| Carola Sole |
COCULA, Mexico (AFP) – A year before Mexico’s latest nightmare – the disappearance of 43 students – there was another night of terror in a neighbouring town when gunmen broke into homes and took people away, mainly youths.
Prosecutors in the southern state of Guerrero say they have received complaints over the disappearance of six people in the wee hours of July 1, 2013 in the village of Cocula.
But relatives of the victims put the number at 17, and say some people will not come forth because they fear police are in on the crime.
“Here everyone knows everything. You hear everything, and people spoke of 17 missing,” said Cesar Penaloza, mayor of Cocula, a town of 4,300 located 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Mexico City.
One of the families that did file a complaint is that of Victor Albarran, an adolescent. His mother, Maura Varela, constantly relives that night of hell, which started with the arrival of a commando of 50 men.
“They were shooting all over the street,” Varela recalls.
She and her husband rushed to get their kids out of bed and hide them in the basement. But they missed Victor. He was in the bathroom.
When the mother came up to look for her 15-year-old son, three hooded men shot their way into the house. They shot at the floor, kicked Victor, and after asking in vain for his older brothers, put him in a pickup truck where other hostages were already waiting. Many of them were young people, Varela said.
“I went after them, asking them not to take him away, as he was young, but they did not care,” the 43-year-old mother said, crying. She is one of few neighbours willing to give her name.
“It seemed like a war. There were many explosions and people woke up afraid, without wanting to go outside,” said Alfonso, a neighbour also wary of talking because he himself was abducted a year ago.
Residents say they never heard again from the 17, and that the police and soldiers who were sent in to investigate left the town six weeks later, having found nothing in their search.
Witnesses say they think the perpetrators of the attack were members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, looking for members of the rival La Familia gang, which is dominant in the region.
Guerreros Unidos is accused of taking part in the shooting attacks against dozens of students in a rural teaching college on the night of September 26 in Iguala.
Forty-three students are still missing, and the crime has triggered outrage both in Mexico and abroad.
According to prosecutors, police from Iguala and Cocula turned over the students to henchmen of the Guerreros Unidos who, according to the testimony of detained members, probably killed and buried the students.
Cocula is separated from Iguala by a road surrounded by a scenic mountain range. But behind the lovely hills lies a veritable cemetery of victims of violence.
Since the start of the year, mass graves holding more than 80 sets of remains have been found in these hills, again shining light on the horror of missing people in Mexico.
Some 22,000 people have disappeared since the government sent in troops to fight the cartels in 2006.
Prosecutors say that of 28 sets of remains dug up since the disappearance of the students, none pertain to the 43 who have been missing since late last month.
Victor is not among the 28 either.
“It takes a bit of weight off my shoulders,” his mother said.
Before 14 police officers were arrested in the case of the missing students, the force had already triggered anger and suspicion among townspeople for not opposing the assault in 2013.
The mayor recalls that police told him they feared for their lives. After the attack, six of them resigned.
“Many police have not had physical or psychological training. Many do not even know how to handle a gun,” he said.
With no sign of Victor, his mother asks that the government not only look for the students but the other vanished as well.
“I want them to help me get him back, and if he is dead I want to know because I believe one cannot live like this, with this constant anxiety.”