Mexico City, Mexico — Sixteen officials from the Secretariat of Public Security were abducted by armed men on June 27 in Ocozocoautla, a town in the southeastern state of Chiapas. The abductors are allegedly linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, one of Mexico’s most dominant drug trafficking organizations.
The mass abduction comes during a wave of violence in Chiapas.
Recently, members of the Zapatista guerrilla movement, active in the region, warned that the state “is on the verge of civil war” as incursions from drug traffickers and paramilitary groups like the Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo (ORCAO) are increasingly sowing instability.
The guerrilla group accused President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of neglecting to act to stabilize the region.
According to local reports, a bus carrying over 30 employees from the Secretariat of Public Security and Citizen Protection (SSyPC), a cabinet-level agency that also controls the National Guard, was boarded by armed men while driving to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state’s capital. Reportedly, 16 officials from the public security agency were taken by force. Among those abducted are police officers and administrative workers.
On June 28, a video showing some of the alleged kidnapped workers surfaced on the internet. The 28-second video, confirmed and shared by Mexican media, shows some of the victims asking for the intervention of officials including the Director of the State Preventive Police, Roberto Yahir Hernández Terán; the Undersecretary of Public Security, Francisco Orantes Abadía; and the Director of the State Border Police, Marco Antonio Burguete Ramos.
The kidnapped workers also mentioned “El Pulseras,” reportedly a Sinaloa Cartel higher-up in Chiapas, and pleaded that the three security officials they named contact the criminal leader to negotiate their release.
In the video, one of the victims pleads to the Sinaloa Cartel to release Nayeli Cyrene Cinco Martínez, singer taken by armed men on June 22 in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. The 30-year-old singer allegedly abducted by members of the Sinaloa Cartel remains missing and is reportedly the cause of the kidnapping of the 16 officials who are held hostage to secure Martínez liberation.
Relatives of the kidnapped workers demonstrated in front of the Government Palace in Chiapas, demanding the liberation of their loved ones and the resignation of the three officials mentioned in the video.
Following the kidnapping, state and federal authorities deployed over a thousand troops to search for the public officials. The head of the SSyPC in Chiapas, Gabriela Zepeda Soto, said that two male suspects had been detained in relation to the case, but the whereabouts of the 16 missing remain unknown.
Calm in recent years, Chiapas has seen a rise in violence and insecurity lately, partially attributed to warring between the Sinaloa Cartel and other criminal factions, such as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel for control of territory.
Organizations such as Fray Bartolome de las Casas have reported that forcible displacements, kidnappings, and executions are becoming an everyday event in recent months. And some are complaining that the government is doing little to intervene.
During his daily press briefing on June 28, President López Obrador fended off questions about the 16 abducted officials. After multiple attempts to get him to speak on the case, he finally promised to seek justice for the kidnapped.
“The government is not an accomplice of crime, so do not think that we are the same (as his predecessors) so that they do not harm anyone. And we will continue guaranteeing peace and tranquility,” said López Obrador.
Zapatistas and other organizations have also denounced the role of President López Obrador in the violent situation in Chiapas. According to their latest statement, the Zapatistas accused López Obrador of being dismissive of Chiapas because of his close relationship with the state’s governor Rutilio Escandón.
Before leaving his morning briefing, López Obrador gave a final ultimatum to the abductors, in what some criticize as a mockery of the tragedy: “But the best thing is for [the officials] to be released; if not, I am going to tell on them [the kidnappers] with their parents and grandparents,” joked the president.