EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Human rights activists say more than 100,000 people in Mexico are missing after being targeted by criminals, and a lawyer who represents families displaced from their farms and a teacher who opposed illegal mining in the state of Michoacan joined the list a few days ago.
Now family members and several international organizations have started a media blitz to press Mexican authorities into looking for them and bring their abductors to justice.
“The authorities act as if they are doing us a favor when it is their obligation,” said Antoine Lagunes, brother of missing Michoacan attorney Ricardo Lagunes Gasca. “We want them to knock on doors, we want them to do their jobs. It inspires fear to live in a country where any criminal can come and take our lives, take everything from us, and nothing happens.”
Ricardo Lagunes and Indigenous environmental activist and educator Antonio Diaz Valencia went missing on Jan. 15 as they drove from Michoacan to the neighboring state of Colima. Police found their bullet-riddled car but no bodies shortly after.
Relatives believe they may still be alive because a video surfaced on social media on Jan. 19 in which Diaz appears making a statement regarding the mayor of Aquila, Michoacan. Local authorities told Mexican news media that Diaz was recorded while being interrogated by members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
“It is alarming they disappeared for defending people’s rights,” said Rita Robles, coordinator in Mexico of Alianza Americas, a Chicago-based immigrant advocacy organization. “We make an urgent call to authorities in Michoacan and Colima states and the Republic of Mexico to locate them. We make an urgent call for the kidnappers to free them.”
UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor echoed the advocacy groups’ request. “Human Rights defenders Antonio Diaz Valencia and Ricardo Lagunes Gasca have been missing for more than two weeks in Mexico. The State must redouble efforts to determine their whereabouts,” Lawlor tweeted on Tuesday.
The activists said Ricardo Lagunes had an extensive resume in environmental protection litigation and advising victims of human rights abuses in Mexico. “He accompanied survivors of the Acteal, Chiapas, massacre. He led the resistance against mega-development projects in Chiapas and in Atenco, near the (proposed) airport in Texcoco,” Robles said.
Diaz engaged in grassroots activism in Indigenous communities where illegal mining is rife and gangs associated with drug cartels try to strong-arm people out of their land, she said.
Alianza Americas and the American Friends Service Committee are participating in a signature-gathering campaign in the United States for the Mexican federal government to get involved in an investigation, which they believe two local governments are doing little about. The signatures and letters are to be delivered to Mexican consulates in the U.S.
“More than 50 land and environmental activists have been murdered in Mexico and there have been numerous threats, intimidation and physical violence,” said Guadalupe de la Cruz, program director in Florida for the American Friends Service Committee. “We want the government to guarantee the lives of the families of the disappeared and (the lives of) community members who are holding protests in highways and near the mining companies,” she said. “We demand (Diaz and Ricardo Lagunes) be returned alive.”
Antoine Lagunes said he and the rest of his family have requested protection from the Mexican government against possible retaliation by the cartels or by local government officials in league with the cartels.
“That is no guarantee. My brother supposedly was under protection, and he was still forcefully disappeared,” he said.