Mexico's Forgotten Disappeared: The Victims of the Border Narco Bloodbath (2)
- FNS: Mexico's Forgotten Disappeared: The Victims of the Border Narco
Bloodbath (Part II)
Date: 3/4/2004 9:25:55 AM Pacific Standard Time
Mexico's Forgotten Disappeared: The Victims of the Border Narco Bloodbath
by Mark Getty
Upholding the Law of the Jungle and Social Disorder: Police, Drug
Traffickers and Dirty Warriors
In the Mexican borderlands, hardly a week goes by without news of current or
former policemen being linked to organized criminal activity. The recent
exposure of members of the Chihuahua State Judicial Police (PJE) as the
probable murderers of 12 men whose bodies were recovered from a
"narco-grave" in Cd. Juárez is but the latest case in which lines are
increasingly blurred between law enforcement authorities and gangsters.
In Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, for instance, a scandal erupted early this
year when several Tamaulipas state policemen were accused of protecting
kidnapping rings. One of the mentioned officers, Tamaulipas State
Ministerial Police commander, Felipe Ramírez, just happened to be the first
lead investigator in the still-unsolved rape-murder of 16-year-old computer
school student Olga Lidia Osorio, in Nuevo Laredo in January 2003, a case
that caught widespread attention in the border city due to its similarity
with the Cd. Juárez women's killings.
What is striking about border violence is the large number of local, state
and federal police who are both victimizers and victims. Flaunted years ago
by authorities for its supposed efficiency, the Special Anti-Kidnapping
Group of the Chihuahua State Judicial Police (GEA), is a case in point. Of
eight original members of the GEA, six have been reported murdered, one is
disappeared and one still alive.
Well-known, former GEA head Francisco Minjarez was gunned down on September
11, 2003 in Chihuahua City. He was also involved in the early stages of the
PJE's much-questioned investigations of the sex-related serial slayings of
young women in Cd. Juárez.
Members of the El Paso-Juárez-based International Association of Relatives
and Friends of Disappeared Persons (AFAPD), which represents family members
of mainly disappeared men widely believed to have been victims of
narco-violence, contend that Minjarez covered-up leads in their cases,
staged rescues in others and spread misinformation about victims like New
Mexico resident Ricardo Pfeiffer who disappeared in Cd. Juárez.
"(The) media has given him a lot of credit for being the chief of the
anti-kidnapping squad, but the truth is that he stalled a lot of these
cases," charges the AFAPD's Jaime Hervella. "He knew exactly who was doing
what to whom."
Alma Díaz, spokeswoman for the Esperanza Association in Baja California, a
non-governmental group which represents families of missing loved ones in
California, Baja California and Sinaloa, charges that numerous abductions in
her region were staged by armed men from the now-defunct Federal Judicial
Police and the State Ministerial Police of Baja California Norte. Díaz
blames a former federal police officer, Armando "El Loco" Martinez Duarte,
currently incarcerated on drug charges at a high-security prison outside
Mexico City, for being behind the disappearance of her son."
Perhaps in the case of my son, it was a matter of him being in a place where
he shouldn't have been," speculates Díaz. "It's important that they tell me
where they left him. I don't have hate or vengeance in my heart. I just
want to find my son," she says.
Initially excited about attention promised to her son's case, Díaz sees no
follow through on what were apparently hollow words. On March 18, 2003,
Díaz and the Esperanza Association's lawyer met in Mexico City with José
Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, the head of Mexico's federal anti-organized crime
unit. Federal investigators were sent to Mexicali to meet with Díaz and
appeared to begin to study what had happened to her son, she said.
Later, when Díaz tried to learn about progress in her son's case, the agents
would not answer their cell phones. When she called Santiago's office she
found that the case was moving from person to person within the agency.
Díaz is now doubtful that there will be any follow through with the look
into Erick's disappearance.
Now,after having written to both President Fox and Attorney General Macedo
de la Concha about the cases of disappeared residents of Baja California and
Sinaloa, the Esperanza Association is pushing for a special prosecutor to
look at their cases. Taking a cue from the now high-profile movement that
has burgeoned over the issue of murdered and disappeared women in Chihuahua
state, the organization is studying the possibility of drawing in the United
Nations or Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Shades of the Dirty War
The manner in which victims of organized crime in the borderlands
disappear-forcibly abducted by well-organized commandoes carrying automatic
weapons and communications equipment-recalls episodes from the Mexican
government's war against guerrillas and dissidents in the 1970s, the
so-called Dirty War. Those were the years when Mexican security forces like
the Federal Security Directorate (DFS) joined together in the feared White
Brigade with the mission of exterminating the gathering opposition. When
the bodies of two guerrilla militants of the September 23 Communist League
(L-23) were tossed in empty lots in Guadalajara back in 1974 after being
allegedly tortured and executed by the DFS, the scene presaged common sights
along the border a quarter-century later.
Indeed, similarities between the politically-motivated disappearances of
three decades ago and the criminally-motivated ones of today share more than
mere coincidences. History and personality tie the Dirty War with the Narco
Former Cd. Juárez resident Judith Galarza, who currently directs the
Caracas-based Latin American Federation of Relatives Associations of
Disappeared Persons (FEDAFEM), wasn't too surprised about PJE officers being
linked to the brutal torture of victims recently recovered from
"narco-graves" in Cd. Juárez.
A longtime human rights activist, Galarza watched the passage of former PJE
and Dirty War-linked commanders to the world of organized crime. According
to Galarza, they include men like Refugio Rubalcava, who was executed along
with his two sons in Cd. Juárez in 1994.
In Galarza's view, the Dirty War served to institutionalize the use of
torture in future generations of police. "We've denounced various
incidents. For example, I remember a lot about a young man who was detained
and had his tongue cut out and suffered an infinity of tortures," says
"This was because he was merely involved with the daughter of a judicial
policeman. We pointed out this was a reflection of all the men from the
White Brigade and judicial police that had been trained to torture."
Rising as powerful enterprises in 1970s and 1980s, Mexico's modern crime
syndicates were founded and promoted by veterans of the security forces
including former DFS Commander and Juárez Cartel founder Rafael Aguilar
Guajardo. Schooled in the doctrine of anti-communist national security,
they were trained by the FBI, CIA, and the US Department of Defense at
facilities like the US Army School of the Americas. Among them was former
DFS head and reputed CIA asset Miguel Nazar Haro, who was once indicted in
the United States for his role in a massive auto theft ring. After spending
more than two months as a fugitive, Nazar was detained in February 2004 and
jailed on an arrest warrant ordered by President Fox's Special Prosecutor
for Crimes Against Social and Political Movements of the Past (FEMOSSP) for
his alleged involvement in the 1975 disappearance of L-23 militant Jesus
Piedra, the son of internationally known human rights advocate Rosario
Ibarra. Mexican and international human rights organizations have praised
Nazar's arrest as a positive step toward ending impunity stemming from the
Based on U.S. government documents obtained through the Freedom of
Information Act and Mexican government papers culled from the National
Archive in Mexico City, a joint team of researchers from the
Washington-based, non-profit National Security Archive and Mexico's Proceso
Magazine, have recently published extracts from the documents that clearly
show how Washington was in the know about the Mexican government's reliance
on repression and forced disappearance throughout the late 1960s and 1970s.
But Washington might have done more than just turn a blind eye to the
horror. Other accounts place "gringo" advisors at the scene of raids
against suspected guerrilla supporters in Guerrero state during 1974 and Cd.
Juárez in 1977.
With Mexican guerrillas temporarily defeated by the end of the 1970s,
elements of the security forces moved on to other pursuits. In the last
three decades, a lengthening roster of Dirty War graduates have popped up in
connection with auto theft networks, professional kidnapping and bank
robbery rings, and of course, drug-smuggling syndicates. The accused
murderers of legendary Mexican journalist Manuel Buendia, who was gunned
down in Mexico City in 1984, hailed from the same milieu of national
security warriors turned gangsters.
The pattern of U.S.-trained security forces using their skills in the
service of organized crime reappears more recently in the case of Los Zetas,
a well-organized, sophisticated death squad in the service of the Gulf
Cartel. Los Zetas are blamed for much of the recent gangland bloodletting
in the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Michoacán. Many of Los Zetas
are considered to be deserted Mexican special forces soldiers from units
called GAFEs, some of whom were trained at what used to be the School of the
America's in Fort Benning, Georgia. Established after the 1994 Zapatista
rebellion, the Mexican military envisioned the GAFEs as an elite special
force that could be airlifted into hotspots.
Acosta Chaparro and the Cd. Juárez Connection
Emblematic of the Dirty War-Narco War connection are two imprisoned Mexican
generals: Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro and Humberto Quiroz Hermosillo. The
high-ranking officers were arrested by the Mexican military in August 2000
and charged with illegal drug and organized crime offenses because of their
purported relationships with the late head of the Juárez Cartel, Amado
Carrillo Fuentes. Following a controversial military trial in late 2003,
Acosta Chaparro and Quiroz Hermosillo were convicted on the drug charges and
sentenced to prison terms of 15 and 16 years respectively.
Both men also have been indicted by a military prosecutor for allegedly
murdering 143 imprisoned detainees in Guerrero state and having their bodies
tossed from airplanes and into Pacific Ocean during the mid-1970s.
Quiroz Hermosillo was linked to the White Brigade, while then-Major Acosta
Chaparro helped lead field operations against guerrillas of the Poor Peoples
' Party in Guerrero.
Numerous testimonies by Guerrero residents link Acosta Chaparro to forced
disappearance and mass murder from 1974 to 1981.
Given a leave from the military, Acosta Chaparro commanded the Guerrero
State Judicial Police, first in Acapulco and later in the entire state from
1975 to 1981. During this period, nine Acapulco high school students were
allegedly kidnapped by Acosta Chaparro's men, among them two young women.
All 9 students remain missing.
While directing state police operations, Acosta Chaparro commanded a gang of
thugs known as "Los Tarin" or "Los Chihuahua". Led by the Tarin brothers of
Durango and Chihuahua states, the group was so brutal in its treatment of
the locals that even the Mexican Army, which practiced forced disappearance
on a systematic scale in Guerrero, was so appalled that it forced the group
to disband and leave Guerrero under extreme threats. Acosta Chaparro,
however, went untouched at that moment.
Like Acosta Chaparro, the Tarin clan later resurfaces in the intrigues of
the Juárez Cartel. A protected witness of the US government Gustavo Tarin
testified against Acosta Chaparro in the latter's criminal trial. A
brother, Manuel Tarin, was murdered in a 2002 gangland-style shooting in
AFAPD member Patricia Garibay, the sister of El Paso resident Jorge Garibay,
who was abducted by men claiming to be police officers from a popular Cd.
Juárez bar in 1998, contends that Acosta Chaparro had a hand in the forced
disappearances of recent years. "He's mentioned in a lot of our
disappearances. Mr. Vicente Carrillo, one of our local cartel leaders, is
protected by the Mexican military," says Garibay.
"Mr. Chaparro and all of them were involved in helping him bring in the
drugs, distribute the drugs and also get rid of their enemies. So I also
believe that he was involved in some of our disappearances." Despite his
possible link to the disappearance of US citizens like Jorge Garibay in Cd.
Juárez during the 1990s, the US government has not requested the extradition
of Acosta Chaparro.
Meanwhile, violent incidents tied to organized crime ushered in what
promises to be a bloody year on the border and beyond. In Nuevo Laredo and
Reynosa at least 11 "levantones" were reported during the first month of the
Additional sources for article: El Universal, El Mañana, Laredo Morning
Times, Norte de Cd. Juárez, El Diario de Cd. Juárez, El Heraldo de
Chihuahua, La Jornada, El Mexicano, Brownsville Herald, New York Times,
El Paso Times, Proceso, Kate Doyle and the National Security Archive,
Attorney General of the Republic (Mexico), Bajo Palabra, La Charola (Sergio
Aguayo), CEFPRODHAC, and El Sur (Acapulco).
Greg Bloom, Outreach Coordinator
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Email address: gbloom@...
Phone: (505) 646-6817
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