No one is safe in Chilpancingo.
That’s the conclusion reached by a researcher for Amnesty International (AI) following its investigation into at least five enforced disappearances in the Guerrero capital following two separate incidents in the last week of 2017.
The human rights organization has completed field research in the city that confirmed the disappearances, while it has received reports of another two cases.
In the first case, 20-year-old Alán Alexis and two teenagers were arrested by municipal police on December 27 after allegedly committing a robbery. However, police seemingly failed to record they had been taken into custody.
The trio were subsequently tortured over a period of seven days and both Chilpancingo municipal police and state investigative police were complicit in the events, the NGO said.
“Tragically, the enforced disappearance of these young men is the latest of a long line of horrors that have befallen Guerrero state,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
After their arrest, the three young men were “taken to a safe house, then transported in a dizzying ride to Acapulco and held in cells for at least three days without food, expecting to be killed.”
The trio later appeared back in Chilpancingo on January 3, where they were found behind a supermarket with “clear signs of torture and bound with tape all over their bodies and eyes.”
“The warning signs of corruption and terrible human rights violations have been there for all to see, and those officials that negligently ignored them are themselves complicit,” Guevara-Rosas said.
The human rights watchdog said that information it had received strongly indicates that police tortured the three in order to obtain a “confession.” It also said that there is no evidence that authorities have started an investigation into the torture allegations.
According to testimony by Alexis reported by the newspaper Reforma, the three young men were tortured to a point where, on several occasions, they lost consciousness. Their faces were covered with wet towels, they were beaten with boards and told they were going to die, Reforma said.
In a second separate incident, Jorge Vázquez Campos and Marco Catalán Cabrera were forcibly disappeared after being arrested by Chilpancingo municipal police on December 30 at a Christmas fair in the city.
The pair had allegedly been involved in a brawl. A third man, identified only as Milton, was also arrested.
Amnesty International said there is evidence that their subsequent disappearance occurred in collusion with organized crime.
Unlike the first case, police did make a record of their arrest but, according to the same document, were released hours later. Milton was released immediately.
However, a state prosecutor said that according to witness accounts the pair were forced into a vehicle by two armed men shortly after they left the police station. One of the two was Milton, allegedly working in collusion with police. The two men were killed the same day.
The bodies of the two, aged 30 and 34, subsequently showed up on January 3 in an abandoned lot on the outskirts of Chilpancingo.
As of Thursday, only one municipal officer had been arrested in relation to their death but Amnesty International said that it has evidence that “the networks of collusion involved could reach much further inside police forces.”
An AI researcher on Mexico criticized the police investigation because it hasn’t considered testimonies of people who were at the fair and witnessed the events.
“Although the operation involved several municipal police officers and occurred at a public event . . . the Attorney General’s office only has one police officer in preventative prison,” Madeleine Penman said.
“Its version [of events] seems to be [only] supported by the testimonies of public officials. Therefore, it is very important that it widens its investigation.”
Penman also highlighted that the two cases showed that anyone could suffer the same fate, regardless of their social status.
“The random nature of these cases, in other words, the fact that the victims come from different social sectors, from humble backgrounds as well as more privileged ones, makes us realize that no one is safe in Chilpancingo at the moment,” she said.
“The shocking enforced disappearance of these young men has not occurred in a vacuum and has affected families of all different backgrounds,” Guevara-Rosas concurred.
There are also reports of two other disappearances in the same period in Chilpancingo.
AI said that Efrain Patrón Ramos was reported missing on December 29 from near the city’s main park while the organization also received reports of the disappearance of Abel Aguilar García, who went missing on Christmas Day.
Both cases have been filed with the state Attorney General’s office and in the former, the victim’s family has denounced the involvement of municipal police.
Guevara-Rosas said, “It is essential that the authorities ensure impartial, prompt and thorough investigations that establish the full set of circumstances surrounding the involvement of authorities in these enforced disappearances.”
“It is outrageous that impunity for these grave human rights violations remains the norm. The current context of collusion between organized crime and law enforcement in the capital of Guerrero demonstrates that another Ayotzinapa-style case could happen at any moment,” she added.
In September 2014, 43 rural teaching students from the small community of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, were disappeared and presumably killed after a mass kidnapping in the town of Iguala.
More than three years later, exactly what happened to the students remains unclear.