Mothers of women and men missing in Mexico embarked May 8 on a national march/caravan that will culminate in protests and meetings in the nation’s capital this week. Like last year’s caravans organized by poet Javier Sicilia and other relatives of violence victims, the mobilizations will remind Mexicans of the deep emotional wounds and unhealed psychological scars that devour families of forcibly disappeared persons.
Named the “March of National Dignity: Mothers Looking for their Sons and Daughters and Searching for Justice,” the protest is led by 300 women demanding clarification of the fates of between 600 and 700 relatives who went missing during the administration of outgoing President Felipe Calderon.
“For some it has been years, for others months or days, of walking alone, of clamoring in the desert of the hallways of indolent and irresponsible authorities, many of them directly responsible for (disappearances) or complicit with those who took (loved ones) away,” the mothers’ group said in a communiqué.
Among the many organizations supporting and/or endorsing the march are the Network of Human Rights Defenders and Families of the Disappeared, Women’s Human Rights Center, Justice for Our Daughters, Paso del Norte Human Rights Center, United Forces for Our Disappeared in Coahuila, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Saltillo. Solidarity actions, including protests at Mexican embassies, are planned this week in the United States, Canada, Honduras and El Salvador.
March contingents will depart from the northern border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, wind their way through the Mexican heartland of the Bajio and arrive in Mexico City as Mother’s Day celebrations get underway. The Mexico City activities include a May 10 march to the Angel of Independence monument, where the names and stories of the disappeared will be made public.
Senator Rosario Ibarra de Piedra, a pioneering human rights activist who organized Mexican mothers into the Eureka Committee to demand the return of children forcibly disappeared by government forces during the Dirty War of the 1970s, has been invited to address the Mexico City protest.
On Mother’s Day 2012, many Mexican mothers have “nothing to celebrate,” stressed Norma Ledezma, co-founder of Justice for Our Daughters in Chihuahua City. “As families, we want to take this occasion to tell society not to forget that in Mexico there is home with a plate and a seat empty…”
Chihuahua, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon have been among the hardest-hit places in the violence that has steadily gnawed away at the fabric of Mexican society. In all three states, so-called narco-violence, femicides and threats and attacks against Central American immigrants passing through Mexico to the United States have registered extremely high volumes. Recent headlines include the discovery of at least 12 murdered young women outside Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and the revelation that nearly 800 skeletal remains collected in the state of Chihuahua since 2007, mostly of men, remain unidentified by authorities.
The Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office lists 213 women missing in the state since 1993, with about 123 cases in Ciudad Juarez alone. But non-governmental organizations estimate a higher number. A review of the official list reveals a spike in cases after 2008, the year when widespread narco-violence broke out and thousands of army troops and federal police were deployed in Joint Operation Chihuahua and its successors.
While the international press usually homes in on stories about Ciudad Juarez, which borders the United States, alarming episodes of violence have increased in the state capital of Chihuahua City in recent weeks. In addition to a familiar pattern of disappearances, women’s murders and constant homicides, violence has erupted in very public places, even in broad daylight. Recent incidents include shoot-outs and/or mass slayings outside a Wal-Mart, inside an Applebee’s restaurant and at the Colorado Bar, where 15 people were gunned down on the evening of April 20. A suspect, Javier Arturo Hernandez Najera, is reportedly in custody for a crime committed by multiple shooters.
Three members of a ‘60s-style rock combo that regularly performed at the Colorado Bar were among the victims of the massacre. Relatives of the ill-fated members of “Freddy’s Friends” described the musicians as hard-working men who held day jobs, were devoted husbands and fathers and uninvolved with the intrigues of organized crime.
“It isn’t easy to deal with how this came down,” the son and daughter of guitarist Juan Luis Vazquez were quoted. “You get used to hearing about the violence, four dead over there, 13 over here, and you get used to it even though it touches you. It’s ugly but you get used to it. Now we ask ourselves: Why them?”
Across Mexico, thousands and thousands of people are asking the same question.
Alma Garcia, representative of United Forces for Our Disappeared in Coahuila, told the press that the mother’s march will insist on getting answers to pressing questions. Garcia said the caravan will demand that Mexican government officials comply with United Nations recommendations on forced disappearance, create a “program of internal attention” and, above all, undertake “immediate searches for the disappeared.” Garcia’s movement also demands the creation of a national data base of disappeared persons, the formulation of investigative protocols and the appointment of a special prosecutor for disappeared persons.
Since the 1970s, mothers and their supporters have launched distinct movements related to forced disappearance in various parts of Mexico- with minimal results.
In Ciudad Juarez /El Paso, the International Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons pressured the Zedillo and Fox administrations into successively naming several special prosecutors charged with uncovering the truth about nearly 200 disappeared people, mainly men, who vanished in the Mexican border city during the 1990s. On another front, the Fox administration created a special office within the federal attorney generals’ office to investigate and prosecute Dirty War disappearances.
A central player in both the Dirty War and narco-war chapters who was widely said to have first-hand knowledge of the whereabouts of victims of forced disappearance, retired army General Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro, was shot dead in Mexico City last month. The former military official was assassinated as a truth commission assembled by the Guerrero state government began forming to investigate the Dirty War disappearances.
After 1997, victims’ relatives and women’s activists succeeded in getting first the Chihuahua state government and then the Mexican federal government to establish special law enforcement divisions officially dedicated to probing femicides and women’s disappearances in Ciudad Juarez. Fifteen years later, the cases have passed through the hands of almost as many prosecutors.
In 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights handed down a judgment ordering Mexico to thoroughly investigate the disappearances of young women. As a signatory to the Court, the Mexican government is obliged to follow the verdict.
Despite a slew of measures arising from civil society pressure over the decades, few cases of forced disappearance have been cleared up and no credible prosecutions have ensued.
As old cases piled up, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission documented 5,400 new cases of disappeared persons- both men and women-from 2006 to 2011, though non-governmental organizations speak of 10,000 or more people forcibly disappeared during the same time frame.
A recent report from the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances contended that not all the latest cases could be attributed to organized crime operating alone. “On the contrary, state participation in forced disappearances is also present in the country,” the report stated.
Last year, Javier Zuniga of Amnesty International compared forced disappearance in Mexico with the situation that prevailed under the military dictatorships of South America during the 1970s.
“We have walked alone in the middle of stares and stigmatizing commentaries, and we have been treated like lepers, marginalized and condemned to the worst pain a human being could live: not knowing the whereabouts of our sons and daughters,” the new mother’s movement declared. “But now we are not alone. We have found hundreds of mothers and we unite our clamor and our love to recover our loved ones and bring them home.”
Additional sources: El Diario de Chihuahua, May 8, 2012. El Heraldo de Chihuahua, May 7, 2012. Cimacnoticias.com, May 7, 2012. Articles by Patricia Mayorga and Gladis Torres Ruiz La Jornada, May 5 and 8, 2012. Articles by Leopoldo Ramos, Lilia Ovalle and Luis Hernandez Navarro.
La Jornada (Guerrero edition), May 4, 2012. Article by Rodolfo Valadez Luviano. El Paso Times, May 2 and 6, 2012. Articles by Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera and Lourdes Cardenas. Frontenet.com, May 5, 2012. Cronicadechihuahua.com, April 30, 2012. Proceso/Apro, April 28, 2012 and May 7, 2012. Articles by Marcela Turati and Juan Alberto Cedillo.