For over five months they have spread the news throughout Europe and Canada about the disappearance of Ana Belém Sánchez Mayorga, Luis Enrique Castañeda Nava Maldonado and his cousin Diego Castañeda. The members of the group “No Más Víctimas!” (No More Victims!) have pressured Michoacán authorities and the federal government to respond to the abduction of the three youths by suspected gunmen of the ‘Caballeros Templarios’ in the town of Paracho on July 21, 2012. On their website they pose the question: “Where are they?”
QUERÉTARO, QRO (Proceso). – The group “No Mas Victimas!” formed in several European cities with a very clear purpose: to ask the Mexican government to respond to the many disappearances and persecution of civil social activists, human rights defenders and promoters of social welfare, whom, say the members of the group, “have been criminalized” by the authorities.
The organisation, made up of Russian, French, German, Greek and Canadian activists, has been in action since the disappearance of Movimiento Ciudadano youth leader and communications expert Luis Enrique Castañeda Nava, 28, his cousin Diego Maldonado Castaneda, 34, and Ana Belém Sánchez Mayorga, 30, both psychologists, which occurred on July 21st in Paracho, Michoacán.
Through the website: www.nomasvictimas.org, Europeans and Canadians follow this case and maintain “critical and attentive watch” to what happened in Mexico, where hundreds of people are affected by violence and insecurity, which leads to a kind of “national limbo”.
Its members paste posters and photographs on poles, street walls and squares of European and Canadian cities. They also organise public protests and banners hanging in conspicuous places with the images of Ana Belém, Diego and Luis Enrique, and the burning question: “Where are they?”.
The group also states that their goal is “to spare other Mexicans their pain. ”Enforced disappearances, now occurring throughout Mexico and especially in Michoacán, will not stop, they say. That is why they call upon the authorities to actively investigate such cases.
So far, the delegation of the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and the State of Michoacán (PGJ) have only reported that a locally operated armed group violently took the three youths from Hotel Santa Fe, located at 791 avenida 20 de Noviembre, after a conflict with Ulises Suarez Medina, “El Pájaro”, at a bar where Luis Enrique, Diego and Ana Belém were at on the night of July 20th and the early hours of the 21st.
The three had arrived in Paracho on July 18th, hired by Kids Science to give a workshop for children at the House of Culture. Travel expences and accommodations were paid by the State Council of Science and Technology of the State, under the Cantoya International Balloon Festival held annually in Paracho, Michoacán.
After the conflict, which left the three youths unharmed, El Pájaro’s bodyguard, “El Güero” of the Caballeros Templarios, Cuitláhuac Mauricio Hernandez Silva and El Güero, together with other gunmen followed them back to the hotel where they were staying, according to the deputy regional State Justice, Marco Vinicio Aguilera.
A few weeks later, El Güero and El Pájaro were killed. Their bodies were found on August 14th in Purepecha Plateau. The situation grew complicated, because within the period between the disappearance of the three youths and the murder of the alleged criminals, the traces of violence were cleaned up.
The hotel reception staff knew nothing of “those who took the youths”. The hotel owner, in turn, closed the hotel for two days and made his statement to the authorities about two weeks after the fact.
Special Agents of the Anti-Kidnapping Unit (PGJ) showed up three days later at the request of the youths’ parents, who came to Paracho to collect their children’s belongings and to meet with Mayor Nicholas Zalapa Vargas. He told them that he had gone to the hotel and “found it all in stride.”
Given these anomalies, the failure of the municipal authorities, the too-few inquiries and the alleged involvement of local police and federal agents, the families of Ana Belém, Diego and Luis Enrique, and the “No Mas Victimas!” collective decided to call on civil organisations such as the Comité Cerezo.
With Comité Cerezo’s advising, the families prepared a detailed account of the youths’ disappearance and a review of the PGR and PGJ’s performance. The document was presented to the UN Committee of Enforced Disappearances, whose leaders accepted it, according to notification on November 10th.
“We are seeking the help of many non-governmental bodies and missing persons organisations, and many never even responded. Comité Cerezo recommended recourse to international bodies. Who can override the UN? We don’t see anyone more important than the UN Committee and we are desperate,” says one of the family members in conversation with Proceso.
Even with UN intervention, through which the Attorney General’s actions on the case should be reported to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “what matters is that the search for (Ana Belém, Diego and Luis Enrique) is not being done,” laments one of the “No Más Víctimas!” group members, in a telephone conversation from Europe.
He says Luis Enrique’s political activism with Movimiento Ciudadano should not be ruled out as a possible motive for his disappearance, given the context of the presidential election (July 1st) and everything that erupted around it.
“The symptoms of the persecution of social and political activists in this historic moment should not be ignored. We’ve heard so many versions of their disappearance … In the hotel there was a lot of blood, according to guests who later came forward, but there are many doubts.”
For the families, the clues are questionable and inconsistent. It was reported that Luis Enrique left his room “at the time of struggle with a gun in his hand”. Those who know him say that can’t be true for he is “the most peaceful in the world”, and he also “cannot handle weapons”.
Also unlikely is the authorities’ version that Diego and Luis Enrique came back to the hotel “accompanied by two women”. One of them is happily married and the other has wedding plans. Furthermore, it is impossible that Ana Belém would have accepted that.
Proceso also spoke with Intelligence Agent Octavio Ferris Leal, of the Ministry of Public Security (SSP), who says it is possible that the three youths had been killed soon after they were taken from the hotel and rolled into blankets by El Pájaro and his accomplices.
According to Leal, the evidence points to El Güero and El Pájaro as possible perpetrators of Ana Belém, Diego and Luis Enrique’s disappearance. He adds another element: the men who came to the hotel were dressed in Special Operations Group (GOE) uniform.
The lack of progress with the investigations was duly noted in early December when a committee of the European Union (EU) traveled to Michoacán to ask the state government and the local ombudsman, José Maria Cazares, for reports of the triple disappearance.
Even though the purpose of the visit was business related, the EU advisers questioned Cazares about the conduct of the authorities in the investigation process and requested prompt written intervention. They also called the attorney Placido Torres Pineda, but it was the deputy Marco Vinicio Aguilera who met them.
Aguilera maintains that the disappearance of Diego, Luis Enrique and Ana Belém are “isolated incidents”. However, it is known that the area has over 26 registered disappearances and abductions, including that of Ramon Angeles Zalpa, academic and Cambio newspaper correspondent in Paracho.
On El Güero and El Pájaro’s deaths, the official assumption suggests that “they were executed by other members of the criminal group, for what they did to the youths.”
“You learn how it goes …”
Since the disappearance of his daughter, Ana Belém Sánchez Mayorga, Don Fortunato has not stopped his search. It’s been five months. “We must be prepared to do whatever it takes,” he says. “It can take years.”
Héctor Cerezo contacted Don Fortunato via e-mail and invited him to a meeting with the members of his committee, with the participation of their own families, and people who had been kidnapped or forcibly disappeared during Felipe Calderon’s presidency.
“I arrived and there were many people, mostly women,” says Don Fortunato. “Suddenly someone said: ‘Let the new ones speak.’ A man asked me how I came to be there. I told him that a Mr. Cerezo had invited me by e-mail. That Mr. Cerezo is me, Hector told me.”
− What did you learn from these meetings? – Proceso asked Don Fortunato
– You learn many things. One understands how disappearances work, the years, the searching. We must be prepared to endure whatever it takes.
Don Fortunato is holding Ana Belém’s psychology diploma. He had to collect it, he says. In recent months he has travelled back and forth from Mexico City to Michoacán. He has been to Morelia, Uruapan and Apatzingan, asking about his daughter, who wanted to specialise in clinical psychology.
But neither he nor Diego and Luis Enrique’s parents wanted to stay in Paracho.
“It was Diego and Luis Enrique’s parents who filed the first complaint”, Don Fortunato tells the Querétaro correspondent in the capital city at a concert organised by family and friends to raise funds so that he can continue the search for his daughter.
The boys’ parents “travelled to Morelia and raised a complaint, travelled to Uruapan and raised another. In Paracho, we were all there, we went to the Attorney General to file a report,” he says.
“Of course they couldn’t find anything, the evidence had been cleaned– allegedly by the very men who took the youths,” says Don Fortunato about the Special Anti-Kidnapping Unit.
The bureaucratic problems have been drawn-out over these long months. It started with a record (PGR/134/2012 Morelia) at the federal public prosecutor; continued in Uruapan where another (numberless) record was made; then in Paracho (file APT/501/2012/II/DAE) and the PGR Headquarters, to the Attorney at the time, Victoria Pacheco (AC/PGR/DG-CAP/ZCO-VII/24/2012).
The families of the missing youths also met with Luis Cardenas Palomino, Federal Police Commissioner during the Calderon administration, who announced he was quitting the post just a few days ago.
Don Fortunato was also met by Genaro Garcia Luna, who was in charge of the SPP until a few weeks ago. In the interview, he says “the secretary had not even sat down. We stood for five minutes, the length of the entire interview.”
At the suggestion of Movimiento Ciudadano leaders, the mothers of Luis Enrique and Diego met with Governor Fausto Vallejo to ask for help. Two weeks ago, Michoacán authorities informed them of the delegation of the PGR coordinate operations forces in the mountains adjacent to Paracho involving federal and state armies.
For weeks, Mr. Fortunato constantly carried a bag packed with a set of clothes and a pair of sneakers, “in case they tell me that they found her.“ By now he ended up leaving it at home.