Jalisco authorities investigating the disappearance of three Italian men in the town of Tecalitlan are focusing their attention on the local police force, reports suggest.
Antonio Russo, 25, Raffaele Russo, 60, and Vincenzo Cimmino, 29, all from the southern Italian metropolis of Naples, were reported missing by Francesco Russo – Raffaele’s son and Antonio’s brother – on February 1.
According to family members in Naples, the last thing they heard from their relatives before losing contact was that they were being stopped on the highway by a police vehicle and two motorcycles.
Following their initial investigations, the Jalisco Attorney General Office’s confirmed that 33 members of Tecalitlan’s municipal police force have been disarmed and confined to the barracks of the Jalisco police academy, while state officers have taken over policing in the municipality. The town’s police chief, Hugo Enrique Martinez Muñiz, is nowhere to be found, a report in Guadalajara daily Milenio said.
In a statement Thursday, Tecalitlan Mayor Victor Diaz Contreras said he was unable to confirm reports that three municipal police officers had been placed under arrest in connection with the disappearance of the Italian men.
Over the past week, representatives of the Jalisco State government and the Italian Embassy in Mexico City have met on several occasions to discuss developments. Following one of these meetings, State Secretary General Roberto Lopez Lara revealed that the search for the missing men had broadened to Colima and Michoacan.
State Attorney General Raul Sanchez Jimenez said investigators have found inconsistencies with Francesco Russo’s statement, in which he said the men had only recently arrived in Mexico as tourists. In fact, the trio had been in nearby Ciudad Guzman for some time. Other reports suggested that at least one of the three men, if not all, had previously run afoul of the law in Campeche for selling pirated goods.
According to report by the EFE news agency, Francesco Russo said in an interview that his father Raffaele is a pensioner who sells jackets and perfumes in the street to make ends meet. The three men had arrived in Mexico last fall and after spending time in Cancun and Ciudad Guzman, traveled to Tecalitlan on a whim, although they apparently didn’t know anyone in the town.
Media outlets in Naples have been following the case closely, and a banner demanding the release of the three local men was unfurled at the last home game of the Naples soccer team.
Jalisco’s tourism machine, meanwhile, is scrambling to assure the international community – and itself – that the disappearances are an isolated incident, an aberration that ought not to deter anybody contemplating a trip to Mexico.
“As is related to tourism, I’m convinced that Jalisco will not suffer as a result of this incident,” said the Tourism Secretary Enrique Ramos Flores, who added that over 2,000 Italians visit Jalisco annually, a number he believes won’t drop for the foreseeable future.