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“Bones in the desert”, or the lucrative theory of the conspiracy*

In his book “Bones in the desert” (Anagrama, 2001), Sergio González Rodríguez prefers imagination to investigation. Only thus can be understood his theory that there exists a “lodge” that commits “orgiastic homicides, with sexual rites and a very strong capacity of sadistic refinement”. Or that he formulates statements far from the norms of investigative journalism such as, according to him: “only with the information that my book contains, would this case be able to be resolved in a brief time”.

Por José Pérez-Espino

(Translated by Michael Snyder)

THE ABSENCE OF SCIENTIFIC METHODS of investigation and the apathy of the authorities have been converted into the impunity synonymous with the homicides of women which have not been solved in Ciudad Juárez.

But likewise, the handling that the majority of the press of the Federal District has given to the coverage of the murders is characterized by apathy, an insufficient exercise of investigative journalism and of precision, the eagerness of the protagonists and of gain of some reporters and writers, a questionable ethics, the morbidity and the lightness in the management of the information, as well as the recurrent creation of myths, stigmas and stereotypes.

The examples abound: Tuesday November 12, 2002, the Spanish agency EFE distributed a cable with the following headline. The newspaper The Universal of the Federal District placed it on its internet edition at 10:36 o’clock:

In the summary, the newspaper printed: “The writer Sergio González affirms that the homicides of more than 300 women would be linked to drug trafficking and power groups formed by businessmen, politicians and even police”.

The note said:

“A lodge in which participate highly placed officials of the police, businessmen and authorities would be behind the wave of crimes against women in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, which in one decade has claimed more than 300 victims, declared the journalist Sergio González. González is the author of the book Bones in the desert…”

More ahead, it adds the report: “The journalist ventured that the multiple homicides against women in Ciudad Juárez were perpetrated by at least two persons.

“The criminals kidnap, torture and violate them, to then mutilate them and throw their bodies onto uncultivated lands.

Further on, the author affirms, according to EFE: “» There are orgiastic homicides, with sexual rites and a very strong capacity of sadistic refinement», he affirmed”.

On Monday November 19, 2002, the newspaper The Vanguard of Barcelona published the following headline: “Evil dwells in Mexico”. A bullet preceded it that said: “The Mexican corruption” and a summary that added: “Sergio González publishes his investigation on the ritual murders of 300 women in Ciudad Juárez”.

In the introduction of the note one reads: “The events narrated by the journalist Sergio González Rodríguez (Mexico DF, 1950) in his book Bones in the desert (Anagram) are so terrifying that the reader is obliged to pinch himself several times to be sure that it is a matter of real events. González has investigated the ritual murders of women, committed by drug traffickers in bloody orgies in the border town of Ciudad Juárez”.

According to The Vanguard, González Rodríguez asserts that “already I have suffered most serious beatings and threats of death due to my reports published in the newspaper Reforma”.

Immediately, the author of Bones in the desert formulates a fantastic affirmation:

“The killers, in reality, are two hitmen of the drug traffickers, who have links to the highest level of power in the country”.

“The author made clear that his work «does not contain any element of fiction, because there exists a risk of utilizing these themes as literary pretext, and this would not be auspicious, even less in cases that still are open». He clarifies, nevertheless, that «only with the information that my book contains, would this case be able to be resolved in a brief time, if there was really a desire» ”, according to The Vanguard.

The reporter of Reforma, Sergio González Rodríguez, recently published his book Bones in the desert, in the publishing house Anagram of Barcelona. It is found in full campaign of promotion. It is understood that his statements are, more than anything else, a trick of marketing technique, but his affirmations are very conjectural: they combine real data with the imagination, although he says to the contrary.

Lamentably González Rodríguez preferred to imagine than to investigate. Only thus can be understood his theory of a “lodge” that commits “orgiastic homicides, with sexual rites and a very strong capacity of sadistic refinement”. Or that he formulates statements far from the norms of investigative journalism and of precision, such as “only with the information that my book contains, would this case be able to be resolved in a brief time”. Or an indiscretion such as to affirm: “The killers (…) are two hitmen of the drug traffickers”.

It is probable that some of the unsolved homicides have been perpetrated by hitmen of the mafia. But the version that the almost 300 cases are “ritual crimes” committed by “two persons” is untenable.

His statements to the press contradict those published in his own book, from which we learn that in Ciudad Juárez there have occurred homicides of the most varied causes: motives of passion, family violence and confrontations between gangs, for example.

Theory outside of context

As a catalogue of sources hemerográficas and bibliographical on the homicides of women, Bones in the desert is the best work published, since it dedicates 42 pages (in a book of 335) to cite the names of the reporters and the newspapers in which were published the greater part of the notes that are utilized in its compilation.

In short, the book of Sergio González Rodríguez is a good chronology, not necessarily a good chronicle, about the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez. It takes the luxury to include all the possible versions about the motive and the murderers, but does not consider the first hand testimony of relatives of the victims, whose references are scarce in the pages of Bones in the desert.

Its lack of rigor and of knowledge of the border causes it to incur serious imprecisions, including those committed in the statements, in good part influenced by the reading of El Paso Times, that it attributed the murders to “a clique of rich and powerful men”; to “a serial murderer, or several of them”; to “the cartel of drug traffickers headed by Carrillo Fuentes” and to “assassins protected by corrupt police and officials”.

El Paso Times also published that “the women are being murdered in satanic rites. Or they are being sacrificed to obtain their organs for transplants”. The periodical paseño maintains such conclusions in a series of reports published last June.

González Rodríguez took from those reports the elements to feed his version about the homicides of women and to establish the theory about the possible authors that has been posted for the press. Thus it is as in the episode “The little Dutch girl”, he grants unlimited credit to a former policeman called Felipe Pando.

The reporter of Reforma writes on page 136 of Bones in the deserted:

“Another of the possible suspects, according to Felipe Pando, former chief of homicides in Chihuahua and then official of the municipal police of Ciudad Juárez, is Pedro Padilla Flores. Padilla was imprisoned in 1986 for the rape and homicide of two women and a girl of 13 years, although he confessed to more murders -he usually threw the bodies of his victims in the Rio Bravo-. In 1991 he escaped from a prison and remains a fugitive. Addicted to the consumption of drugs, Padilla lived in the district Mariscal in the center of Ciudad Juárez when he was arrested”.

González Rodríguez transcribes almost verbatim various paragraphs of a note published in El Paso Times on Monday, June 24, 2002, although he does not clarify it in this page. And upon appropriating blindly what was published in another newspaper, he fell victim of laziness to investigate that version.

In effect, Felipe Pando was “chief of homicides” and “official” of the Municipal police. But his biography is a great deal more than this unique reference and he probably is one of the ex-police with the least credibility in Ciudad Juárez.

In reality, that of Pando is one of the most obscure biographies of the region for citing it as a source outside of its personal context.

Felipe Pando worked as a policeman for 32 years. He was an agent of the dreaded secret police until 1982, when that institution was disbanded by presidential decree. Within the Judicial Police of the State he was always in the department of homicides. In 1991 he was promoted from Chief of the Division to Second Commander, despite the accusations against him by groups such as the Commission of Solidarity and Defense of the Human rights and the Independent Committee of Chihuahua For Human Rights, which accused him of utilizing torture in place of methods of investigation.

Pando was obliged to be separated from the position of Second Commander of the Judicial Police of the State when on February 7, 1992 the National Commission of Human Rights published the recommendation 13/92, requesting the governor Fernando Baeza to investigate and to exercise legal action against him, as well as other police agents.

The institution documented and showed that Felipe Pando participated in the illegal arrest and acts of torture against Marco Arturo Salas Sánchez and Sergio Aguirre Torres, who were forced to plead guilty of the homicide of the journalist Víctor Manuel Oropeza, which occurred on July 3, 1991.

The former Policeman reappeared nine years later. In November of 2001 he was hired as “advisor” of internal matters by the director of Police, Guillermo Prieto Quintana, who occupied the position for the better part of the nine months during which a council of provisional government held power, after which the election of the municipal president was annulled.

According to several distinct versions, thru the actions of Prieto Quintana, Pando involved himself irregularly in the supposed investigation that resulted in the arrest of the two chauffeurs accused of the murder of eight women whose corpses were found November of 2001 in a cotton field.

Subsequently, he was seen to be involved in the supposed investigation that was conducted upon the arrest of the presumed killer of Professor Elodia Payán, murdered in August of 2000. He irregularly had in his hands the file of the investigation and until it was presented with relatives of the victim.

The case itself was contaminated so badly that on August 16, 2002, the judge of the Seventh Circuit Court, Flor Mireya Aguilar Casas, issued an order of absolute liberty without bail or protest to the two men that were accused of the homicide of Professor Elodia Payán. In his resolution, the judge affirmed that the defendants were coerced physical and morally into pleading guilty. The judge verified that on the day of the crime, Chavarría Barraza was to be found a prisoner in the Cereso for the crime of robbery.

In his statements to the press, which have been cited, Sergio González Rodríguez affirms “that the homicides of more than 300 women would be linked to the drug trafficking and power groups formed of businessmen, politicians and even police”.

The paradox is that he himself, drunken with his theory of the conspiracy, credits the version of a police official who has been accused of torture and of fabricating culpability.

Conspiracy Theory

Near the conclusion of his book, González Rodríguez gives a “Personal Epilogue”. He dedicates this part to attempting to convince the reader of a “quickie kidnapping” of which he was a victim on the night of June 15 1999, when he boarded a taxi in the colony Condesa, motivated by the articles that he had published relating to the homicides of women of Ciudad Juárez.

But nowhere in the 13 pages of the chapter is a direct threat established. The only reference is when an unidentified friend in page 275 of the book asks him: “Was the beating related to your reports upon Ciudad Juárez?”

The one who asked the questioned was Carlos Monsiváis; he was not identified as such by González Rodríguez until the chapter dedicated to the “Sources”, in the page 324, where he writes: “Carlos Monsiváis was the friend who asked the author about the possible cause of the assault and the threats”.

González Rodríguez does not document any direct threat against himself. What’s more, as he tells it, upon responding to ratify his report of “violent assault”, as he characterizes his abduction, the staff told him that he himself needed to ask the bank for the photographs of the person that withdrew money from an automatic cashier with his code. “In summary — he writes — I had to do part of their job. I never returned”, he concludes.

But when denouncing the negligence of the Office of Justice of the Federal District, he opted to spread the theory of a conspiracy against himself. From the reading of that chapter it is established that everything, before and later, related to the homicides of women, is to be seen in his publications in Reforma: more homicides, as much of women as of former police, replacement of police chiefs, operatives and later the murder of a radio announcer from the Federal District who had spoken about Ciudad Juárez. Also quotes out of context the homicide of the reporter José Ramírez Puente, committed in Ciudad Juárez in 2000, which remains unpunished.

Sergio González Rodríguez is not the only one who has reported reprisals for writings relating to the homicides of women. Also the promoters of the documentary Señorita Extraviada, of Lourdes Portillo have indicated it. According to La Jornada, in a note on the 19th of July: “The filmmaker (…) has avoided to return to Ciudad Juárez because of the fear to be victim of some reprisal”. Portillo has not been threatened, but each time her documentary is exhibited the presenters affirm that she does not come to Mexico because of fear.

In short, with the influence of El Paso Times, in Bones in the desert, Sergio González Rodríguez grants credit to the words of a policeman with such a dark past as Felipe Pando.

And influenced by this type of media, the agency EFE declared that a “lodge” is behind the homicides of women in Ciudad Juárez and that “only with the information that my book contains, this case would be able to be resolved in a brief time” and that “the killers (…) are two hitmen of the drug traffickers”.


* Extract from the paper that the author presented at the Department of Philosophy and Letters of the UNAM in Mexico City, on Thursday November 21, 2002, in the University Conference “Ciudad Juárez: not one more dead person, not one woman less”.

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