December 6, 2012
Translated by un vato for Borderland Beat
True heroes, in Felipe Calderon's rhetoric, dozens of federal police agents who disappeared in his war against drug trafficking (some estimate there are more than one hundred) do not deserve the slightest consideration from their commanders. Mothers of the victims, who are desperately looking for their children, tend to be scorned by the commanders, who don't give them any information and at times suggest to them that they should have them declared dead so they can have access to certain benefits...
MEXICO, D.F. (Proceso).-- Suddenly, retired tortilla maker Margarita Sanitzio found the courage to break the silence that for three years has been tearing her up inside and said: "My son Esteban Morales Sanitzio disappeared when he was 28 yeras old. It was on December 3, 2009, in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan. He's a federal policeman; he disappeared with two fellow officers."
She found the courage to speak the truth because she saw the end of (Calderon's) six-year term approaching. Because on her trips to ask for information about her son she met other mothers with the same despair and with them she joined the Movement for Peace (Movimiento por la Paz). Because she shook off her fear, with which the Public Security Secretariat (SSP) wanted to immobilize her so she would not file a complaint. And, above all, because of the instructions that the families of the disappeared police officers got from the agency before a new government took office: "Declare your family members dead."
"If they declare them dead, they won't look for them any more." That's her fear, she says, crying. "I'm asking them to continue looking for my son, if they ever looked for him, and don't leave him forgotten, don't call it a 'closed case' ...because for me, my son is not dead."
Margarita Sanitzio's story shares features with those of the rest of the family members of disappeared federal police officers, family members who were interviewed by this weekly. Stories that get lost in the murky halls of the SSP bureaucracy, where they refuse to give out information to the families. In all cases, the families notified the police agencies of the disappearances before the police agencies notified them. The explanation they got was that the "desaparecidos" quit their jobs with the police force and they were treated like traitors. Because this response failed to satisfy them, and confronted with demands to look for their family members, the police commanders were forced to file criminal complaints on the disappearances.
The families had to put together their own jigsaw puzzles with the facts in a situation where witnesses appear to be trained to lie, where institutional silence reigns, where what little information they do receive is contradictory.
Rumors in the hallways
Federal police officers themselves talk about it.
A former police officer who resigned because he could not stand the psychological pressure told Proceso: "There are many 'levantados' (abducted persons). They get killed in operations and their commanders don't report their deaths. They don't even notify their families. I imagine it's so they won't claim the pension that the Secretariat pays out."
He told how in 2009, in an operation in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, right outside the hotel where they were staying, two fellow officers disappeared, he still remembers their names: "Cabanas" and "Ibanez." "Afterwards, we found two incinerated bodies, and right beside them their identifications and pay stubs; we believe it was them, but the commander didn't report their deaths. He said that they disappeared."
He and several fellow officers one day met the mother of one of these police officers. They would see her when she came to the base to ask for information. They saw her afterwards in the Movement for Peace.
"A fellow officer approached her one day and told her what we knew. The lady started crying. We didn't pay attention where the bodies ended up, we are not familiar with Zacatecas, but she was grateful for the information," he tells us.
A federal police officer on active duty, consulted on this matter, explained to Proceso that in the latter part of 2010, the Ministry of Public Security (SSP; Secretaria de Seguridad Publica) stopped performing funeral ceremonies for fellow officers "fallen" in battle. In addition, they stopped mentioning them in the roll calls to honor them and stopped adding their names to the 25 foot memorial they have inside Contel Base in Iztapalapa.
The names of federal police officers declared officially dead, who are listed on the white marble wall, amount to 384. Up until february, 2012, the Federal Police (PF) admitted that 41 of its members had disappeared during (Calderon's) six-year term. According to the facts provided to El Universal, which asked for the information through the Transparency Law (analogous to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act), the states where these disappearances took place were: Michoacan, 19; Tamaulipas, six; Nuevo Leon, three; two each in the following states: Durango, Distrito Federal, Coahuila, Veracruz and Zacatecas, while Baja California, Baja California Sur and Guerrero reported one each.
According to the information, in 2006 there was one agent reported missing; in 2008 there were four; in 2009, thirteen, in 2010, fifteen, and in 2011, eight. The numbers are inconsistent with the statements obtained from families and police and former police agents consulted for this report.
"They have abducted ("levantado") many, many. Almost the majority of the commanders , to avoid problems, say that the missing officers were to blame because they went out drinking without permission. They immediately disclaim responsibility," says a career police officer, consulted by Proceso, who requested anonymity.
Another officer corroborated this information: "When one of us disappears, and it was not in combat, they prefer not to notify the base or the families, because if the commander says he gave them permission to go out, they'll take him to the Public Ministry for questioning. That's why they always say it was job abandonment."
According to another police officer consulted on this, in dangerous areas, like Michoacan or Tamaulipas, there was never any strategy to prevent "levantones" (abductions). On some occasions, even police officers working in the intelligence area met with the same fate, although they supposedly have more information than the rest, they're better trained and they infiltrate those areas to investigate. That was the case with Jose Alfredo Silly Pena, police intelligence coordinator, and two subordinates in Buenaventura, Chihuahua, while they were investigating murders committed against the Mormon community. Subsequently, they were found dead in a mine.
A lawyer and former police officer, who handles cases involving federal, municipal and state police, and who requested that her name be kept out for safety reasons, explained the reasoning behind the disappearances within the agency.
"Before, when a fellow officer was abducted or was disappeared, search teams would be put together. Now, the commanders (most of them ex-military) don't care about anybody's life, only about their money. We're aware that they don't report the cases; it's easier to say they abandoned their jobs and stop paying their salary than to initiate an investigation."
This woman lawyer stated that commanders involved in drug trafficking don't want to be involved in legal matters for any reason, because they need to work quietly. That's why they do not go to the Public Ministry to report the disappearances of their subordinates.
"Police officers also tell us that there are commanders who kill their subordinates because of disputes, but report them as having quit their job", she added. Two of the sources consulted said this is possible.
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Mothers of heroes, belittled
When Mrs. Sanitzio went with the wives and mothers of police officers Gustavo Sanchez Gonzalez and Prisciliano Gomez Jacinto to the Contel base in Iztapalapa to denounce that their family members had disappeared in Uruapan, they were told: "Don't tell your neighbors anything, don't go to Michoacan to look for them, don't say anything, because you could be placing them in danger". "They always put fear into us," she says.
What draws attention in the case files of corporals Sanitzio, Sanchez and Gomez is that even though the women reported their disappearance on December 4, 2009, it wasn't until the 9th that Commander Guillermo Frncisco Sanchez Mora filed a criminal complaint in Lazaro Cardenas.
"They called us from the PF to complete the process for a 'presumption of death' (declaration ). But that doesn't do me any good. What I want is justice. With my heart in my hand, I beg of them, that if they have my son in some place, to take pity on me and let him go. Life for me is not the same. The scar is forever. The strength for living dies. I hope their hearts soften and they let him go," she says, weeping.
Although she followed all possible leads, the last link in her journey was Provictima, the agency created by Felipe Calderon, where they told her to go to Michoacan to get evidence, and to ask the PF for her son's case file, which they have always refused to give her.
"In Michoacan, they have 'disappeared' a lot of them, they just kept on taking them," they say in the ranks of the police officers. And more and more, the rumor gets out of the hallways, it sneaks into public debates, it's heard on loudspeakers, echoes on television.
On Sunday, November 25, 2012, during a demonstration outside outside the Palace of Fine Arts by family members of persons who disappeared during the presidential term, in repudiation of Felipe Calderon, Mrs. Patricia Manzanares Ochoa, mother of federal police officer Juan Hernandez Manzanares, who disappeared along with a fellow officer on February 20, 2011, in San Nicolas, Nuevo Leon, said that there are hundreds of 'disappeared' federal police officers.
"The head of the Federal Police is corrupt. They are the biggest thieves. They have 'disappeared' many young men, and the Federal (Police) does nothing, they never look for them... We demand that they tell us what they have done. All they want is for us to sign the presumption of death (papers) so we'll stop looking for them," she yells into the microphone.
Then it was Victor Rolon's turn, the uncle of a police officer, Adrian Dominguez Rolon, who disappeared with a fellow officer on February 17, 2011, in Uruapan. Victor cried: "There are many of them, many, because of corruption!"
During the interview, he stated: "The PF filed a report of job abandonment the very next day, but they did not want to file a criminal complaint on his disappearance. When his mother went to Uruapan to inquire about it, they gave contradictory versions; they lied, saying his cell phone rang as if it was disconnected. But it gave us a connection when we dialed. They didn't ask for the videos from the surveillance cameras; they said they didn't have the technology for tracing calls; they refused to give us the attendance lists; they didn't let us go into the Contel base, and they blocked all investigations. (They have done it) to this day."
Like the rest of them, he said that about six months ago, about 50 families were summoned to the Contel base, within the PF's jurisdictional area, so they would give their consent to issue a certificate for presumption of death for their family members.
"There are too many 'disappeared' federal police agents. Officers tell us that the commanders sell them to the cartels to satisfy drug debts. We don't know what to believe, but their silence is suspicious", commented the member of the Movement for Peace.
On Wednesday he 27th, during the Movement for Peace demonstration to bid farewell to the what they call the "sexenio de la muerte" (sexennial of death), a young woman, Adriana Nunez Rodriguez, was showing a poster with the photograph of her husband, Sub-inspector Rosendo Torres Cortes, bodyguard for Senator Guillermo Anaya when he was candidate for governor of Coahuila. Her husband disappeared July 10, 2011, in Ciudad Lerdo, Durango, when a group of municipal policemen intercepted him to take the armored pickup he was driving.
Six months pregnant, the young woman asked for information but they refused to provide it.
"They only went to my house to ask whether my husband had taken the armored pickup he was using to drive the senator around. They kept insisting that I knew where he kept the pickup. Nobody from the police ever called us again. What little we know was told to us by the SIEDO (sic) (now SEIDO, the specialized organized crime investigation unit at the Attorney General's office). And it was just three months ago that several of us women were invited to a meeting to inform us that we had to complete the 'presumption of death' (certificate), if we want their life insurance and want to continue to participate in the ISSSTE (similar to U.S. Social Security)," said this young woman, often in tears.
Also in the pavilion was Mrs. Araceli Rodriguez, the mother of Luis Angel, who disappeared November 16, 2009, in Atizapan, Michoacan, with eight fellow officers. She is the best-known mother of a federal police officer among the victims of violence , thanks to her activism within the Movement for Peace.
Authorities took Araceli to look at burial pits, burned bodies, to witness divers looking for bodies in lakes. They tried to give the wife of one of her son's fellow officers a burned cadaver without giving her a chance to view it before the burial. She found out it was not her husband when she noticed that the body had all its teeth, while her husband lacked eight teeth. "Go ahead and bury it, even if it's not yours," they insisted, "many families don't even have that."
The families of the federal police officers, the heroes of the war against drug trafficking, grieve like any other victim. Like the rest of them, they don't have a clue, evidence, a body to bury.
The mothers of Felipe Calderon's strongmen, those fallen in combat, are belittled just like any other victim.