By Patricia Giovine
The daughter of a Mexican reporter who took refuge in El Paso after receiving death threats disappeared eight months ago in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
“There are moments when I rebel and in all my pain I rebuke God and I question him: ‘Is it that I didn’t have the right to know how her death was? If she fell asleep, if she suffered? To know where her body is? To have somewhere to go to cry?’ At least, I earned that with work and with an immense love,” Lilia Ortiz said in an interview.
Her daughter, 22-year-old Lilia Berenice Esquinca, is one of at least three dozen U.S. citizens who have disappeared in Mexico, according to Jaime Hervella, the head of the Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared People in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s murder capital.
Nobody is doing anything to find her, the activist said.
After moving to El Paso in 2008 because of death threats, Lilia Ortiz had stopped crossing back over into Mexico and insisted that her daughter not do so either.
But Lilia Berenice wanted to go to Juarez to visit her grandmother, who did not have the proper documents to cross into the United States.
“My daughter insisted on going and she didn’t return that day or in the following days or weeks,” she said and – afraid to go to Juarez herself – Ortiz turned to the FBI office in El Paso where they took down the information she gave them.
“I hoped that they’d arrange the search and investigation of the disappearance of my daughter – a U.S. citizen – with Mexico, (and) they listened to me and they asked me some questions, but after that day nobody contacted me and they refused to answer my phone calls,” the reporter said.
Hervella says that the FBI in El Paso has systematically ignored the relatives of the disappeared citizens, leaving them at the mercy of the Mexican authorities and a system that they are unfamiliar with and which they fear.
“We’ve learned that we’re alone in this and that our agencies responsible for carrying out international activities after a disappearance are opting to keep good relations with the Mexican agencies and act as if we don’t exist,” said Hervella, who founded the association in the mid-1990s after the kidnapping of his goddaughter Abigail and her husband.
The FBI spokesman in El Paso, Michael Martinez, refused to comment on the matter.
The head of the association said, however, that the FBI in the McAllen, Texas, office had intervened in the search for U.S. citizens who have disappeared in Mexico and had managed to locate – in cooperation with the Mexican authorities – several sets of remains.
But Lilia Ortiz lives in El Paso and says that she has resigned herself to the sorrow of not knowing what happened to her daughter or where her remains are.
Hervella added that just like Ortiz, the families of the disappeared people live with the hope that the bodies of their loved ones will turn up one day.
He said that in the absence of support from the authorities both in Mexico and in the United States, the association had opted to take out ads in the newspapers in Ciudad Juarez in which they urge informants to have compassion and explain that they can anonymously provide information as to where the bodies are buried.
“We’re asking them to rescue something of their soul and to help replace the terrible anguish of not knowing where the remains of (the) loved ones are with a manageable sadness,” he said.
Thanks to tipsters, 67 bodies have been recovered, most of them of Mexicans who disappeared, in clandestine graves in Juarez.
“None of them (were found) as a result of investigations by the authorities,” he said.
Hervella said that the informants who had responded to the ads always do it anonymously and provide exact locations, like the yards of houses, vacant land and ranches.
“I don’t have much hope of finding the remains of my daughter,” said Ortiz.
“I don’t expect anything from the authorities of Mexico and the United States. And I wouldn’t know where to begin to look for her if all of Ciudad Juarez is a cemetery,” she said.