TIJUANA – A forensic team explored eight sites on the city’s east side looking for human remains, said a long-time advocate for missing people, but only found organic material at one of them.
Three of the sites were identified by a confessed criminal, Santiago Meza, known as “el pozolero,” as places where he had dissolved bodies in acid.
The other five, which included houses in the Tres de Octubre neighborhood and areas next to Rodríguez Dam, were identified in federal investigations or by anonymous crime tips.
“The search did not yield the results we were hoping for,” said Fernando Ocegueda, the leader of a non-profit organization of families whose loved ones have disappeared. Most are thought to have been the victims of organized crime.
The forensic team was comprised of a squad from Siedo, the department in Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office that investigates organized crime, and ten officers from the Center for Missing or Lost People (known as CAPEA), from the Baja California Attorney General’s Office. They began their search on Dec. 19 and concluded three days later, on Thursday, said Ocegueda
They found organic material in only one of the sites, inside a water storage tank on a rural house in Ejido Ojo de Agua, Ocegueda said. The material will be tested to ascertain if it came from a human.
In the spring of 2009, a few months after Meza was arrested, a forensic team had found bone fragments, teeth and rings in pits on the same property.
Ejido Ojo de Agua is in a rural area on the city’s eastern fringe near the old road to Tecate. Meza was taken there after he was arrested in January of 2009 and, before national and international media, he declared had dissolved 300 bodies in lye.
Later, however, in his official declaration to Siedo, Meza said he had spent a little more than a year at that property and “at most ten people were dissolved there.”
The confidential declaration, a copy of which was shared with sandiegored.com, identified four other places where Meza said he dissolved more than 150 bodies for criminal cells working for the Arellano Félix drug cartel.
The number of people who disappeared in Baja California during the height of the drug violence depends on whom you ask – and likely will never be known.
Two community associations made up of family members have documented the cases of 390 people who disappeared in Baja California from 2007 to 20010.
Meza, for his part, said he disposed of more than 150 bodies from 2002 to 2007.
And Baja California’s prosecutor for missing people, Miguel Ángel Guerrero, said the state has only 96 cases involving people who are “lost or absent,” 70 of them in Tijuana and 26 in Mexicali. Those cases span the period of 1995 to 2011, although 80 per cent occurred from 2007 to 2010.
Guerrero said nearly all of the cases involving missing people are linked to organized crime, and at least 15 in Tijuana have a direct connection to Meza. However, he acknowledged that perhaps 70 to 100 murder victims that Meza dissolved are not on the state’s books, and their identities may never be known.
Santiago Meza is in a federal prison in Nayarit state awaiting sentencing on charges that include participating in organized crime and possessing illegal firearms.
Siedo does not comment on its investigations. Ocegueda said he was told that its forensic unit planned to return in February to explore other sites.
Meanwhile, his organization, Unidos por los Desaparecidos en Baja California (United by the Disappeared), is offering a reward up to 20,000 pesos (about $1,440) for reliable information about people who have disappeared.