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Family members of the kidnapped men protest outside the government palace in the Chiapas state capital in September. Family members of the kidnapped men protest outside the government palace in the Chiapas state capital in September.

Families call for release of 21 kidnapped by new self-defense force in Chiapas

'El Machete' had accused the men of belonging to a criminal organization

The whereabouts of 21 men detained by a self-defense force in Chiapas in late July are unknown, according to their relatives.

On July 26, members of the “El Machete” self-defense force carried out raids in the town of Pantelhó during which they set houses and vehicles alight and detained 21 men they accused of being members of Los Herrera, a criminal group that allegedly has links to the municipal government.

More than two months later, those detained have still not returned to their homes. Their relatives reject the self-defense group’s claim they are criminals, asserting that they are ordinary citizens who work as shopkeepers or in other legitimate businesses.

Jorge Aguilar Morales, whose brother, nephew and godson are among those missing, told the newspaper Milenio that neither the Chiapas government nor the southern state’s Attorney General’s Office have been able to determine whether the 21 men are dead or alive.

“They supposedly said they’ve already been murdered and buried at the Las Pelonas hill. The truth is we’re afraid. All we’re asking is they return our family members. They were taken alive, we want them back alive, not like what happened with [the 43] Ayotzinapa [students],” he said.

Some of the kidnapped men's family members appeared on Milenio TV on Wednesday to push for action on the case.
Some of the kidnapped men’s family members appeared on Milenio TV on Wednesday to push for action on the case.

Aguilar, one of several relatives of the missing men who spoke to Milenio in Mexico City, said members of “El Machete,” which formed in Pantelhó in July, have threatened to kill them if they file a complaint with federal authorities.

“But we really don’t care because all we’re asking for is for them to release our family members,” he said.

Aguilar accused the National Guard of doing nothing to stop the abduction of the 21 men. “… They were afraid because these ‘El Machete’ assholes told them to leave if they didn’t want deaths. … The [National] Guard didn’t intervene. When they see a defenseless person they’re very cocky, very confident, but with the Machetes they were afraid,” he said.

Francisca Morales, whose son, grandson and nephew are missing, said she appealed to President López Obrador for his help to find the kidnapped men. She said she approached the president during his visit to San Cristóbal de las Casas in late August and he assured her he would help. But the families of the missing men haven’t heard anything from federal authorities since, Morales said.

“The president should go to Pantelhó to see how things are, to see how they left Pantelhó. They burned houses, stole things. They took everything, all my possessions were taken,” she said.

Fanny Urbina, whose husband was detained on July 26, said that she and her 10-year-old daughter have been left helpless.

“I depend on him; I have a daughter with hydrocephalus and she gets sick a lot. I’m asking that they return him because what am I going to do on my own? I don’t have help from anyone, except him,” she said.

Giovanni Aguilar, whose brother is missing, said it was incredible that state authorities haven’t taken action against “El Machete” in light of their actions in late July.

“There are videos and proof of everything they did, there are names of those who took them,” he said. “In the videos you can see who took them. We spoke to the president when he went to … San Cristóbal but where is he? [There’s been] no progress, … nothing.”

Giovanni Aguilar also said that more than 3,000 residents of Pantelhó have been forced to take refuge in San Cristóbal due to violence in their home town and surrounding areas.

The family members currently in Mexico City said they will present themselves Thursday at the federal Interior Ministry, where they hope to meet with Deputy Interior Minister for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas.

“El Machete” is one of at least five self-defense groups that have emerged in Chiapas since July.

López Obrador said earlier this year that self-defense groups are used to hide or shelter criminals. “They disguise themselves as people fed up with violence,” he said.

With reports from Milenio 

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