From Monday 13 November, Justice and Peace Nederland will be presenting the exhibition SHRINKING SPACE – We Are All Human Rights Defenders #2 in Het Nutshuis. The Footprints of Memory installation by the artist Alfredo López Casanova has been afforded a special place in this exhibition. It is a probing appeal for attention for the situation faced by the many Mexican parents who search high and low for missing children who simply disappear. The artist has engraved the worn-out soles of the parents’ ragged shoes with their personal stories.

Lucía is just one of these Mexican parents. At present, she wears red leather loafers when she’s visiting organisations to ask for help, but when she’s out searching, she wears sturdy boots. This is her story.

INTERVIEW – by Tanja Eijkelboom

“My son Luis was kidnapped from his own home! Can you imagine? He was home from work with flu.”

The Mexican Lucía has never stopped searching for her child. He was twenty-nine when it happened in June 2013. Lucía: “Luis organised events. He was a popular DJ in the state of Veracruz and a successful businessman. But he paid the price: the local mafia started blackmailing him. When they decided they wanted more money and vehicles they kidnapped him. They never returned him to us.”

No help
His mother soon realised that she would get no help from the authorities while searching for her son. “It was, and is still, so frustrating,” says Lucía. “And it doesn’t only apply to me and my family; there are countless others in the same position.” More than 32,000 inhabitants of Mexico have been reported missing in the last ten years.

Lucía: “Our police force is corrupt and not interested. In the first place, because the government uses these enforced disappearances as a way of keeping the population under control. The people who would like to tackle the kidnappings are too scared of reprisals by the mafia or government to do anything about it. Even anonymously and despite all the evidence and witnesses that exist.”

But in spite of the dangers and impunity in Mexico, Lucía has never stopped searching for her son (and others). On the contrary. In 2014, she founded the movement ‘Solectivo de Veracruz’. Lucía: “My organisation mainly consists of mothers. We join together to look for missing family members. At the moment, we are investigating hundreds of cases. Most of them are young people between 14 and 25 years old. But toddlers and elderly people sometimes disappear too. We look everywhere.”

Not without success. For example, in May 2016 Solectivo de Veracruz found the largest clandestine grave in years. Overall, Lucía and her colleagues found 139 graves.

Lucía: “I’m not safe, but I won’t stop searching. Not only because of my son, but for all those other people too. First you lose your right to freedom, then you lose your right to live, and if you end up in one of those clandestine graves, you even lose your right to an identity! It’s inhuman and perverse to the extreme.”

Shelter City Programme
Lucía is taking part in the Shelter City Programme. The Hague was the first of ten Shelter Cities currently operating in the Netherlands, which offer a safe environment for human rights defenders like Lucía to think and talk about their work.

Lucía: “I will come to the Netherlands for five weeks, largely to get publicity for the enforced disappearances, which seem to be on the increase. We don’t really need financial backing. What we do need is for your government to exert pressure on ours, so that the authorities can no longer pretend that nothing is going on. We need the system to change radically and we need to put an end to the enforced disappearances!”

Lucía will talk about her work during the opening of Shrinking Space on 13 November.