Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rage and helplessness; "Los desaparecidos"

Marcela Turati El Diario de Coahuila/Proceso (June 2, 2013)

Translated by un vato for Borderland Beat

Mothers and fathers have confronted the administrative disorder of morgues and cemeteries, where cadavers decompose underground in total anonymity because of the incompetence, the bureaucracy and the institutionalized negligence.

MEXICO, D.F. (Proceso).-- Beatriz Mejia Diaz returned for the nth time to a Mexico City morgue to ask them to show her the records of all unidentified bodies they had kept in their vaults.

"Ma'am, you've already been here several times, your daughter is not in the records," an employee told her when she asked for the files. Stubbornly, she insisted on being allowed to personally inspect every one of the files beginning on November 4, 2011, when her daughter Alejandra Viridiana Osornio Mejia disappeared, whether the files were on men, children or old people.

When she was reviewing documents dated January 27, 2012, she found her. They had kept her there as "NI" (No Identificado: unidentified) and sent her to a mass grave.

"I found my daughter's clothing. They told me they only had her cranium, for me to go to the Medical Examiner's Office (Semefo: Servicio Medico Forense)  at Izcalli. But over there, they had lost the file with her information. Neither could they find her clothes in the (Semefo) amphitheater. I don't understand; how is it possible that they sent her to a mass grave when I filed so many reports and had been looking for her so long?," says the woman outside the Attorney General's Office building (PGR) where she had gone to yell in rage and disgust at the Attorney General, Jesus Murillo Karam, and the Secretary of the Interior, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, for the torment she had undergone since her 21-year old daughter had been kidnapped from the Victoria's bar/pool hall in Cuautitlan.

She yelled at them when they announced, once again, the creation of a Investigations and Search Unit for Disappeared Persons.


"From November 28, 2011, I began to visit semefos (medical examiners facilities. I went to the one in Tlalneplantla, which is the main one for the State of Mexico, then to the one in Texcoco, then to the one in Ecatepec, the one in Amecameca, and even to the one in the Federal District, in Colonia Doctores. They never let me review the files personally; the people in charge would input the characteristics into the computer and they would perform the so-called search, until I demanded that I be allowed to look for myself, and there she was. That's what I came to tell the PGR: that how was it possible that my daughter had been buried for so long in a mass grave without anybody telling me anything," says Beatriz Mejia, who just a few minutes ago had been yelling with pain and fury.

With her were other mothers and fathers who have confronted the administrative disorder of morgues and cemeteries, where cadavers decompose underground and in total anonymity due to the incompetence, the bureaucracy and the institutionalized negligence. At least 24,000 bodies remain buried in mass graves awaiting a decent burial, but, because of the administrative chaos, they suffer a double disappearance; the first one when they were kidnapped, the second when forensic investigators misclassified them, lost the personal belongings they had on them, entered their personal information incorrectly into the computer or sent them to a mass grave mixed up with other bodies, and many times didn't even record their last location.

Abril Selena Caldino Rodriguez suffered the same fate. She disappeared on May 26, 2011, and was found dead a few days later in a "municipality close to Tecamac" and sent to a mass grave. Two years later, this past Mothers Day, authorities discovered that the fifteen-year-old's cadaver had been classified as that of a 45 year old woman, and it took weeks to find it because they lost the investigation file that showed the cemetery where it was buried.


Instead of having a fifteenth birthday party, young Bianca Edith Barron Cedillo had a funeral ceremony, because this past April, the family identified the clothing and physical characteristics of a cadaver sent to a mass grave in May of last year, a week after it was found, when a forensic investigator classified the body as that of woman 25 to 30 years old. Because of that, when her mother asked them to look for the body of a fifteen-year old, they could find no records even though the body had been found the day after her disappearance.

Or the case of Barbie, Barbara Reyes, a 17-year old girl who disappeared on August 8, 2011, in Tlalnepantla, whose remains were found 18 months later in a mass grave after her mother did the same thing: personally review each file.

Her mother, Lourdes Muniz, had initiated a campaign to find her; she even got the authorities in the State of Mexico to assign a team to the search and to offer a reward for any information that would help find her, but it didn't occur to the officials to compare the records from the morgues.

Another mother with the same problem suggested that she go to the Semefo where she found her: she was registered -- in pencil, because there was no computer-- as an 18-year old woman, whose body was found miles from where her disappearance was reported.

"I started with the Semefo at Cuautitlan Izcalli, then I went to the one at Cuautitlan,  and there I discovered there was an unclaimed body with matching age, sex and other characteristics. They told me to go to Barrientos to look at the photographs and that's how I identified my daughter's clothes, her blouse and her tennis shoes. I also took with me the plaster moldings of her teeth, which were also similar. Then we went to the La Loma state cemetery in Cuautitlan, where it took them three days to find her because there was total disorder: there were bodies that were mixed up, they had taken some from private graves to the mass graves, or they shouldn't have been there. They estimated that they would find her in the first few square yards, but they ended up digging up 64 square yards, and when it got complicated, they told me they could only find the cranium," says Lourdes, outside the PGR building, where she also demanded justice for her daughter in a loud voice.


"All I recovered were my daughter's bones, no clothing or anything else. Nobody knows anything," she says with annoyance and resignation. She addresses her daughter:

"Today, after 20 months of arduous searching, of frustration, pain and tears... my little girl, we have found you, not like we --dad, mom, sisters, family and friends -- wanted... Forgive us for our ineffectiveness and for taking 19 months to find you... but other bastard bureaucrats, who didn't do their jobs and sent you to a mass grave, obstructed us... But it didn't matter, we finally found you and recovered you, like we promised, and soon you'll lie beside your grandmothers, your grandfathers and uncles."

The Barbie scandal unplugged the sewer in the State of Mexico, it was a faithful reflection of what is happening throughout the country. Because of pressure from mothers, they had to show the photographs of all the bodies. "All that process of looking at bodies wears you out, it's devastating," says Mrs. Guillermina Hernandez, mother of 14-year old teenager Selena Giselle Delgado, who disappeared on April 29, 2010, in Ecatepec.

"The semefos don't have a well-built system; they put in the age that they believe the body has, without investigating. They don't have an infrastructure, they don't record dates. If they store clothing, they lose it, they don't keep it with to the body," says the woman, who has also searched cemeteries like the one in Texcoco, where she discovered that bodies classified as "Unidentified" were buried in the pathways between the graves, and grave sites that were identified only with a file number on a piece of paper wrapped in a plastic bag. She has already been to Naucalpan, Texcoco, Iztapalapa and Barrientos. And nothing...

She feels that if her daughter was disappeared by a woman dentist, who she believes is responsible, the government has disappeared her for a second time with its lack of organization, its incompetence, its negligence.


That's why she went to the PGR with other mothers who are also looking for their disappeared sons and daughters, just about the time they announced the formation of the specialized team that Osorio Chong had already announced in February, but which, as provided in the legislation, assigns only 12 agents from the Public Ministry to look for thousands of persons reported disappeared or "not found" -- 27,000 from the previous administration--, and that does not yet have legal recognition, mandate, offices or a budget.  

The work in the Semefo amphitheaters and in the cemeteries is arduous. Between 2006 and 2012, the PGR's national database of genetic profiles (DNA database) received 15,618 (genetic) profiles of unknown persons who died violently, of whom only 425 were identified, according to the report that the La Jornada newspaper published on January 2nd.

In thirteen states (Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Durango, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, Colima, Guerrero,  Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Oaxaca) there are no genetics [DNA] laboratories to identify cadavers. In addition, in some of them, forensic autopsies are performed in privately-owned funeral homes or in cemeteries and, in many cases, unidentified bodies are sent to mass graves with incomplete files and without comparing their fingerprints, photographic files or DNA with national databases kept by the PGR or the federal Secretariat of Public Security. Criteria for exhumations and for the handling of cadavers have not been standardized.

Milenio reporter Victor Hugo Michel disclosed in October, 2012, that municipalities reported that they had sent 24,000 unidentified bodies to mass graves during the previous six-year period. According to official figures, only 3% of murder victims who are classified as "NI" in cemeteries are subsequently identified, as in the cases of Bianca, Barbie and Viridiana.

Currently, each state has its own time limits, which range from one day to six months, in which to send an unidentified body to a mass grave.  Each municipality has its own regulations for classifying the body and determining how many bodies may be buried in a grave. Some remains are incinerated.


The humanitarian crises caused by the disappearance of persons forced the federal government to ask the Red Cross International Committee (CICR: Comite Internacional de la Cruz Roja) for help by intervening in Mexico and, among other things, dealing with the disorganization that exists in the Semefos and in the cemeteries, which is an important obstacle in finding people.

On February 21, an agreement was signed to allow this international entity, founded in 1863, to provide advice to Mexican authorities.

Romanick Ferraro, legal counsel for the CICR delegation in Mexico, begins the interview with Proceso by stating that the committee's principles are neutrality, impartiality and independence, and that in countries where it works bilaterally (with agreements with governments or known armed groups), they maintain confidentiality. Whatever reports it produces will not be made public if the Mexican government does not wish.

He explains that the thematic hubs of the humanitarian organization with respect to the disappearance of persons are prevention (to prevent disappearances), clearing up the person's fate (by promoting mechanisms for establishing the truth), processing information (collection and production of clear information), forensic identification and support for all of a family's needs, as well as encouragement so they will participate with authorities in he search. The Mexican government will decide on which of those subjects it will need guidance.

When asked what his function will be, he insists: "The content is part of the confidential dialogue, we will provide advice to the Mexican government on whatever it asks."


While authorities draft new protocols that may take years to implement, Mr. Jose Serrano travels the country looking for his son, David Serrano Sandoval, a 38-year old lawyer who was kidnapped on June 16, 2012, in Lerma, State of Mexico, by a cell of the La Mano con Ojos criminal organization, which later became part of the Acapulco Independent Cartel. Although from the beginning the family had help from the Federal Police anti-kidnapping unit, the lawyer's freedom was never obtained.

This year, the PGR's Human Rights Section has been advising this father to verify whether his son was processed through some semefo, whether in the Federal District, the State of Mexico, or in Guerrero. On one occasion, the prosecutor Rosario Sandoval, with the SEIDO (specialized unit for investigating organized crime), mistakenly told him he had been found in Mexico City.

"Since August 15, when the negotiations with the kidnappers ended, I began to go to semefos; those in Mexico City, Cuernavaca and Toluca; to hospitals, to see if he was wounded, I went from bed to bed looking at patients. I've continued to to visit those places, I've seen bodies they've shown me in Lerma, Toluca, Zihuatanejo, Acapulco and Chilpancingo," recalls Mr. Serrano.

His search has become an agony.