Horror and Hope: Yolanda's Story
A mother’s tireless efforts to search for her missing son tell a tale of horror and hope in Mexico
by Kathy Price, Amnesty International Canada's campaigner on Latin America
More than two years have passed since I met Yolanda but I have never forgotten her or the harrowing story she told me.
Yolanda’s son Dan Jeremeel, an insurance agent living in northern Mexico and the father of four young children, disappeared in December 2008. He left the house according to his normal routine. But he never returned. He was never seen again.
Like any loving mother, Yolanda did all she could to try to find her son. After discovering that a Mexican soldier had been caught with her son’s car and possessions, Yolanda approached the military, asking for their help to investigate, to find her son and return him to his family - all to no avail. Yolanda got no information, no answers. Instead she received dismissals, snide innuendos and even threats.
Yet Yolanda refused to give up her search. How could she? Without a proper investigation or evidence about the fate of her son, Yolanda was tortured by the hope that her son might still be alive somewhere, waiting to be rescued.
Yolanda Moran Isais
Yolanda is not the only mother to live this nightmare. According to a new report released by Amnesty International today, at least 26,000 people were reported missing or disappeared in Mexico over the last six years. It is a staggering number. But authorities in Mexico have systematically failed to take the reports seriously and conduct proper investigations, no matter whether they were abductions committed by criminal gangs acting alone or enforced disappearances in which public officials have colluded or participated. This means the fate and whereabouts of the victims remains unknown and virtually no one has been brought justice, perpetuating a climate where such crimes are tolerated.
It is a deeply troubling scenario. Many victims, like Yolanda’s son, were on routine journeys when they were stopped by armed men or at security force checkpoints. Some had just left their homes briefly to go to a nearby store or to visit a friend but never returned. Some happened to stumble across criminal activity, sometimes involving public officials. Some were themselves police officers and soldiers. Others were stopped by traffic police for spurious traffic offences and handed over to criminal gangs or other security force agencies.
But the good news, the hope, in this horrendous story is that ordinary yet extraordinary women like Yolanda and other family members of the disappeared are tirelessly, courageously refusing to accept injustice. In many parts of Mexico, they are joining together to support each other and to press for action. Their efforts have forced the government to take notice and make some important promises, such as creating a special unit to search for the disappeared.
These are as yet small-scale, isolated measures which are insufficient to address the magnitude of the problem, the scale of involvement of public officials, and the consistent failure to conduct proper investigations.
Canadians have a special relationship with Mexico. Many of us have travelled there on repeated occasions for wonderful winter escapes. Our government cooperates with the Mexican government via the North American Free Trade Agreement and other programs of collaboration. It is crucial that we use our leverage to call for effective action without delay to end the epidemic of disappearances in Mexico. It is imperative that we raise our voices with Yolanda and support her struggle for truth, justice and an end to the suffering.
Take Action Now
Mexican authorities have a duty to investigate these crimes, but they are failing in this duty, perpetuating a climate of impunity which puts further people at risk of being disappeared.
You can take action for Human Rights: demand Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico, take effective action without delay to confront the nightmare of disappearances.
To learn more about stories like Yolanda's, and the problem of disappearances in Mexico, please read Amensty International's report "Confronting a Nightmare - Disappearances in Mexico."