Jesús and four friends were heading to a protest against police brutality when they were seized by a group of plainclothes officers and forced into an unmarked pickup truck.
They had planned to join a demonstration in Guadalajara, prompted by the case of Giovanni López, a construction worker who was found dead after he was arrested for not wearing a face mask.
The five friends were just a block away from the state prosecutor’s office when they were seized and forced into the truck. “Get in, you bastards – and keep your heads down,” barked one of the officers.
It was the start of more than 24 hours of terror for Jesús and scores more who disappeared on their way to the demonstration in a city notorious for its missing persons problem.
I thought we were going to die
“Nobody knows where you are,” the cops told Jesús. “We’re going to disappear you.”
On a weekend when demonstrations against police brutality and racism were held around the world, some 80 protesters were seized by police officers and held incommunicado in Mexico’s second city.
All but two have since reappeared, but the episode has revived unnerving memories of the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa teacher training college, who were abducted by police officers allied to a local drug cartel as they made their way to a demonstration in Mexico City. The remains of two of the students were later found, but six years on, the fate of the other 41 remains unknown.
Victims and human rights activists have described how the Guadalajara protesters were intercepted before they even reached the demonstration.
“They said they were taking us to ‘the cage’,” said Inés, another protester who was forced into a fake bakery truck.
Protesters described being robbed of their money and mobiles. Others said they were shot with stun guns or beaten with wooden clubs.
Eventually, Jesús and his friends were taken to an abandoned area on the outskirts of the city, where he caught a glimpse of two more trucks full of armed men with ski masks, before his captors told them to start running.
“I thought we were going to die,” said Jesús, who used a pseudonym for fear of retaliation.
“The modus operandi was not to take [the Guadalajara protesters] to the prosecutor’s office – at least for the majority of them,” said Anna Karolina Chimiak, co-director of the human rights group Centro de Justicia para la Paz y el Desarrollo, which documented the detentions.
“It was to haul them away from the centre of the city – away from the protest outside the prosecutor’s office – and leave them without their mobiles and without any money.”
Enrique Alfaro, the governor of Jalisco state, which includes Guadalajara, apologized for the abductions on Saturday, and said all of the detained protesters’ whereabouts had been determined.
But Chimiak said that the abductees were released only because of pressure from activists. Their safe return “was the work of civil society”, she said, “since the authorities didn’t provide any information”.
Alfaro blamed the abductions on rogue members of the state’s investigative police, which he alleged had been infiltrated by organised crime and had “disobeyed” orders. Top commanders with the force were subsequently arrested.
“My instructions were not to use violence, to maintain a posture of containment, a peaceful posture on the part of the police,” Alfaro said. “These instructions were disobeyed and disregarded by a group of investigative police officers, who attacked these young people.”
The governor’s accusations of drug cartel infiltration drew skepticism from human rights observers and security experts who noted that Mexico’s security forces have frequently been accused of torture and extrajudicial executions.
“It’s hard to imagine that in the state capital the investigative police act this way without the governor’s knowledge,” said Falko Ernst, senior Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group.
“Either he admits to an utter loss of control or it was business as usual to counteract protests.”
Related: Death of man after face mask arrest shines light on Mexican police brutality
Anti-police protests flared for three days in Guadalajara after video surfaced showing municipal police detaining López on 4 May in the town of Ixtlahuacán de Los Membrillos.
When López’s family went looking for him the day after his arrest they were told he had been taken to a public hospital in Guadalajara.
They found him dead there with a bullet wound in his foot and signs of trauma. An autopsy concluded he had died from traumatic brain injury, according to local media.
Frustrated with a slow-moving official investigation, López’s family released the video on Thursday. That evening, protesters beat down the door of the government palace in central Guadalajara and clashed with police, who repelled them with clubs and teargas.
Alfaro responded to the protests with a video in which he announced three police officers had been arrested for López’s death. He also sacked the entire police force in López’s home town of Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, just south of Guadalajara.
But his actions failed to quell the anger, especially after the governor – a prominent opponent of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador – attributed the violence in Guadalajara to out-of-state agitators and political rivals linked to the president’s party.
“[Alfaro] is playing the victim,” Diego Petersen Farah, columnist with the newspaper El Informador, said of the governor. “But we all watched videos of the police beating and detaining innocent people.”
Source: The Guardian
The Mazatlan Post