Update (7 August 2015): According to the police, the women (Nadia, 18-year-old Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, a young Colombian woman, and a Mexican housekeeper whose identities have not been disclosed yet) showed signs of having been sexually abused before being killed.
Although she was originally from Comitán, Chiapas, anthropologist Nadia Vera Pérez, 32, had a precise diagnosis for the crisis of violence and impunity plaguing Veracruz, the state where she did her university studies and where she also lived.
“Here you are the merchandise,” she told the creators of “Veracruz: la fosa olvidada” (“Veracruz: The Forgotten Pit”), a November 2014 report produced by the internet television channel Rompeviento documenting the disappearances in the city of Xalapa and aired in November 2014.
“A ti te agarran como mujer para la trata, a ti como estudiante para el sicariato. Aquí el problema somos todos nosotros, que les estorbamos tanto al Gobierno como al narco; estamos ante dos frentes de represión, ilegal y la legal. Porque el narco es el que gobierna en este estado. El narco es el que está rigiendo; Los Zetas literalmente son los que tienen todo este estado manipulado, regido; aquí te cobran derecho de piso, aquí te cobran por tener un bar, te cobran por trabajar”, dijo la joven egresada de la Universidad Veracruzana y, hasta su muerte, promotora cultural.
“The human traffickers grab you as a woman, the hired killers if you're a student. Here we are all the problem, disturbing the Government as well as the narcos; we're faced with repression on two fronts, the legal and the illegal. Because the narcos are the government in this state. The narcos are the ones in power; the Zetas are literally the ones who manipulate this whole state, rule it; here they charge you use rights, there they charge you to operate a bar, they charge you just to have a job,” said the young University of Veracruz graduate who, up to the time of her death was cultural affairs promoter.
Vera's body was found last Friday, July 31, together with those of other three women and photojournalist Rubén Espinosa, 31, in an apartment in Mexico City's Narvarte section. Vera's body showed signs of “a gunshot wound to the head and multiple abrasions.” Both Espinosa and Vera were well known in Veracruz for publicly denouncing the violence and out-of-control impunity in the city, especially after 2010, when Javier Duarte de Ochoa took the reins of the state government.
“And the context of who Javier Duarte de Ochoa was must be understood: You give a little power to an ignoramus and this is what occurs. Because he's not even conscious of the political cost of anything. They killed Regina Martínez, and nothing happened. They also just killed Gregorio Jiménez, another journalist, and nothing has happened. So many journalists have been murdered, and nothing has happened,” Vera said in the interview.
With a scarf around her neck and sunglasses on her head, the anthropologist stood boldly before the camera and posed questions about the climate of violence that appears to have caught up with her and her friend Rubén in the Mexican capital.
“¿Cuántos defensores, activistas, defensores de derechos humanos han sido asesinados, levantados, desaparecidos. O sea, tenemos un nivel de desaparecidos impresionante, pero tiene que ver también con el personaje que tenemos gobernando, y todavía se está levantando el cuello que es el estado más seguro ahorita. Creo que no tiene un poquito de vergüenza”, agregó.
“How many advocates, activists, human rights defenders have been murdered, kidnapped, disappeared? Or maybe why we have a huge number of disappearances has something to do with the person we have governing us and still proclaiming this to be the safest state right now. I don't think he has the least bit of shame,” she added.
Vera had recently denounced a June 5 machete attack in Xalapa against eight Humanities students and activists from the University of Veracruz who had gathered at a house in the Veracruz state capital. The academic community held the state's Secretary of Public Security Arturo Bermúdez responsible.
— Nadia Vera (@NadiaDVera) June 5, 2015
#Xalapa UV students brutally beaten x hooded/State Terrorism #IfYouTouchOneOfUsYouTouchAllOfUs
The attack on the students triggered the persecutions that photographer Rubén Espinosa began to notice. He started following up the story, but was forced to leave Xalapa on June 9 after suspicious individuals started lurking outside his house.
According to information released yesterday by Veracruz media outlet e-Consulta, Vera had also taken part in the Xalapa Student Assembly, and in 2012 participated in the #YoSoy132 movement—a nationwide movement to repudiate now President Enrique Peña Nieto. That year she was beaten during a demonstration by state police.
e-Consulta added that Nadia had done social work at the Casa Magnolia Cultural Centre, and at that time devoted herself professionally to cultural promotion, directing the Cuadro x Cuadro art festival last May.
“It is necessary to act right now, because we are destroying ourselves. We need to do something ourselves,” the anthropologist said in the Rompeviento interview.
Doubt cast on prosecutor's version
Rafael Rodríguez Castañeda, director of the Proceso news weekly, said it is worrisome that Mexico City's Federal District Attorney General's Office (PGJDF) has stated that Espinosa came to the capital in search of job opportunities, whereas several witnesses have said that he left Veracruz state because he feared for his safety.
“I think the investigation should first focus on the city of Xalapa from which Rubén was fleeing,” said the director of the magazine where Espinosa collaborated with journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva on Radio Fórmula.
Rodríguez Castañeda said that instead of speculating, results must be demanded of the authorities. He suggested that the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) had a necessary role to play in the investigations.
Pedro Valtierra, director of the photographic agency Cuartoscuro, said that Espinosa “arrived very scared” from Veracruz. “That comment about him coming calmly—he told me that he was actually very afraid.”
Valtierra recalled that Espinosa intimated to colleagues on several occasions that he would be persecuted even in the capital. “What could have happened to make them terrorize a young man to such an extent?”
But at a press conference on August 2, Mexico City Attorney General Rodolfo Ríos Garza insisted that Espinosa “had been in the Federal District for two months looking for new job opportunities.”
According to the Attorney General's Office, the bodies of Espinosa, Vera and two of the women were found in the bedrooms, and one more in the bathroom. Each one, said Attorney General Rodolfo Ríos, had a bullet wound to the head from a 9 millimeter weapon, “as well as abrasions on various parts, presumably due to the initial struggle prior to submitting to what they were subjected to.”
Sources consulted by SinEmbargo added that the bodies showed signs of having undergone prolonged torture. No neighbour, however, reported hearing any shots. Most were reluctant to give information and it appears that the building's residents were ordered by ministerial officials not to give any interviews.
Espinosa, according to friends’ reports, had considered returning to Veracruz, mainly due to the lack of steady income. Besides, he has begun to notice that he was being pursued even in Mexico City.
“He told me that while he was being interviewed in a café, a man suddenly appeared and said, ‘You're the reporter from Veracruz who's being pursued,'” an exiled journalists’ rights defender told SinEmbargo.
Despite the circumstances, Espinosa had decided in his last hours to remain in Mexico City, and had received confirmation that week of a staff position at the Cuartoscuro agency. “I spoke to him around 11:30 on Thursday, and he said he was going to stay,” Moisés Pablo Nava, the agency's editor, told SinEmbargo.
“The idea was to meet on Tuesday to confirm the appointment,” the reporter added.
On that Thursday night, July 30, Espinosa found himself at a meeting in apartment 401 of the building on Luz Saviñón Street and decided to stay over, he told his friends and colleagues Nicolás Tavira and Alejandro Meléndez, to avoid the trip to Santa Fe, almost an hour from the Narvarte neighbourhood, where he planned, above all, to visit—his friends believe—the activist and cultural promoter Nadia Vera.