Chronicle of a kidnapping: former SMC student searches for missing brother amid Mexico's drug war
Nansi Cisneros is still searching for her brother. On the afternoon of Oct. 19, in the small city of Tala, Mexico, 30 miles from Guadalajara, someone came for Javier Cisneros.
A white Toyota Tacoma pulled up to Javier's home where he was with his friends. Men in bulletproof vests exited the car, brandishing shotguns.
His mother, who lives six houses down, came out when she heard shots fired. She watched as the men dragged her son away from the house and into the car.
"Mom, me van a matar," he screamed, which means "Mom, they are going to kill me."
* * *
Javier joins a long list of disappearances and kidnappings that have drowned Mexico in a silent sorrow since the Drug War erupted in 2006.
Cisneros, a former Santa Monica College student, does not know where her brother is, or if he is even alive. Now, she is determined to find out what happened to her brother, and hopefully reunite with him.
Since former Mexican President Felipe Calderon sent in the army to practically invade large swathes of Mexico to fight the cartels in 2006, an inferno of violence has gripped towns and cities as criminal gangs fracture, new cells form, and turf rivalries intensify.
There has been little respite under the new administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto. Even the lauded arrest in Feb. of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, kingpin of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, by the Mexican army has done little to quell the raging turf wars. Instead communities still live under the shadow of the criminal underworld's ferocity.
"It has been violent," Cisneros said. "They've found bodies in pieces in trash bags. It's been all over the country, but in the pueblos in this area they've kidnapped a lot of people. A lot have been young."
The kidnapping rate in Mexico has been steadily growing. According to the country's National Institute of Statistics and Geography, there have been 105,682 kidnapping cases in Mexico the last year, with many more possibly going unreported.
"Six months ago, a guy from this town, whose family has been here for a long time, was arrested and he's in prison now for kidnapping people from his own town," Cisneros said. "There are different cartels fighting for this area."
Cisneros grew up in Los Angeles along with her brother, and studied at the Teton Science School in Kelly, Wyoming, an institute which specializes in scientific fields. She studied for a certificate in field ecology, before attending SMC.
Her brother, who is a tattoo artist, was not born in the United States, and was deported back to Mexico after an altercation with a police officer.
"He would get into a lot of fights," she said. "In one of the fights, he had a fight with an undercover cop. He was picking up his girlfriend from school."
In Mexico, Javier married and had a daughter, who is now seven-years-old. The marriage ended in divorce, but Javier never lost devotion for his daughter, Cisneros said.
During her time at SMC, Cisneros helped form a campus group known as the Revolutionary Student Collective. It was comprised of members who shared an interest in politics and found inspiration in movements like Mexico's Zapatistas and Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution.
A car accident forced Cisneros to quit her studies for a while, and she found work as a pharmacist. She had come home from work when her older brother Adrian Cisneros, who lives in Texas, called her with the news that their brother was kidnapped.
Cisneros drove immediately and arranged a flight to Guadalajara. Upon arrival, she found her mother distraught.
"She had tried to run after the truck," Cisneros said. "But while this was happening there were people outside. When they saw the commotion, they all ran back into their houses."
When the police arrived at the crime scene, the situation did not get any better.
"I was on the phone with one of the cops and I said 'you have to secure the crime scene and take my mom's statement," she said. "He said, 'no, you have to wait until 10 a.m.'"
The day after the kidnapping, Cisneros' sister, who lives with their mother, went to the local police station and was brushed off.
"They said they had other cases; too many cases they were working on," Cisneros said.
So far, the family has not received an update, or a police report on the kidnapping.
"They're afraid because they know who did it, or they're involved," Cisneros said.
She suspects, along with other residents, that the police might be in league with local narcos which would explain the lack of progress in investigating the ongoing rash of kidnappings.
Even the house where the kidnapping occurred remains an untouched crime scene with shell casings and dried blood still on the floor.
This past Sept. the Associated Press reported on the capture of at least four Mexico City police officers who were involved in kidnappings around the metropolis. How far this trend extends into places like Tala remains unclear.
For Cisneros, the wave of kidnappings and murder are but one symptom of a country with a system that is fatally ill.
"You have cops that get paid eight dollars a day. They're not going to risk their lives. Then you have other people offering them twenty dollars a day to look the other way," she said.
According to Cisneros, a valuable track of highway that runs through Tala has become the prized object of the local narco wars because of its importance as a route for smuggling drugs.
Still, she insists on visiting the Ministerio Publico (Public Ministry, where the police are headquartered) regularly to demand answers that never come.
Since the evening of the kidnapping, Cisneros' mother has been afraid to walk out anywhere, and the family has now changed locations for safety. In Tala, this is not uncommon.
"People who experience this just move," Cisneros said. "They leave, and never come back." The shadow of the cartels and their terrible violence has left her neighbors in Tala afraid, and no one will come forward with information.
"I have received messages from people saying, 'I am so sorry for what happened to your brother. I saw everything, it was terrible,' but no one wants to give information," she said. "No one wants to talk."
* * *
Cisneros still has no answers as to why her brother was kidnapped. Other, similar disappearances have ended in terrible, macabre fashion.
"They found a girl, she was naked, she was dead," Cisneros said. "This was a block away from where my brother was taken."
Cisneros has made frequent trips to a local mortuary where the dead are put on display for families to identify. When the dawn finds tattooed corpses in town she makes the dreaded journey alone to see if finally, her brother has been found.
"If the body isn't too decomposed, they show it to you," she explained. "Fortunately it's never been him."
Sadly enough, this isn't the first time members of Cisneros's family have been engulfed by the local violence
"One of my cousins was raped and beheaded in 2005," she revealed. "It was in the same town, she was 20."
In 2013, Human Rights Watch issued a report detailing at least 140 disappearance cases in which the involvement of federal agents was suspected.
In April, Cisneros returned to California for a few weeks to try and make contact with the Mexican embassy to no avail.
"I'm thinking the ambassador is here, he's safe, while people go missing everyday. I've emailed so many people and get nothing," she said.
Cisneros and her family have even reached out to social media for possible answers, despite the possible danger and unreliability involved. Anonymous emails and phone calls have arrived with false leads.
One such Facebook message resulted in Cisneros and her mother wiring money to a bank account number after information on her brother was promised, only for the source to then disappear.
A source of frustration in the United States is that while Cisneros has received many words of support from friends and local activists, there isn't much follow through in terms of actions.
"I have a lot of friends who step up and say 'I'm going to do this and that,' and then, nothing. I know they have their own lives and it's not priority," Cisneros said. "I know what I'm doing is dangerous, but it doesn't matter. I know my brother would be doing even more."
For now, she has made contact with the group Nuestra Aparente Rendicion (Our Apparent Rendition), a movement of families demanding answers over their disappeared loved ones in Mexico who organize marches and activities to raise awareness.
Families and others who have gone through similar situations, have reached out to her sharing their stories and tales of government inefficiency.
Cisneros believes that Mexico's situation can only change if the people awaken from their despair and change the system itself.
"The people have to get angry enough to make it change. If they don't stand up for themselves nothing's going to change," she said.
* * *
In the meantime, Cisneros has only been able to contact her brother in the night, in her sleep when she dreams .
"I saw myself going to one of our family properties in Tala," Cisneros said, tears swelling in her eyes. "I open the door and the first person I see is my brother sitting in a chair, he looked at me and I couldn't believe I had him in front of me, looking back at me. I kiss his forehead and I tell him how much I've missed him and that I love him. He just smiled, but he never said a word. Then I woke up."
Her story is but one in a firmament of sorrow as she asks who will return her brother, and a nation asks, who then will dry Mexico's tears?