That is the story of Margarita Lopez Perez, the mother of disappeared 19-year-old Yahaira Guadalupe Bahena Lopez. Lopez Perez’s expensive journey to find the truth led her to incarcerated drug traffickers who admitted to killing her child. In great detail, they told her the horror Yahaira endured. “They told me that they kidnapped my daughter, that they had her alive for many days,” she said, “They were torturing her, raping her, before taking her to a faraway place, and decapitating her alive.” Then, they played with her head, kicking it around like a soccer ball and kissing her cold lips. “They told me she was innocent, that they made a mistake,” said Lopez Perez.
In Mexico, many of the drug war’s dead are innocents. In the six years of drug war that have ravaged the country, more than 60,000 are dead and more than 10,000 are missing. Because only 2 percent of cases are granted judicial review, families of the lost regularly become their own investigators. They find, too often, horrors tied to the authorities themselves.
Olga Reyes Salazar knows this truth too well. She is from a family of human rights defenders; her sister Josefina Reyes Salazar denounced military abuses in Chihuahua after the drug war deployed troops to her neighborhood. In 2008, Josefina’s 25-year-old son Julio Cesar Reyes was shot and killed near a military checkpoint, kicking off a string of demonstrations and suspicious murders occurring near active military. The family continued to protest against military abuses, demanding investigations into the murders of their relatives, but their efforts were not well-received. Death plucked off the Reyes family like the petals on a flower. When they protested for justice, their homes were burned, and more fell.
Olga lost six of her relatives by the end of 2011. Their bodies were left by highways. Flowers from a defaced Reyes grave appeared in a nearby military garden. Molotov cocktails awakened them in the night. Now, the Reyes name is one of warning. “The family has become an example for the people of the town,” said Olga. There, signs warn troublemakers to leave or end up like the Reyes family.
The US backs, and even trains, Mexico’s military, despite allegations of human rights abuses. Eliana Garcia, a former political prisoner turned Mexican congresswoman who is an adviser to Mexican politicians, says the most deadly Mexican military force is the navy, and she is quick to note its training by US Navy SEALs.