Neither the Mexican Navy nor the federal police are welcome in several municipalities scattered around middle and southern Jalisco, a position that citizens of these locales vigorously asserted vis-a-vis protests against said entities mounted last week.
While the recent disappearance of a young Tuxpan man is the main source of the manifestations, animus towards the navy and federal police have been building for years.
Popular discontent flared up Saturday, February 3 when residents of Ocotlan, a town on the northeast shore of Lake Chapala known for its furniture industry, blocked roadways near government buildings with rocks and burning tires.
The protests stem from the disappearance of 17-year-old Ulises Adair Cardona Flores of Tuxpan, who was abducted in Tecalitlan by officers of the naval armed forces (who have a base in nearby Zapotiltic), Monday, January 22. The boy’s whereabouts are to date unknown.
The case of Cardona Flores parallels that of Marco Antonio Sanchez Flores (no relation), arrested Tuesday, January 23 in Mexico City. Five days later, he resurfaced, appearing before media outlets with bruises and abrasions on his face.
What exactly happened during Sanchez Flores’ five-day sequester is a hotly contested mystery. Three of the four officers involved claimed the arrest and subsequent detention of the boy was undertaken at all times according to established legal protocols.
However, according to Juan Martin Perez Garcia, executive director of non-profit Network for the Rights of Children, the boy was the victim of arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and quite possibly torture.
“His wounds are the responsibility of the authorities who last had contact with him,” said Perez Garcia. “Everything that happened we presuppose were caused by them, for which we need to look into the possibility of torture.”
Casting further doubt on the officers’ version of events is the fact that two of them fled to avoid questioning or prosecution.
The protests in Ocotlan – and similar ones at the Zaopiltic Naval Base and Mazamitla – are being fueled not just by the disappearance of Ulises Cardona and (possibly) the Sanchez Flores debacle. Among the protestors in both Mazamita and Ocotlan were family members of the 42 people who were killed during a raid on a ranch by federal police in Tanhuato, Michoacan, May 22, 2015. According to Human Rights Watch, there is ample evidence that federal police took part in extra-judicial killings during the raid, many of them against unarmed civilians.
While Ulises Adair Cardona Flores has yet to turn up, his friend Moises Alejandro Cardenas, detained together with Cardona Flores, turned up several hours later, alive but severely injured.
While the image of blockades of burning tires may convey an impression that protests in Ocotlan were violent, local authorities report that, so far, there are no injuries and that no property, vehicular or otherwise, has been damaged. Two members of the town’s police force were detained, however, for allegedly supplying tires to irate citizens. The officers deny the charges, saying they were there to collect tires, rather than hand them out.