“Missing Justice: The claim for the beloved. Enforced Dissapearance in México and Honduras” focuses in Enforced Dissapearance as a strategy to generate fear and uncertainty in the entire society. It´s also an aproach to some women´s movements that have undertook the defense of the rights of their loved daughters, fathers, sons, brothers, etc.
There are a lot of interesting experiences about it in Latinamerica. Maybe the most famous is the case of Argentina, with the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” or the organization “HIJOS”, but I am going to concentrate myself in the cases of Mexico and Honduras.
What it´s enforced disappearance?
Office of the United Nations High Comissioner for Human Rights condider “enforced disappearance” as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons (…) acting with the authorization or support of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty (…..) which place such a person outside the protection of the law”
On 2010, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, entered into force. As, it´s also reflected in the Rome Statute, it considers this offense as a crime against humanity.
The enforced disappearance was a frecuent method of the preventive war of counter-insurgency in Latin America, because this “exemplary punishment” crush all the community. When this crime is comitted, the message from state security forces is clear: one can be taken from one’s family and community, brutally killed, and then the material evidence hidden, so legal processes can not take place.
At the same time, the fear and uncertainty created by the lack of help and information increase the vulnerability of the families. Often, missing people becomes an obsesion, because the families of the victims can not go into a proper mourning. Thererefore, the families need to know the whereabouts of the victims and the circumstances of their death. They need to establish the truth and to seek responsibilities and redress.
México, 70´s…and nowdays
In México, enforced dissapearance has been a common practice from the dirty war of the 70´s to onwards. Nowadays many regions in Mexico are immersed in low-intensity wars that coincide with a growing state intolerance toward labor and social movements.
In the 70´s in Mexico, Institutional Revolutionary Party government managed to keep good diplomatic relations with any kind of countries, from United States to Cuba. Also, this government had a generous asylum policy and gave refugee to thousands of exiled people that were chased by the military dictatorships of Argentina, Uruguay, Peru or Chile.
Intellectuals used to say, ironically, that the PRI in Mexico would be perfect if “there were a mexican embassy for the mexicans in Mexico”. Because, meanwhile PRI government gave refugee to latinamericans, Mexican army, intelligence and security forces dissapeared more than 1,200 people in the country.
Night of Tlatelolco
Systematic offenses began in 1967, and they were clear in the Night of Tlalelolco, on the 2nd of Octobre 1968. In Tlalelolco more than 200 students where killed in La Plaza de las Tres Culturas and more than 1300 were arrested and envoyed to different detention camps, as the Military Camp nº1.
As Laura Castellanos tells in her book “México Armado, 1943-1981”, this agressive and out of proportion attack, lead some students to give ideological or strategic support to some guerrillas; and in the following years, hundreds of students, political activist, syndicalist, or peasant were detained, tortured, interrogated and often killed in clandestine detention centers.
In Mexico, women were the first to denounce the missing people. In one hand, they were rarely kidnapped, but they suffered deeply the consequences of this practice. On the other hand, they tried to use “female” strategies to stop the violence, to came into the prisons or to negotiate.
Rosario Ibarra, the mother one of the students dissapeared in 1975 in Monterrey (at the north of Mexico), undertook a desesperate search in all the detention centres, hospitals, Public Ministries and military camps. She arranged interviews with newspapers, churchs and political parties, and even with the president Echevarria. (whom she interviewd for more than 30 times)
Firstly she had one goal: to know the whereabouts of her son and claim for resolution. When her cries were unheard, she and 100 women founded the The Eureka Committee of the Disappeared (Comité de de Desaparecidos Eureka). They wanted to establish the truth, to promote reparations, to prevent other crimes in the future and that the perpetrators were judged.
Dirty war in Guerrero
Meanwhile, in Guerrero, one of the poorest states in Mexico, el Partido de los Pobres was formed. It was lead by Genaro Vazquez and Lucio Cabañas. This left “guerrilla” was born from a civic movement of teaching, that was violently repressed in Atoyac de Alvarez. As a result of the barriers to civil struggle they went into clandestinity (they went underground) in La Sierra Madre, and they started to fight against the landowning elite (caciques) and to attack military batallions.
The government´s answer to this guerrilla was an unselective repression against, not only those who undertook the military actions, but also against those who gave or were suspected of giving passive support to the guerrilla.
Between 1971 and 1974 several villages of La Sierra Madre, as El Quemado, Piloncillos or El Porvenir where completily devastated. This repression was also a “Proving ground” for future military tactics in the Southern Cone: military captured and tortured leftists, and then they dropped their bodies into the Pacific.
Among the books about the “dirty war” period in Mexico, one of the most touching is the novel, “Guerra en el paraiso”, written by Carlos Montemayor in 1991. The novel is based on testimonies and on research in the General National Archive (some of the military archives are still confidential).
Carlos Montemayor´s works were so well documented that in 2007 the Interamerican Court of Human Rights asked him for an expert´s report to deliberate about the Case of Rosendo Radilla Pacheco, an emblematic case of seek of justice.
I am going to read a passage of Montemayor´s novel:
¡Sabemos que Lucio Cabañas ha recibido apoyo….¡Todas atrás! os soldados apartaban…camiones militares
Rosendo Radilla Case & Transitional Justice
The singer Rosendo Radilla was kidnapped at a military checkpoint on 24th of August 1974. For 30 years, his daughter, Tita Radilla, tried to work within the Mexican justice system to achieve truth for his disappearance. But the doors of Justice were closed and she received continuous harassments.
When in 2007, the Case of Rosendo Radilla was adopted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Mexican government argued that it could no longer be held accountable for crimes committed thirty-five year ago. But here, the Court stated that, “given the structural and institutional barriers placed before citizens demanding justice, the crime was indeed ongoing”.
Finally, the Interamerican Court obligated Mexico to investigate the Radilla case, to pay reparations to the family and to reform the military code of justice. Mexican state apologized, but it didn´t prosecute those responsibles and didn´t accomplish a deep reform of the military law.
Nowadays, the lack of governmental will to redress the wounds of dirty war is clear. In 2000, there was a political transition in Mexico and Fox Government launched a Special Prosecutor for Crimes of the Past, but the main guilty persons of the enforced dissapearances (including the ex-president Echevarria or Mario Moya Palencia) have not been punished.
So, the necessary transitional justice processes have not taken place in Mexico, and a Society cannot flourish without justice. When there are impunity and corruption, the research of the truth becomes a dangerous activity.
Because of that, in recent years, in Guerrero, several human right defenders, community leaders and journalists have been enforced disappeared again. Raúl Lucas Lucía and Manuel Ponce Rosas were two of them. They were kidnapped in 2009 in a public meeting in Ayutla de los Libres.
The meeting was being watched by security police forces, but after a telephone call, they left the place. 20 minutes later three armed men kidnapped Raul and Manuel. After their kidnapping (“levanton”) their two wifes, Margarita and Lupe, informed the Public Ministry of the crime, but their voices were no heard. (Public Ministry is the first instance of prosecution in Mexico).
Ten days later the corps or Raúl and Manuel were founded in a field. They showed signs of torture. The scapegoat of the government was that their death was a result of the violence of drug-trafficking groups. However, there is evidence that points to paramilitar groups linked with “caciques” and political local elites. Since then, Margarita and Lupe have faced constant harassment and threats to their lives, and for the moment, they have decided to decrease their public profile.
Their case is not isolated. This last week in Mexico, the United Nations submit a research paper made by the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID)
In this file, the UN researchers concluded that between 2006 and 2011, in Mexico more than 3.000 enforced dissapearances have been comitted and that most of them haven´t been reported. (The National Comision of Human Right just had 436 complaints)
Speaking of clandestine detention centers in the North of Mexico, the journalist San Juana Martínez writted in 2011:
The (unlawful) confinement of citizens occurs amid the complicit silence of many: members of Congress, senators, judges, police investigators, journalists, and officials from different levels of government. The majority of them prefer to look the other way. But the cases abound. Some estimates put the number of missing persons at more than 30,000…..
Some of them are the “Murdered women of Juarez”. In this city, public prosecution´s office don’t do the necessary research, loose evidences, falsificate files and look for scapegoats. I could sent you an interview with to the journalist Rosa Isela Pérez, who also testified in the Interamerican Court of Human Rights and because of that, she was forced to ask for asylum in Spain.
In Honduras, in the 80´s, the counter-insurgency strategies have “improve” and the repression is more selective and efficient than before.
After 17 years of dictatoship, in 1980 a Liberal Party was elected in Honduras. In that moment, Reagan was in the power in USA and the Sandinista National Liberation Front had defeated Somoza in the neighbouring country, Nicaragua.
The elected head of the Liberal Party in Honduras, (Roberto Suazo Córdova) gave wide-ranging powers to the General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez. So, during all the government of Liberal Party, Honduras Army forces kept the power of National Security affairs, with the support of the United Estates. (The militar help of USA increased from 3,9 million dollars in 1980 to 77,5 million dollars in 1984)
During all the XX century, Honduras have been geostrategic military base for the United States. In 1954 UsA military forces prepared in the country, the coup to Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. In 1961, they also prepare the invasion of “Bahia de Cochinos”, Cuba.
In the 80´s, Honduras was the training field of the “Contra” against the revolutionary groups in El Salvador and Guatemala. In order to do so, military officers from Argentina, CIA and FBI came to train the Central America Army in preventive war of counter-insurgency strategies.
This military movement was supported with an ideological campaign: “The real essence of Honduras inhabitants was to be calm, peace-loving and conservative”. So, any marxist revolutionary idea was the result of foreign “contamination”. If the Honduras peasant wanted an agrarian reform, if the students asked for more teaching resources or if the workers (of the “maquilas”) demanded a rise of the salaries it was because they were influenced by foreign ideas. And It was neccesary to nip this ideas in the bud.
This same idea was disseminated in the military coup of 2009, when Micheletti took the power of Honduras, and acused to the reformist government of Zelaya of being a puppet of left-wing governments in Latin America. Also, in the days that followed the coup all the foreigners in the country, and specially the Nicaraguan people, were criminalized by the media and prosecuted.
So, through the paranoia of contamination, National Security Doctrine fabricated the concept of “Internal Enemy”. In this context the enforced dissapearance was very selective: only 184 people were missing. But these people were very influential and key left leaders.
This was the case of the student Eduardo Becerra. His story was reflected in the novel “Cuando las Tarántulas atacan”, written in 1987 by the historien Longino Becerra, the uncle of Eduardo.
Eduardo came from a family of social fighters and when he was 24 he was dissapeared. When that happened, all his family started to look for him or for any trace of him in hospitals, military camps, human rights comisions, etc. They also claim justice in newspapers and in tribunal courts, and they were threatened because of that. Some of them suffered from very serious psycological effects, and the mother of Eduardo never wanted to recognize that her son was died.
They founded with other families, the Committee of Relatives of Detained and Dissapeared in Honduras. During the government of Carlos Roberto Reina, known as the government of “moral revolution”, some of the families were compensated for the loss of their beloved. But they didn´t want to be compensated for Eduardo dissapearance if the perpetrators weren´t judge and punish.
Those responsible weren´t judged. One of them, Billy Joya, was the right hand man of the General Micheletti in the military coup of 2009. To finish, I am going to read some paragraph from an interview with Rebeca Becerra, the sister of Eduardo. Rebeca was Director of Book and Paper of the Ministry of Culture of Honduras, and was removed of her position in 2009.
Mi hermano fue un líder estudiantil clave en la lucha de los ochenta, era muy inteligente y movía todo el movimiento estudiantil universitario y de secundaria. El representaba la resistencia universitaria a que la ultraderecha se tomara el campus…
Eduardo era un obstáculo y lo desaparecen como diez días antes de las elecciones…fue salvajemente torturado y asesinado, fue entregado a los Contras. El Contra que lo asesinó dio declaraciones cinco años después en Canadá, así nos dimos cuenta como fue asesinado él y Félix Martínez, con ochenta puñaladas.
La orden que le dieron al Contra es que desaparecieran a mi hermano para que nunca encontráramos el cadáver y que Félix Martínez apareciera para escarmiento de los comunistas. El Contra dice que tapó con cal y cerró la tumba, después se nos envió un anónimo “vieja, tu hijo está en la morgue del cementerio general”. Son testimonios contradictorios.
Al llegar al cementerio, este estaba militarizado, señal de que este debía de ser su cadáver.
Amigos y familiares de Eduardo fueron a reconocer el cadáver y todos coincidieron en que ese era el cadáver de Eduardo. Todos lo examinaron. Al cadáver lo sacaron de la tumba y lo tuvieron guindado de la boca con un gachet carnicero en un horno, y lo que se fue a reconocer fue un cuero tostado.
Cuando después nos reunimos en familia todos, la reacción de mi mamá fue inesperada, siempre tomábamos las decisiones en reuniones familiares y ella decide que ella no va reconocer el cadáver, dice que ese no es su hijo porque ella no parió lo que fue encontrado en el cementerio.
Con esa declaración pública Álvarez Martínez se pone peor porque lo que querían era callarnos con el cadáver de mi hermano. Mi papá dice “o reconocemos el cadáver y aquí se terminó todo o continuamos la lucha”. Y continuamos la lucha, y seguimos luchando por demostrar quienes eran los responsables de los desaparecidos en Honduras….