closure.

"This case can be a paradigm for investigations. It took three months, but they found them," she said. "The [Heaven] parents will get their children. But our grief just goes on and on, in limbo."

Read more on:    mexico  |  abductions  |  mexico drug war

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.