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Mass Kidnapping Puts Mexican Legal System On Trial

Jun 13, 2013
Originally published on July 2, 2013 4:00 pm

Josephina Garcia Rodriguez and Leticia Ponce Ramos sip coffee and console each other at a restaurant in front of Mexico City's prosecutor's office. They're about to head into a meeting with the lead investigator in the case of their kidnapped sons.

"We're going on three weeks since they were kidnapped," Garcia says. "It's been some difficult days, really hard for us mothers. We just want our sons back home with us."

Garcia's 19-year-old son, Said, was taken from the Heaven bar at about 11 a.m. on May 26. Twelve young adults in all were snatched, just blocks from Mexico City's skyscraper-filled main boulevard near the U.S. and British embassies. Ponce's 16-year-old-son, Jersey, was also among those kidnapped.

She says since then she just feels like the walking dead, as if someone has taken a piece of her. It's not fair, she says, as the tears stream down her face.

Despite the violence that rages in many parts of Mexico, the capital had been unusually calm, with relatively low crime rates. The kidnapping case has put a spotlight on one of the roughest neighborhoods in the capital, Tepito — notorious for selling bootleg merchandise and drugs — and put the city's popular mayor on the defensive.

A Plea For More Police

Kidnappings, which plague a number of countries in Latin America, have skyrocketed in Mexico over the past decade.

The missing are all from Tepito, an outdoor shopping area where vendors sell everything from a 9 mm pistol to a bootleg copy of the latest Iron Man movie.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera says he wants to see this crime solved. He's peppered with questions about the case almost daily.

On Monday, Mancera told reporters that he has given everyone in his Cabinet clear instructions: He wants results, and if he doesn't get them, they'll be out of a job.

The next day, his top official for social development was in Tepito highlighting the work she has done in the rough neighborhood. Rose Isela Rodriguez ordered city workers to paint crumbling sidewalks, pick up trash and clear clogged sewer drains.

Longtime resident Juana Consuelo Moreno says that the strong arm of the law is needed in the neighborhood — a firm police crackdown to bring order and civility to Tepito.

'A National Scandal'

Authorities say a rivalry between local gangs may have led to the kidnapping. Two of the people taken from the bar are sons of jailed crime bosses.

Mancera, the mayor, says all the bad press about the case is hurting Mexico City's image and chastised reporters for talking poorly about the city.

Juan Francisco Torres Landa heads a group called Mexico United Against Crime. "This is now a national scandal," he says.

Residents aren't worried about their image, Torres says; they want justice. As a result, all of Mexico's judicial system is on trial.

"If they fail, I can assure you the effects will be felt by police departments and district attorneys all over the place," he says.

Four people are under investigation in the case, including one of the club's owners. The Heaven bar remains closed. And no one has claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping.

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Despite the violence engulfing many parts of Mexico, the capital, Mexico City, has been unusually calm. Crime rates are relatively low. But last month, 12 young people were kidnapped in broad daylight from an afterhours bar. The crime has shaken Mexico City and put a spotlight on one of the roughest neighborhoods in the capital as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Josephina Garcia Rodriguez and Leticia Ponce Ramos sip coffee and console each other at a restaurant in front of Mexico City's prosecutor's office. They're about to head into a meeting with the lead investigator in the case of their kidnapped sons.

JOSEPHINA GARCIA RODRIGUEZ: (Through Translator) We're going on three weeks since they were kidnapped. It's been difficult some days, really hard for us mothers. We just want our sons back home with us.

KAHN: Garcia's 19-year-old son, Said, was taken from the Heavens bar at around 11 in the morning on May 26th. Twelve young adults in all were snatched, just blocks from Mexico City's skyscraper-filled main boulevard near the U.S. and British embassies. Ponce's 16-year-old son, Jersey, was among those kidnapped.

LETICIA PONCE RAMOS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: She says, since then, she just feels like the walking dead. It's as if someone has taken a piece of her. It's not fair, she says, as the tears stream down her face. It's not fair. The kidnapping and daily developments in the case have riveted Mexico and raised fears that the crime gripping other parts of the country has hit the capital. Kidnappings countrywide have skyrocketed in the last decade. The missing are all from one of Mexico City's roughest neighborhoods, Tepito, an outdoor shopping area where vendors sell everything from a 9-millimeter pistol to a bootleg copy of the latest "Iron Man" movie. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera says he wants to see this crime solved. Almost daily, he's peppered with questions about the case.

MAYOR MIGUEL ANGEL MANCERA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: At this exchange with reporters on Monday, Mancera says he's given everyone in his cabinet clear instructions. He wants results. If he doesn't get them, then they will be gone. The next day, his head of social development was out in Tepito highlighting the work she's done in the rough neighborhood.

ROSE ISELA RODRIGUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Rose Isela Rodriguez ordered city workers to paint crumbled sidewalks, pick up trash and clear clogged sewer drains.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)

KAHN: This elderly man plays for pesos in front of a soup stand selling migas, day-old bread soak in chili broth flavored with boneless pork shanks.

JUANA CONSUELO MORENO: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Juana Consuelo Moreno says we need the strong arm of the law here, a firm police crackdown to bring order and civility to Tepito. Authorities say a rivalry between local gangs may have led to the kidnapping. Two taken from the bar are sons of jailed crime bosses. Mayor Mancera says all the bad press about the case is hurting Mexico City's image and chastised reporters for talking poorly about the city.

JUAN FRANCISCO TORRES LANDA: This is now a national scandal.

KAHN: Juan Francisco Torres Landa, who heads a group called Mexico United Against Crime, says residents aren't worried about their image. They want justice. Torres says all of Mexico's judicial system is on trial here.

LANDA: If they fail, I can assure you the effects will be felt by police departments and district attorneys all over the place.

KAHN: Four people are under investigation in the case, including one of the club's owners. The Heavens bar remains closed, and no one has claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.