Generations of the disappeared

Frontera NorteSur

When young women and girls began vanishing in Ciudad Juarez about two
decades ago, Esmeralda Castillo was not even born. But in 2009, the
14-year-old middle school student joined the ranks of the disappeared.
“She was a normal girl, just like the rest,” Jose Luis Castillo,
Esmeralda’s father, said in an interview.

The life-long resident of Ciudad Juarez said family members suspect
Esmeralda disappeared while transferring buses on a Tuesday afternoon in
the same downtown zone which is regularly plastered with posters of the
latest missing women and where dozens of others have seemingly dropped off
the face of the earth over the years.

Like other anguished parents before him, Castillo has no answers as to
Esmeralda’s whereabouts. Castillo said he made routine treks to the morgue
and probed the state prosecutor’s office responsible for investigating the
disappearance. But after nearly two years, he can report no advances in
locating Esmeralda.

In previous years, many relatives of the disappeared complained that state
police investigators gave them the run-around, concocted wild stories,
expressed indifference or argued that a lack of resources and personnel
limited searches. Castillo, however, has a different account of his
disillusionment with state law enforcement.

“I come to the prosecutor’s office and they tell me, ‘Look for her
yourself. We are afraid’.”

According to Castillo, the police told him they would need three patrols
and a half-dozen officers to interview a possible witness or source of
information.

Engulfed in a so-called drug war, Ciudad Juarez can be dangerous turf for
cops. Police officers are frequent targets of ambushes and drive-by
shootings.

“I don’t want to lose hope for a solution,” said Francisca Galvan, adviser
to a new group of relatives formed to find their loved ones, “I still have
hope that as organizations, as civil society we can find a solution, but
there is no solution on the part of the authorities.”

Galvan said her group estimates 170 young women and girls are missing in
Ciudad Juarez. Some cases are never publicized, she said, adding that
group members sometimes run across distraught mothers wandering the
downtown area in search of their daughters.

Unlike some earlier cases, Galvan said the latest ones involve potential
victims disappearing without a trace.

“It would be a failure for the people of Mexico if no solution is found to
this situation which has existed since 1993” Galvan insisted.

Relatives’ frustrations prompted small groups of them to stage
demonstrations in front of the state prosecutors’ office in Ciudad Juarez
this month.

Family members of the old disappeared joined with relatives of the new
disappeared, whose numbers soared after conflict between organized crime
groups escalated into all-out war in January 2008.

The spike in disappearances of young females also coincided with the
deployment of thousands of Mexican soldiers and federal police as part of
Operation Chihuahua, the government campaign officially proclaimed to curb
violence and bring order to the streets of Ciudad Juarez.

“I am not crazy. I am a mother, who is very hurt by the disappearance of
my daughter,” said Dona Eva Arce, who has searched relentlessly for her
daughter Silvia since 1998.

In a lengthy Internet radio interview, Arce recounted how she had been
threatened for investigating Silvia’s disappearance, and how she had
spoken to two former high-ranking federal officials-ex-special prosecutor
Maria Lopez Urbina and Guadalupe Morfin, the one-time head of the
now-defunct Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence
against Women in Ciudad Juarez, about the numerous leads that pointed to
underworld and police involvement in the disappearances of Silvia and her
friend Griselda Mares.

According to Arce, the only response she got from Lopez and Morfin was
advice to be cautious since the Ciudad Juarez mother was surfing dangerous
waters.

Elizabeth Flores, director of Pastoral Obrera, the Roman Catholic Church’s
social action arm in Ciudad Juarez, told Frontera NorteSur that the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights has specifically ordered the Mexican
government to adopt measures that would facilitate swift and efficient
investigations of disappearances of young women and girls.

Since the late 1980s, many of the disappeared were later found murdered,
with numerous unsolved slayings having the characteristics of sex-related
serial killings.

While efforts were made under the administration of former State Attorney
General Patricia Gonzalez to design emergency and investigative response
plans for disappearances, the protocols have not been put it into
practice, Flores contended.

In a 2009 sentence the Mexican government is obligated to follow, the
Inter-American Court praised efforts by federal, state and local officials
to implement focused policing and search protocols in both 2003 and 2005,
but stressed that operational activities needed to become much more
rigorous.

The Inter-American Court’s order was part of the sentence handed down in
connection to the murders of three young women in Ciudad Juarez back in
2001.

In rendering its judgment, the Inter-American Court also ordered the
government to create a web page that includes a mechanism for members of
the public to communicate with authorities- even in an “anonymous”
fashion- about disappeared women.

“The information contained in the web page should be permanently updated,”
the Inter-American Court declared.

The international justices noted their concern that such a web page
previously maintained by the old Morfin commission had not been updated
since December 2006.

More than three years later, the federal web page dedicated to missing
women (mujeresdesaparecidascdjuarez.gob.mx) has itself disappeared. After
clicking the old web address, a user will be routed to an Interior
Ministry web site with information for religious associations.

Still, the Chihuahua state government does have a web page it declares is
“in compliance with Resolution 20 of the sentence.”

For Ciudad Juarez, the page lists 108 females missing from 1995 (several
years after disappearances began mounting) to April 11, 2011. However,
only 28 of the missing have photos to accompany their names. Notably, the
page mentions that 85 of the disappeared have gone missing since 2008.

The website also lists 107 females missing from other parts of Chihuahua
state between 1993 to April 2011. But again, few names are accompanied by
photos or other information that might alert members of the public who
could have pertinent information.

The Chihuahua web page lists phone numbers the public can call but does
not have a special e-mail address where information can be sent.

Hundreds of men also have reportedly been the victims of forced
disappearance in Ciudad Juarez since the early 1990s, but except for the
occasional street poster little public information is ever aired about the
cases.

Relatives vow to press for answers about their missing daughters and loved
ones. In an exasperated voice, Castillo described how his young daughter’s
disappearance had devastated her mother and her family.

He blamed the overall circumstances surrounding Esmeralda’s disappearance
on the violence and drug trafficking that’s ripped apart his city.

“It’s sad to be in Ciudad Juarez and see a little part of it die
day-by-day,” Castillo lamented.

The father urged a mass protest in which all the residents hang up their
telephones for one hour as a way of sending the authorities a message that
“Juarez is united.”

Additional sources: Cimanoticias.com, May 11, 2011. El Diario de Juarez,
May 10, 2011. Lapolaka.com, May 9, 2011. Griterio.org

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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