MEXICO CITY (AP) — The mothers of two of the 11 young people kidnapped from a Mexico City bar in a shocking, daylight abduction acknowledged Friday that the youths’ fathers are serving prison sentences for drug-related crimes.
Authorities have been searching desperately for motives in the abductions early Sunday at a bar just off the city’s leafy, skyscraper-lined main boulevard, blocks from police headquarters and the U.S. Embassy. It followed the May 9 beating death of Malcolm Shabazz, grandson of the late Malcolm X, in a fight over a bill at another rough Mexico City bar. Two waiters have been arrested in that killing.
People who worked near the bar involved in Sunday’s abductions long suspected it was connected to drug traffickers or criminals because of the shady characters, street disputes and flashy cars that were frequently seen outside.
Authorities have found no recorded incidents like the witness described so far on the surveillance tapes, Mexico City Attorney General Rodolfo Rios told Radio Formula on Friday. “We don’t have a single precise piece of evidence so far on exactly what happened,” he said.
The mothers of those abducted said Friday that authorities may be too eager to look for a possible drug connection because of the fathers and the fact that the youths are from the rough-and-tumble Tepito neighborhood, known for decades as Mexico City’s main contraband market.
The fathers of two of the youths were arrested in 2003 in connection with killings, robberies and drug dealing. It was not immediately clear which of those crimes resulted in convictions, but both men — viewed as top criminal figures in Tepito — are now serving prison sentences at maximum-security facilities.
Leticia Ponce, whose 16-year-old son Jerzy is among the missing, acknowledged that his father is convict Jorge Ortiz Reyes, alias “The Tank.”
But she said nobody who wanted revenge for her husband’s past crimes would have waited 10 years.
“If somebody wanted to do something to us, they would have already kidnapped us,” said Ponce, shaking with sobs.
“It has nothing to do with this,” she said of the disappearance of her son and his friends.
Rather than focusing on the youths’ backgrounds, she said, authorities should recognize that the mass abductions that drug cartels have carried out for years in other parts of Mexico have now arrived in Mexico City.
“Today it is us, tomorrow who else will it be?” Ponce said. “Here in this city, this is already starting to be seen. Today it us, but tomorrow it could be your child, or yours,” she said, pointing to reporters.
Josefina Garcia, the mother of 19-year-old Said Sanchez Garcia, also acknowledged that the youth’s father, Alejandro Sanchez, has been in prison for more than 10 years on drug-related charges. Like Ponce, Garcia said her husband’s past had nothing to do with her son’s disappearance.
“My husband has been locked up for many years,” Garcia said. “He doesn’t have any problems with anybody, he doesn’t mess with anybody. So that would be a long time for that to keep having consequences, right?”
Rumors also spread that the abductions might be the result of one of Mexico’s major drug cartels trying to break into the lucrative black market of Tepito, a centuries-old, roughly 150-block area in the crumbling heart of Mexico City that has been traditionally controlled by local mafias and families.
City officials in the past have said the cartels sometimes move money or drugs through the city, but don’t really base themselves or operate from the capital, in part because its crowded streets and 70,000-member police force make it hard to operate in the convoys and armed squads the cartels favor.
In the narrow, winding streets of Tepito, ranks of street-market stalls selling knock-off sneakers and pirated CDs cut off automobile access. Youths riding motorbikes, often two to a bike, are the main form of transport. Garbage is piled on previously agreed on street corners, and warehouses full of auto parts of dubious origin spill their contents out onto the streets.
Residents say many of the killings in Tepito are carried out by youths on motorbikes, the one on front driving and the one riding behind firing 9 mm-pistols.
Alma, a 21-year-old college-prep student, said it is common to see kids as young as 10 hanging out on the streets at all hours of the night, and noted that their role models are the men with flashy motorcycles and cars and no visible means of income.
Crime is so bad here that local businessmen now fund a 17-member security force made up largely of tattooed ex-cons, who patrol the streets looking for thieves; once caught, suspects are turned over to police.
Miguel Barcenas, an imposing ex-cop dressed in black who heads the force, which is armed only with radios, said he’s heard rumors about the cartels like La Familia Michoacana or the Zetas are coming in, but thinks Tepito is probably too tough even for them.
“There are people who say The Family are coming in, the Zetas are coming,” Barcenas said. “But I don’t really think that is going to happen, because the people here are very united, very war-like.”
The mass kidnapping also focused additional spotlights on Mexico City’s rough, largely unregulated bar scene.
The bar where the youths disappeared was operating with a different name than the one listed on an operating license that expired in 2009 and was never renewed. Nonetheless, the bar continued to operate openly. Humberto Huerta, a spokesman for the city borough office that is responsible for inspecting bars and other businesses, noted his office only has 16 inspectors to oversee 60,000 businesses in the borough.
AP Writer Adriana Gomez Licon contributed to this report