A thousand disappearances: the political legacy in a Mexican tourist paradise

Photo: Former Edgar Veytia.

The State of Nayarit fails to clean the violent face left by the Prosecutor’s Office of Edgar Veytia, currently imprisoned in the United States for drug trafficking

Edgar Veytia’s name still hedgehogs skins in Nayarit. The day the United States arrested the former Mexican prosecutor, in prison for two years for drug trafficking, the small western state of Mexico became a party. Under the mandate of the justice attorney, that entity had become a kingdom of kidnapping, dispossession and extortion at the hands of the authorities themselves. “When they stop Veytia, this was a carnival,” recalls activist Marielza Izurieta. Parties and inns were held, he says, to celebrate the end of the “terror regime.” The scenario has changed little since that March 28, 2017 celebration. The fourth least populated state, with one of the most important tourist havens in the country, registered only 984 complaints of disappearance in the last year and a half.

The arrival of Roberto Sandoval (PRI) to the state government in 2011 was a watershed for Nayarit, explains Santiago Pérez, president of the local Familias Unidas collective. Together with Sandoval, the former Veytia and about twenty police officers of his trust arrived. “From there began the spoils, rumors of kidnappings and a number of people reported missing,” he says. The count of disappearances carried by local organizations reaches 1,200 and most of the testimonies point to the same responsible: the State authorities in conjunction with organized crime. “The Prosecutor made alleged arrests, but when families went to the police to ask, they replied that they were not there,” says Pérez, “those people who had been arrested appeared two or three days later dead on roads or crops.”

“They got into everything, absolutely everything,” explains Rodrigo González Barrios, spokesman for the Truth Commission in Nayarit. The greed of the Veytia Prosecutor’s Office reached from the sale of permits for drug trafficking to the shrimp trade. The big problem was with the lands. By that time, the development of the Riviera Nayarit had turned the place into one of the most important tourist spots in Mexico and the real estate business on the paradisiacal beaches had exponentially raised the price of the land. “Every weekend the police arrested young people, investigated them and, if their families had houses, they went to jail,” he says. “Until they delivered the goods they did not leave,” says González Barrios about one of the alleged mechanisms applied by the ex-prosecutor.

The stories about Veytia have a very specific common factor: all negotiations were made with his gun on the desk. This is how José Cruz Corchado, one of the former prosecutor’s victims, agreed to hand him a property in October 2011. “Edgar Veytia sent the police to look for me,” he says. “He told me:‘ I want to talk with you because I want to sell a piece of land. ” Corchado had inherited from his grandfather a property in Tepic, the capital of Nayarit, which over the years was located in the middle of the city. “He told me:‘ I’m going to give him so much money, and if he doesn’t want to, I’m going to keep the land anyway. ” The victim says Veytia never paid him what was agreed. In return he gave two houses confiscated from organized crime. “I signed the deeds because he told me that if he kept claiming they would hang me and my son on a bridge.”

The repetition of the accusations against the state authorities has forced the Prosecutor’s Office to admit in a statement issued last Saturday the participation of the Nayarit security forces in disappearances. “You can’t know for sure, because there are criminal groups that get the official logos [to impersonate the police],” justifies the prosecutor specializing in disappearances of the State, Yayori Villasana.

The boundary between the State Attorney’s Office and organized crime was blurred in the years of Veytia. The former prosecutor acknowledged before a court in the United States to have worked alongside the cartel on duty in the years he occupied the Prosecutor’s Office. First it was that of Sinaloa, then Beltrán-Leyva, Los Zetas and, in the last months before the arrest, the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG), which currently dominates the region.

Property of Edgar Veytia vandalized with threats from the narco after his arrest.

The State Prosecutor’s Office said that during the four years in which the ex-prosecutor was in charge, only 48 complaints were filed for disappearance. Veytia and Sandoval used these statistics to shield themselves under the idea that the entity was among the safest in Mexico. The prosecutor’s detention triggered the complaints until reaching 339 in 2017. “Of every 10 disappearances, five were not reported,” says Pérez. “They told their families that if they reported they would come back for another member.”

A criminal with power of attorney

The description of Nayarit’s worst years is repeated throughout the State. But the cruelty of the stories intensifies in Banderas Bay, a coastal town with dozens of luxury hotel complexes. González Barrios says that most of the spoils and disappearances were concentrated on the Pacific coast because “there the lands were very expensive.” Veytia’s real estate business had evolved to the point that Sandoval himself granted him in January 2016 a notary in that municipality to manage the bureaucratic part of the spoils. Just on Friday, August 16, more than two years after his arrest, the local government removed his power of attorney. “It is a very risky area, on the one hand you see tourism and the pretty face, but the other part is very complicated,” he says.

González Barrios speaks in the present because the arrest of Veytia did not imply the cessation of spoils and disappearances. Nayarit has tried to clean his face. The clearest signs given by the Administration of the current governor, Antonio Echeverría (PAN), have been the opening of a prosecutor’s office specializing in disappearances and the completion of the notary of Veytia. Despite this, the Government, which took possession at the end of 2017, had not even prepared to investigate until recently the crimes committed by the former prosecutor. “We have 17 investigation folders against Veytia and 11 against Sandoval,” they announced last Saturday before press pressure, despite confirming the week before this newspaper that there was no inquiry.

Nayarit map.

The Prosecutor’s Office has not been able to put a stop to disappearances either. In 2017, 664 complaints were registered. In the first six and a half months of 2019, another 320 people disappeared. The violence of the confrontation between cartels decreased when the CJNG appropriated the area. But the struggle for land is not over, explains Santiago Pérez, from the Familias Unidos collective. “The shootings calmed down but there are still executions and uprisings, and they continue to attribute it to armed people in vehicles of the Prosecutor’s Office,” he says.

The tourist fuss and the holiday climate are not enough to cover the atmosphere of fear that crosses the road that goes from the beach area to Tepic. On that road, in a town called Las Varas, Alexander López, the young man who asked Andrés Manuel López Obrador for help five days before the lift, disappeared in May. On that same road, in the Xalisco municipality, relatives of victims found a grave with 21 bodies last April. Three hours of travel that separate the coast from the capital of the State by a somber journey marked by a legacy called “the regime of terror.”

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