On the morning of Feb. 25 Mexican soldiers reported finding the bodies of María Magdalena (“Malena”) Reyes Salazar, her brother Elías Reyes Salazar and Elías’ wife, Luisa Ornelas Soto, by the Juárez-Porvenir highway, some three kilometers from their home in Guadalupe Distrito Bravos, near Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua. The three had been kidnapped by unidentified armed men on Feb. 7. [We first reported, following our source, that they were seized while riding in a truck; some reports now say they were taken from their home.] Six members of the Reyes Salazar family have been murdered in the past two years.
Family members had responded to the abduction with protests to demand that the state and federal governments locate the three kidnapping victims and protect the rest of the family. Malena and Elías’ sisters Claudia and Marisela Reyes Salazar were carrying out hunger strikes in front of government offices—Claudia in Ciudad Juárez and Marisela in Mexico City—when they received word that the bodies had been found.
In an emotional press conference on Feb. 25, Marisela Reyes Salazar lashed out at Jorge González Nicolás, a Chihuahua state prosecutor, and at Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, who ordered the militarization of the fight against narco-trafficking in the northern states soon after taking office in December 2006; the toll from this “war on drugs” is now over 35,000. González Nicolás was “useless,” Marisela Reyes said, and should resign “because he doesn’t know how to do his job.” Calderón, she continued, should “withdraw his troops” and end this “stupid and dirty war that he’s got. We, the people, didn’t ask for it, and we don’t need it.”
The series of attacks on the family began in 2008 when Josefina Reyes Salazar, another of the siblings, charged that the army had disappeared her son Miguel Ángel, who was later jailed in Tamaulipas state for alleged ties to organized crime. Another son, Julio César, was murdered in 2009. Josefina, a former local official and a member of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), continued to protest against the military. She herself was murdered on Jan. 3, 2010; afterwards the military searched her home three times. Her brother Rubén, also a former official and a PRD member, was murdered on Aug. 18. On Feb. 15 of this year, a week after the kidnapping of Malena and Elías Reyes Salazar and Luisa Ornela, unidentified persons used Molotov cocktails to set the house of Sara Salazar, the mother of Josefina, Rubén, Malena and Elías, on fire.
Some Mexican activists suspect involvement by members of the military and point to what appears to be a calculated effort to depict the family as criminals with drug connections. Malena and Elías Reyes Salazar and Luisa Ornela seem to have been buried soon after they were murdered, but once the case had drawn national and international attention, their bodies were dug up and placed in a visible location at the highway. Notes were found with the corpses; these reportedly contained death threats against Marisela Reyes Salazar and warned her to admit that she came from a family of hit men and thugs.
“How convenient, how timely,” the Cerezo Mexico Committee Human Rights Organization wrote on Feb. 25. The group, which was formed to defend three brothers imprisoned for an alleged bomb plot in 2001, added: “If we forgot the causes that motivated these acts, we might…think the state is right when it explains that they were connected with crime, but let’s remember that the struggle that the Reyes Salazar family took on was and continues to be against the militarization, against the narco-paramilitary state…” (El Diario, Ciudad Juárez, Feb. 25; Cerezo Committee, Feb. 25; La Jornada, Mexico, Feb. 26, Feb. 27)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 27.
See our last post on Mexico.