Mothers of the Disappeared in Sinaloa
The Other Campaign Meets with Relatives of Victims from Mexico’s “Dirty War”
By Simon Fitzgerald
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Sinaloa
October 15, 2006
In the most powerful event of the The Other Campaign’s stay at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa in the city of Culiacán, Delgate Zero, in the presence of the independent media and other members of the tour’s caravan, met with the surviving members of the Union of Mothers with Disappeared Children of Sinaloa to unite with their cause and commemorate the lives of the disappeared.
The “disappeared” are most often associated with the military dictatorships of Argentina and Chile. The Mexican governments of the sixties and seventies accepted exiles fleeing the murderous political repression in South America of that time, and otherwise made a great effort to appear internationally to be a tolerant regime. Within Mexico, however, the police and military were also kidnapping, torturing, and killing leftist dissidents in what came to be known as the “dirty war.”
As the “revolutionary” or even progressive credentials of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in its Spanish initials) became more and more discredited, leftwing resistance movements flourished across Mexico in the late 60s and 70s, from widespread peaceful student activism to smaller armed insurrections. In 2001, Mexico’s Human Rights Commission recognized 532 disappearances of civilians in Mexico during the “dirty war” period (many believe the true number to be much higher). Thousands more were tortured. While the highest number of disappearances occurred in Guerrero (where the uprising of schoolteacher Lucio Cabañas’ Party of the Poor was answered by a militarization of the state that continues to this day), Sinaloa was state number three on the list.
As Martha Alicia Camacho, who was kidnapped while pregnant along with her now murdered husband points out, “dirty war” is in many ways a misnomer. “This wasn’t a war, because we weren’t an army. The government came and took 16 or 17-year-old children, young high school-age children,” and tortured and killed them. “This wasn’t a dirty war, these were crimes of the state.”
Sharing the Pain and Indignation
Four mothers and one sister of missing youths in addition to Camacho shared details of the kidnapping and torture of their loved ones. Their graphic recollections were deeply disturbing, but allowed the members of the caravan to share – as much as possible – the pain and indignation of these women.
Marta Murillo de Gaxiola’s son, Oscar Gaxiola Murillo, was kidnapped in Michoacan by a car with Mexico City plates. Murillo told the story of her son as her loud voice shook with anger. The details caused many members of the audience to cringe, including Subcommandante Marcos in his balaclava. “They beat him severely, I’ve been told… they burst his testicles, and I will not forgive these devils.”
Martha Alicia Camacho gave birth while in custody to a son whose father, Jose Manuel Alapizco Lizarraga, did not survive his detention. She added, “I am a living witness to what happened to their children. I was present in the place where these children were disappeared. There my husband was tortured and murdered.” It was here that she said, “they castrated him in front of me when I was eight months pregnant.”
Maria Perez de Carbajal requested the solidarity of Subcommandante Marcos, the Other Campaign, the alternative media present and all of their audience to struggle with them for the return of their family members. Her son, Juan de Dios Carvajal Perez, was kidnapped over thirty years ago. Rosa Maria Alvarez also spoke about her brother, Angel Manuel Herrera Alvarez, who was kidnapped when he was on his way to pick up his high school diploma around the same time as several other students from the local polytechnic school, all disappeared for their leftist political activities. The family had struggled for 30 years to find him, visiting hospitals and making missing person reports, repeatedly meeting with a governor who only told them lies, attending meetings, and organizing marches and hunger strikes. All they ever found was a photo of students from the polytechnic school, presumably left by an administrator who had been transferred. Altvarez’ mother died still searching for her lost son.
Catalina Castro, whose son Luis Garcia Castro was taken when he was 17 years old, described the many years of protests as the healthiest option the mothers had. “It was a catharsis, shouting our pain and making known what we felt.”
The Continuing Government Cover-up
The women complained that while their children were in government custody, and for many years afterwards, government officials denied any knowledge of their existence. Martha Camacho explained: “Supposedly none of this ever happened in Culiacán, but we… found the police reports,” with the photographs and fingerprints of the disappeared that had been signed and dated by local Culiacán municipal police, “who supposedly never knew anything about it. We have found a lot of evidence that not only were the local municipal authorities involved, but the state judicial system, the federal justice system and the army. I was personally held in a military zone.”
Consuelo Carrasco de Flores – holding a copy of the police report on her son Juan German Flores Carrasco, who was taken from his home when he was 17 years old – said, fighting back tears, that they were exasperated by the state officials’ denials. “Here in Culiacán they said that they knew nothing or to ‘go to Mexico City.’ In Mexico City they said, ‘Why are you here, we aren’t your problem.’ They treated us like a ping pong ball.”
President Vicente Fox recently established a Special Investigator who allowed the mothers and their lawyers access to some federal archives. While this slight opening has offered the mothers pieces of information, they complained that the investigation mostly passed money around to different lawyers without changing anything. Ever since the appointment of the Special Investigator two years ago, they have been asking for a meeting without any response.
“The parties, including the supposedly leftist PRD, still try to protect the guilty, even if their guilt is proven. This is especially true with respect to the military. Andrés Manuel López Obrador never mentioned the demand that the disappeared be presented or that those responsible be punished,” added Martha Camacho.
Neither, she said, has anyone who participated in the kidnapping, torture, murder and cover-up of the disappeared ever been brought to justice.
Connections to Today: Repression of the Other Campaign
The comments of the members of the Other Campaign caravan made the connection between the women’s histories and their own current experiences of repression. A member of the local women’s anarchist collective “Ni Una Mas” recounted the pain of her compañeros who suffered at the hands of police brutality and arbitrary arrest outside the meeting of the Assembly of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union two years ago in Guadalajara. Noting that she too was a mother, she offered solidarity through her tears, “so that my son never suffers what happens to your sons for simply demanding their rights.”
Several people present also compared the forced disappearances to the recent police operation in San Salvador Atenco, in the state of Mexico. Octavio Colorado Sandoval, a member of the Atenco farmers’ movement The Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land, spoke of his own survival of political repression. “On May 3 and 4 I was one of fifteen people in a house in San Salvador Atenco. Only four of us made it out, and I haven’t seen any of the other eleven since. Since then, I have felt like a robot because of all of the resulting stress I carried around inside. There is still a lot of harassment on the part of the police of Governor Peña Nieto, who walk around in the street armed with their rifles and wearing ski-masks to intimidate the community.”
The stories implied that the current crimes of the state and the culture of impunity have roots in the repression of the “dirty war” period. Reports of torture in Guadalajara; rapes, killings and brutality by police in Atenco; killings and forced disappearances by paramilitary police in Oaxaca; the kidnapping, rape, and murder of women in the city of Juárez and the state of Chihuahua (in which elements of the police are suspected to be complicit), as well as the resulting impunity of those responsible for these many crimes show a continuity of “dirty war” tactics to the present day. With this understanding, many present affirmed to the mothers of the disappeared that “your struggle is our struggle” to keep such widespread repression from ever reoccurring.
At the end of the meeting, Subcomandante Marcos reminded those present that in 1994 the Zapatistas “adopted as mothers” the women of the organization when the their late director, Rosaria Ibarra de Piedra, was in the Lacondon jungle visiting Zapatistas. He also proposed that The Other Campaign, as it arrives in Ciudad Juárez on November 1, launch a nationwide campaign demanding the reappearance of everyone kidnapped and disappeared “as alive as when they were first taken,” and the punishment of all of those responsible for the kidnapping, torture, killing or cover-up. This proposed campaign would advocate for the disappeared women of Juarez as well as for the political prisoners of Atenco. One of the Sinaloa mothers immediately responded that “without a meeting I can tell you that we want to be part of this movement, and we are in agreement with all of your proposals.”
Soon after the meeting, a call was put out jointly by the EZLN, the Union of Mothers with Disappeared Children of Sinaloa, and the adherent organizations UNIOS (Worker and Socialist Unity) and the Party of Mexican Communists, to designate November 1 as a day for the disappeared of all of Mexico.
As the members of the caravan thanked the presenters, Catalina Castro answered, “you are our children. We are your mothers in struggle.” When the caravan members headed off, they carried a banner with the names and photos of the disappeared of Sinaloa to hang on the side of the Other Campaign’s tour bus as they continue their journey northward, then east, toward Ciudad Juárez…
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