Mexico: Government and NGO track missing persons in Coahuila
By Sergio Ramos for Infosurhoy.com
SALTILLO, Mexico – The government of the northern Mexican state of Coahuila presented on Jan. 14 a new statewide strategy to find its 600,000 missing persons.
Officials announced the plan to the public after meeting with members of the NGO United Forces for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (FUUNDEC), which brings together families of the abducted to raise awareness of their plight and pool resources to find them.
“The strategy includes the collaboration of several government organizations, institutions like the National Commission for Human Rights and the families of the missing,” Coahuila’s Governor Rubén Moreira Valdez said.
The plan is composed of eight initiatives:
A Census “that reflects the number of missing persons;”
The creation of a Special Assistant Attorney General who will oversee missing person cases;
A webpage that family members and society can access to find and report information to help locate a missing person;
Collaboration with other levels of government to share information;
Coordination with authorities from other states and neighboring countries in order to share information;
A search for missing persons at clinics, shelters, daycare centers, as well as a search for clandestine graves throughout the state;
A reward program for those who provide information on the whereabouts of missing persons;
A request to interrogate organized crime leaders in custody about the location of concentration camps and clandestine graves.
“We believe this is a good sign,” said Blanca Isabel Martínez Bustos, the director of the Fray Juan De Larios Center for Human Rights and general counsel at FUUNDEC. “We hope that it becomes something that will come to be recognized as a fulfillment of their responsibility, when the plan begins to be implemented and we’re able to find the missing.”
FUUNDEC was founded in 2009 by the families of missing persons in Coahuila and other parts of Mexico.
“That year, families began arriving in Saltillo (capital city of Coahuila), presenting their cases and knocking on doors,” Martínez Bustos said. “When we began to grasp the complexity of the problem that we were facing, we knew that a single complaint wouldn’t be enough. We were facing a far larger problem. We’re trying to bring around all of the families of missing persons so that together, we can decide what to do.”
One of FUUNDEC’s first initiatives was to request a meeting with the Coahuila Attorney General and the state’s Government Ministry.
But after several meetings failed to result in any progress with the attorney general’s investigations, FUUNDEC took their concerns to Moreira Valdez, the state’s governor.
“We needed someone who would take responsibility, because the people we talked to avoided committing to investigations and searches,” Martínez Bustos said.
Approach and hope
Since its start, more families have approached FUUNDEC to report their missing.
The organization’s registry has grown from its original 21 missing persons to 224 cases as of Jan. 15 of this year.
The NGO United Forces for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (FUUNDEC) brings together families of the abducted to raise awareness of their plight and pool resources to find them. (Courtesy of FUUNDEC)
FUUNDEC has joined forces with families from other states who were suffering through the same situation and launched a campaign to publicize their cases through the Coahuila media.
The NGO reached out to the United Nations and held meetings withformer Secretary of the Interior Francisco Blake Mora, who soon after died in a helicopter crash, and with Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
The group also has teamed with the Movement for Peace, led by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, in a caravan across the country to raise awareness of the country’s kidnapping epidemic.
FUUNDEC also relies on social media to disseminate its messages.
Their Twitter and Facebook accounts feature photos, information, distinguishing characteristics and the circumstances surrounding each disappearance.
The NGO’s involvement with the government plan has shed light on what many Coahuila families have gone through since their loved ones went missing.
Take the case of Gabriel Torres, whose whereabouts have been unknown since the afternoon of April 20, 2010.
Torres told his 43-year-old brother Daniel he was planning to travel to Portland, Oregon, where his wife was living with their three children.
Torres was temporarily living in Monclova, Coahuila, where he worked as a production supervisor at a transportation company and owned a seafood restaurant.
But he never made it to Portland.
His wife received a call from one of Torres’ friends in Mexico, informing her Gabriel and two of his brothers – both partners in his restaurant – had been taken.
Thus began the family’s journey through the government agencies of Saltillo, where they overcame numerous bureaucratic hurdles so they could register the disappearance of the three brothers on May 7, 2010.
Nearly two years later, the family doesn’t have any information on their whereabouts.
“We don’t know whether they took them to try to get ransom money, whether it was in retaliation for not paying a bribe, whether they tried to recruit them or whether they confused them with someone else,” Daniel Torres said. “We don’t know anything. Nobody contacted us.”
A relative of a missing man holds a flower as he listens to a speech by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia during a peaceful rally in downtown Chihuahua this past June. (Tomas Bravo/Reuters)
The Torres brothers are among the about 600,000 missing persons in Coahuila, according to the state government’s most recent data.
The majority of the cases involve organized crime, Valdez said.
But what motivates organized crime members to kidnap residents in Coahuila, the majority of whom are poor and unable to pay the ransom?
“One reason could be to forcibly recruit more foot soldiers,” Martínez Bustos said. “The other could be forced labor and slavery, taking them to ranches or concentration camps to perform needed tasks, such as planting and packing drugs, or laboratory work.”
On Aug. 25, 2010, authorities discovered the bodies of 72 migrants in San Fernando in the state of Tamaulipas who were killed after refusing to be recruited by organized crime members.
Coahuila is a strategic state for drug cartels – namely the Sinaloa and Los Zetas – operating in Mexico because it shares a border with the United States, according to the National Defense Ministry (SENAD).
FUUNDEC at the national level
FUUNDEC officials, as they toured the country with the Movement for Peace, collected more missing person cases.
Coahuila, however, remains at the center of the movement because 49% of the missing persons in Coahuila come from other states, according to FUUNDEC.
“One thing that is important to understand about this phenomenon is that a lot of people who disappear in Mexico don’t disappear in their home state,” Martínez Bustos said. “We have records from families who live in Guanajuato, Guerrero, Michoacán, Querétaro, Baja California, Sinaloa, and the United States, whose family members disappeared in Coahuila. The same thing has happened with families from Guanajuato whose relatives disappeared in Tamaulipas.”
FUUNDEC and Movement for Peace officials bolstered their effort to find the missing by creating theUnited Forces for Our Disappeared in Mexico (FUUNDEM).
“We have missing people all over Mexico,” Martínez Bustos said. “We will work the same way, but with ties in all Mexican states.”
The new nationwide strategy of FUUNDEC and the plan outlined by the Coahuila government give the Torres family a chance to find peace of mind.
“Even if we don’t find them alive, we hope at least to find their remains so we can give them a proper burial and have a place to pray for them,” Daniel Torres said.
De mis amigas Yolanda y Grace.¡suerte!