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Cover Story
Entry into Force of
the International
Convention for the
Protection of All
Persons from Enforced
Disappearance and
Future Perspectives

News Features
The Ratification of the
International Convention for
the Protection of All Persons
from Enforced Disappearance
by Indonesia: The Long-Awaited

Victims of Disappearances
– Still Waiting for Justice in
Sri Lanka

From ‘Healing Wounds, Mending
Scars’ to ‘From Survivors to

Bogor, Bond and Basho
Memoirs of AFAD Fourth

UN WGEID and the 1992 UN
Declaration on Disappearances

Hiding Behind Lies

Photo Essay
Ang Mamatay Nang Dahil Sa
Iyo: A Nationwide University
Roadshow on Extra-Legal
Killings and Enforced

On Latin America
Trekking Latin American Terrains
in the Pursuit of Truth and

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico:
Laboratory of the Future

Unsilenced: A Review

Reflections from the Secretariat
Bird’s View on the Crows’ Nest: A
Visit to Sri Lanka

Conference Report
Reclaiming Stolen Lives:
Forensic sciences and human
rights investigations conference

Solidarity Message
Thank you very much,
Patricio Rice

AFAD Statement on the Visit of
UNWGEID to TImor Leste

Odhikar Congratulates
the People of Egypt on their
Victory for Human Rights and

Mind Teasers


Literary Corner
By the Wayside

Cover Background Source:
“Time Tunnel”
by Thomas Leiser



Ciudad Juarez, Mexico: Laboratory of the Future

by Peter C. Hinde, O.Carm.

Family and friends of Nubia Valencia Rodriguez and two other women friends of Casas Grandes were disappeared on 18 August. In broad daylight, the three went for a drive in the immediate area of this small town just outside Juarez. Three of thousands, they have not been heard of since.



Forced disappearances in Mexico escalated in 1968 when the army and paramilitary slaughtered scores of people in a student protest at the heart of Mexico City, their bodies trucked to some destination and never revealed. Some were captured alive and disappeared. In 1972, another military operation captured and disappeared people accused of belonging to an armed insurgency.

Rosario Ibarra de Piedra’s son was taken in this latter operation. In response, she founded Eureka as a movement of families of some five hundred people to protest disappearances. Since then, such disappearances were of scattered instances through the years, but without any government response to those registered with Eureka. Private investigations have identified the commanders and government officials in charge of those operations. With overwhelming evidence, ex-President Luis Echeverria was charged and tried in 2006, but ironically, charges were dismissed for “lack of evidence.”

In 1994, Esther Chavez Cano, owner of a women’s apparel business, began to take notice of the killings and disappearances of young women in Juarez. She wrote a column in the principal daily, El Diario de Juarez, to denounce these crimes, By 1999, she had sold her business and opened Casa Amiga to register such crimes against women. She hired a lawyer and psychologists to assist victims of abuse and families in search of loved ones. Casa Amiga became an effective institution.

Several movements were started by families of the disappeared. Early on, Sra. Judith Galarza of Juarez, whose sister had been disappeared, initiated a group. After a few years, she headed a group in the Federal District that related to the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees (FEDEFAM). From 2001, Judith has headed up FEDEFAM from Caracas, Venezuela.

The challenge to the government by Casa Amiga and these other organizations in Juarez to find, arrest and punish the culprits was met with indifference and at times cynicism. Support through the 1990s grew in Mexico and in border cities in the USA with demonstrations of a size that forced media attention. It was the disappearance of men that first drew international attention.


“We have much work left to do, the road ahead is long and hard. There will come a time when my voice becomes silent so that new voices can be heard to carry on the struggle for the rights of women, which, as I have said, is also for the rights of men, because it is the struggle for a more just and democratic society for all.”

Esther Chavez Cano, 9 November 2007


Jaime Hervella, a business consultant in El Paso, searched for his godson and wife who disappeared in Juarez in 1994. In time, Hervella discovered other families in Juarez on the same search. In 1997, he organized a press conference in El Paso with some 60 people from Juarez and a reporter from the New York Times. That meeting revealed that 55 men, a number soon set at 189, had been disappeared in Juarez, and thus, was born the Association of Families of Men Disappeared in Juarez. Over the years, with publicity, Hervella forced a succession of inspection teams from the Federal government to come to Juarez, but each proved fruitless. Families grew tired of the interminable run-around by officials of government, but continued to educate the public and use the media.

However, the government of Japan expressed to the government of Mexico its alarm at the news in the front page article in the New York Times. They feared for the managers of their maquila industries in Tijuana at the US border. As the case of disappeared men hit the international news, the situation of the women in Juarez did also.

Moreover, Laura Bonaparte of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo of Argentina visited the families in Juarez to stress with them the need to go to Amnesty International, to her own Madres de Plaza de Mayo, and the Organization of American States (OAS) Human Rights Commission in Costa Rica to garner international legal support. The killing of women in Juarez was an atrocious crime that, to date, has reached over 1000 and the number of disappearances is calculated in the thousands. Men were being killed at eight and ten times the number of women.

The number of killings due to the incipient drug war in the 1990s was another factor to reckon. By the year 2000, the government’s failure to solve these crimes convinced many that there was complicity from within the government. So often, the army or the federal police stood by while Narco gunmen shot down supposed opponents and many innocent civilians. The lack of prosecution of crimes created a situation of impunity and an invitation for anyone with criminal intent.

The downturn of the US economy in 2007-2008 resulted in sudden unemployment in Mexico. In the meantime, Juarez had become not only a point of crossing drugs to the US, but of drug consumption, an additional prize for the drug gangs. Extortion and kidnapping for ransom have now become common. The killing escalated this summer to 300 per month.

Confusion Reigns… Government Inept, Officials Complicit… ”Forced” Disappearances?

It is a question of whether or not the disappearance of Nubia Valencia could be registered as a “forced disappearance.” The current drug war has occasioned many to be disappeared by the several cartels vying for control of drug routes. If the person recovers their liberty, they are silent about their captors for fear of reprisals. “Narcos” have bought the collaboration of officials of government at every level. When kidnapping is done by officials of government in collusion with a cartel, the threat is double.

The result is that much confusion reigns, as in this case of Nubia Valencia, as to what agency is responsible for her disappearance. In recent years, there are many cases of government agents or “narcos” clearly identified, for kidnappings are done by the army, narcos, police and paramilitary. An army patrol entered a house to take two young men. They terrorized the other members of the family and in broad daylight, led the two to a vehicle with other soldiers. Their tortured bodies were found three days later outside the city.

In March 2008, when President Calderon sent a detachment of 2,000 soldiers, the mayor of Juarez ceded authority for security to the General. The police, under the authority of the army command, was purged: 300 of 1,500 police were dismissed and new recruits trained. In Tijuana, in Baja California, the whole police force was replaced. Of course, the police, now unemployed, feed the ranks of the “narcos.” The “narcos” now have cadres better trained than the army and have equivalent weaponry. Fed intelligence about army moves, they can choose their time and place for ambushes. 

At the turn of the century in the state of Tamaulipas, the Gulf Cartel managed to attract almost a whole company of soldiers, many trained as Special Forces in the U.S, with wages many times better than what they received in the army. Named the Zetas, they grew to such strength both in number and weaponry that some years later, they split from the Gulf Cartel to form their own and then terrorize the whole of the state of Taumalipas and the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon as they attack their former allies, police, and the army. They exercise violent influence in many other states along the drugs routes.

Since 2008, extortion for protection money has become common all along the border. The same is also true for kidnapping for ransom. If the money is not given, the business will be attacked or a relative killed or kidnapped. This year, the calculation is that there are 200 kidnappings a month in the one state of Taumalipas. Many business and medical doctors have shut down their business or clinics and moved over to the US side. Just in Juarez, the estimates range from 60,000 to 100,000. Others flee the city to the south back into the interior of Mexico. The official population of 1.3 million has been reduced to one million over the past three years.


Laboratory of Our Future

The financial melt-down in the US immediately affected the maquila industries in Juarez with 90,000 jobs lost in that year. In that sector of Juarez, where the larger maquila industries are located, only one killing has been reported. 60% of the industry seemingly keeps operating normally. Even with the escalating violence, over the last year, there has been a slight recovery in the industry. The capitalist logic of seeking out cheap labor continues to operate, the depression an excuse to keep wages even lower.

Even though the crime occurs in broad daylight and in public places, there are no witnesses. Nobody sees anything. Everyone fears reprisals. For journalists and editors in many smaller towns in the north, it is impossible to publish news of the violence. One editor said that it is even dangerous to know. You have to pretend that you know nothing, otherwise, you are in danger. Ten journalists or media people have been killed just this year.

Curiously, after the detachment of soldiers arrived in Juarez in 2008, the killings increased that year to four times the previous year, then to the unheard of 1,608 in 2008. In 2009, President Calderon sent another 5,000 troops plus 2,000 Federal police and the killing increased to 2,700. In the year 2010, it is set to surpass that figure (by years end 3,111). In the month of August, it reached 336. Despite or because of the presence of army and Federal Police, impunity reigns.

Recently, there have been many cases of disappeared people who were politically active in opposition to the government in states like, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas where military repression of popular movements was done at the orders of the governors. In Juarez, the heavily migrant population is fragmented and difficult to organize. There is no significant popular movement here in Juarez.

Efforts to organize movements to demand investigation, apprehension of criminals have not been absent, but with little result. The present neo-liberal economy with its “race-to-the bottom” for ever lower wages has created the present day Juarez. The so-called Free Trade Agreements have impoverished Mexico’s working class and made education and health service a luxury. Forty percent of youth from 13 to 20 are neither studying nor employed, an ideal recruitment base for the drug cartels.

We are forced to ask if the title of a photojournalist’s book published in 2000 is prophetic. The story Charles Bowden depicts shows the poverty of Juarez, the dead bodies in the streets or in the outskirt desert. It does not and cannot show the disappeared. He points to a future for any economy based on the neoliberal model.

At the moment when the eyes of the world are focused here, “Jaurez, the Laboratory of Our Future,” is a title that is a warning for the world.


Peter C. Hinde, priest of the Carmelite Order, following missionary work in Peru, in 1973 with Mercy Sister Betty Campbell founded Tabor House Community in Washington, D.C. to do reverse mission to the US and solidarity work with Latin America. As close friends of Patricio Rice when Patricio belonged to the Tabor Community (1978-79), they developed special concern for the detained-disappeared. They continue the same work for the past 15 years in Ciudad Juarez.



The VOICE March 2011

Copyright 2011 
AFAD - Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
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