Americans Missing In Mexico

James Pinkerton, Houston Chronicle, September 6, 2007

It was a routine day for labor attorney Mario Perera Riveroll, defending American companies in a civil court across the Rio Grande in a Mexican bordertown.

Mario Perera Riveroll, 44, is one of 50 U.S. citizens who have disappeared and are still missing in Mexico, including 33 who vanished in Mexican towns along the Texas border, according to FBI officials. Some of these cases date to 2004.

The unresolved fate of these Americans has brought heartbreak, anguish and misery to their relatives, as well as frustration to U.S. law enforcement authorities who have no jurisdiction to investigate the missing in Mexico.

The cases are a mix of abductions related to the drug trade along the border, kidnappings for ransom, abductions to settle personal disputes as well as cases of mistaken identity, U.S. officials said. In some cases, the motives are unknown.

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William C. Slemaker, whose 27-year-old stepdaughter, Yvette J. Martinez, and a girlfriend disappeared in Nuevo Laredo in September 2004, advocates mounting a U.S. trade embargo until Mexico provides information on the missing.

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Slemaker said there are actually 31 U.S. citizens missing in Nuevo Laredo alone, more than the FBI’s tally, explaining the victim’s families are afraid to report the abductions.

No results yet

In violence-torn Nuevo Laredo, 71 U.S. citizens have been reported kidnapped since mid-2004. Forty-two were returned alive, two are dead and 27 remain missing, according to the FBI.

FBI officials say they’ve met with Mexican authorities to resolve the case of Perera and other missing Americans and have been told additional investigators have been assigned in Mexico. But so far, there have been no results.

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In Laredo, acting Mexican Consul Javier Abud Osuna said, “From the beginning, the Mexican government took this issue as a very important one.”

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One high-ranking U.S. law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said many of those missing were involved with Mexican drug cartels fighting for control of border trade routes. But some of the missing, he noted, were abducted because one cartel suspected they were helping a rival trafficking gang or had other disputes.

“We think they are all, to a certain extent, organized crime-related, but not all are drug-related,” the veteran agent explained. “A criminal organization may stoop to a crime other than drug trafficking—we know they’re involved in alien smuggling. And there have been kidnappings for ransom, and there’s the category of the unknown, where we don’t know why this person is missing.”

Little hope of being solved

Whatever the reason for the disappearances, several U.S. experts who study Mexico’s legal system say there is little reason to believe the cases ever will be resolved.

Border expert Tony Payan, a professor of political science at the University of Texas at El Paso, said Mexican police are “extremely incompetent,” poorly trained and lack sufficient forensic equipment or laboratories to conduct complex investigations.

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Work of Gulf Cartel?

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FBI agents in Laredo confirmed they have discussed the case with Mexican authorities in Nuevo Laredo.

“I don’t have a lot a faith in them, or their system,” Carmen Lopez, a Laredo school district administrator and wife of Sergio Lopez, said of Mexican officials. “I never hear from them unless I call them.”

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