A Mexican newspaper reporter said he was kidnapped in Matamoros last week, and on Tuesday he went public with the details at a news conference hosted by Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos.
Cecilio Cortez Urbina, 45, a general-assignment reporter in Brownsville for the Matamoros newspaper El Bravo, described how he was picked up the evening of Nov. 2 as he walked home from work. He said he was released about an hour later.
Cortez Urbina said he chose to hold the news conference for his colleagues in the media and to draw attention to the crime of kidnapping, often associated with the drug war in Mexico.
“This is the type of situation where if it isn’t talked about, no one is going to know about it,” he said, speaking in Spanish. He said he was not sure which crime organization, if any, his attackers were associated with and that the weapons they carried were average revolvers, not anything with heavy firepower.
Cascos called Cortez Urbina brave for coming forward and speaking up about his experience. “This was something that happened to somebody that we all know,” Cascos said after the news conference.
“I hear rumors all the time of U.S. citizens being kidnapped, Mexican nationals being kidnapped. You in the media have heard about it, but you can’t confirm it. ... I think he’s risking himself. I think he’s putting himself in jeopardy, but I think the bigger picture is to let the public know that there are some concerns.”
Cortez Urbina said he will continue to report for El Bravo. He said the state of the border is something people on both sides must face and that he and his family would now take precautions.
The 16-year newspaper veteran said all his equipment — radio, cellphone, computer and camera — was stolen by the three men that abducted him. He said he was hit several times with a gun while being held.
Cortez Urbina, a man with gray-peppered hair who was wearing a short-sleeved button-up shirt, jeans and boots, showed no visible signs of a physical beating as he spoke.
He said he was lucky to have survived and recalled the death of a Matamoros reporter around this time last year. Carlos Alberto Guajardo, from El Expreso, was gunned down in shootouts on Nov. 5, 2010, in Matamoros.
That day Cortez Urbina said he was walked home.
“They told me at the bridge, ‘Why are you leaving Brownsville when Matamoros is falling to pieces?’” he said. “I told them ‘My children are going to need to eat tomorrow. I’m going to work.’”
In the incident last week, Cortez Urbina said he was picked up on Avenida Longoria several blocks from his work, which he had left about 8 p.m. Three men put him into a Durango, he said, adding that the inside of the vehicle was clean but the back was covered.
The reporter described one of the men as 20 to 25 years of age, tall, strong and dark-skinned. All three were wearing hats, which obscured their faces.
One of the men, Cortez Urbina said, asked him what seemed to be a well-rehearsed set of questions.
“I told them I was a reporter. That I work for El Bravo,” he said, adding they also asked him if he was armed, if he has family, his name, where he was coming from and his address.
The reporter said they were communicating with someone else using a car radio, not a radio cell phone but a radio with a receiver connected by a cord.
“They were communicating with a person named ‘El Comandante de la Lauro Villar,’” he said. “They told him they had a person who is identifying himself as a reporter. The comandante responded and said ‘No, not that one. No, because I’m going to ‘empaletar.’” (“Empaletar” is Spanish slang for drawing attention to oneself).
Lauro Villar is an avenue in Matamoros. Cortez Urbina said he overheard the men say he might have to stay with them three or four days, but they did not have permission to leave the city.
“They asked me if I had contacts in San Luis Potosí, if I had contacts outside of Mexico or other parts of Mexico and if I was related to anyone. ... I told them my work is to report and I don’t have contacts with anyone,” he said.
Eventually, the reporter said, he was returned to where he was picked up. There he asked the men if they had all the information they needed from him. He was handed his backpack, he said, without his equipment.
Cortez Urbina said they told him it would be returned if he behaved well and didn’t cause problems, so he turned around and asked them for it back.
They told him no, he said, and directed him to walk away.
“Then I understood that since they had already let me go, it was better that I go, so I lowered my hands and said ‘It’s fine,’ turned around and they left.”
Cascos said he was told about the incident on Monday and was asked permission for the use of a room in the Dancy building for the news conference.
Local border officials need to stop sending mixed signals about the violent cartel drug war affecting the area, he said.
“We just cannot stick our heads in the sand. I think some elected officials or some local leaders will say that everything is fine, but things are really not fine and maybe they are worse in other parts, but at the same time, we have some concerns,” Cascos said.
A familiar refrain from the county judge — he calls it his “drumbeat” — is the request for more resources in the form of “boots on the ground” and funding to keep these problems from escalating.
“It’s not about alarming people. ... I’ve told people you want to go to Matamoros that’s fine, but you go and you’re careful. You’re aware of your surroundings. Here (Cortez Urbina) was just walking home from work. They may have mistaken him for somebody else, but that’s the thing. Be aware of your surroundings.”