Shocking Stories of Loss Motivate Mourners of Mexico's Drug War Victims to Hold the U.S. Responsible
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In Mexico, where the authorities and the drug cartels are hard to separate, finding answers is often left to the survivors of drug war violence. Some survivors have dug through mass graves, turning over mutilated bodies, half-hoping to see the face of a loved one. Others have stared their children's killers in the eye while hearing the brutal details of how their kids were murdered. They interview incarcerated drug traffickers, desperate for some kind of closure. Determined to speak for the victims who have lost their voices, some relatives of victims have joined a new movement, the Caravan for Peace with Jusice and Dignity. The Caravan has demanded justice for the dead in Mexico, and this summer, they delivered their message -- a call for accountability -- across the United States.
That is the story of Margarita Lopez Perez, the mother of disappeared 19-year-old Yahaira Guadalupe Bahena Lopez. Lopez Perez’s expensive journey to find the truth led her to incarcerated drug traffickers who admitted to killing her child. In great detail, they told her the horror Yahaira endured. “They told me that they kidnapped my daughter, that they had her alive for many days,” she said, “They were torturing her, raping her, before taking her to a faraway place, and decapitating her alive.” Then, they played with her head, kicking it around like a soccer ball and kissing her cold lips. “They told me she was innocent, that they made a mistake,” said Lopez Perez.
In Mexico, many of the drug war’s dead are innocents. In the six years of drug war that have ravaged the country, more than 60,000 are dead and more than 10,000 are missing. Because only 2 percent of cases are granted judicial review, families of the lost regularly become their own investigators. They find, too often, horrors tied to the authorities themselves.
Olga Reyes Salazar knows this truth too well. She is from a family of human rights defenders; her sister Josefina Reyes Salazar denounced military abuses in Chihuahua after the drug war deployed troops to her neighborhood. In 2008, Josefina’s 25-year-old son Julio Cesar Reyes was shot and killed near a military checkpoint, kicking off a string of demonstrations and suspicious murders occurring near active military. The family continued to protest against military abuses, demanding investigations into the murders of their relatives, but their efforts were not well-received. Death plucked off the Reyes family like the petals on a flower. When they protested for justice, their homes were burned, and more fell.
Olga lost six of her relatives by the end of 2011. Their bodies were left by highways. Flowers from a defaced Reyes grave appeared in a nearby military garden. Molotov cocktails awakened them in the night. Now, the Reyes name is one of warning. “The family has become an example for the people of the town,” said Olga. There, signs warn troublemakers to leave or end up like the Reyes family.
The US backs, and even trains, Mexico’s military, despite allegations of human rights abuses. Eliana Garcia, a former political prisoner turned Mexican congresswoman who is an adviser to Mexican politicians, says the most deadly Mexican military force is the navy, and she is quick to note its training by US Navy SEALs.
“The US military are not [committing crimes] directly or openly,” said Garcia, adding that US influence goes beyond training and funding. Garcia says there is a widespread understanding, but no solid proof, that US forces dress and/or operate as Mexican military. “For instance, [this summer], two agents of the CIA were driving to a navy installation. Nobody knows what they were doing and then suddenly they were ambushed by policia federales,” said Garcia. US authorities confirmed that the two men ambushed by Mexican police were part of the CIA. “They were injured and then immediately they disappeared from Mexico. We don’t know their names. We know they were CIA agents, but what they were doing, why they were going to the navy base… We don’t know anything,” Garcia said.
Garcia says the drug war is an example of America imposing its “security agenda” to operate navy bases not just in Mexico, but El Salvador and Colombia.
The United States spends almost $500 million a year funding Mexico’s war against cartels that sell drugs to American consumers. As the US continues to consume drugs despite attempts at prohibition, unimaginable horror multiplies in Mexico. US and Mexican forces battle against the heavily armed cartels, which are so powerful they have been labeled an insurgency by US State Department officials and journalists alike. While authorities claim to target only drug traffickers, Mexicans say the war has only made the cartels more violent and the state authorities more corrupt. The result is that innocent bystanders are often caught up in the violence, with little or no access to justice.
The victims speak now through the voices of their survivors. Family members seek answers from locals, whether they are incarcerated cartel members or private investigators, to understand their loved ones’ last minutes. And as they seek justice for the people responsible for their loved ones’ deaths, their quest reaches beyond the murderers and across borders, up to the US and Mexican governments. Their government no longer represents their best interests, nor does its rhetoric reflect the reality of innocence lost. Thus, they have come to the United States to create, as one mother called it, “some citizen diplomacy,” and stand up for the victims.