January 30, 2009

A gruesome detention can lead to peace for hundreds of families in Tijuana

By Mariana Martinez

It was announced last Friday that the so called “pozolero del Teo” had been arrested; his name is Santiago Meza López, detained by military and Federal Police, he confessed to dissolving at least 300 bodies in corrosive chemicals, under drug cartel orders.

Meza, who according to Mexican authorities’ ranks 20th on the FBIs most wanted list, was arrested along with two other men and an underage woman, traveling the Tijuana-Ensenada toll road, by the Baja Season Hotel.

His detention lead to the attack of the police station where he was held. Just days latter, a group of gunmen fired at the building, leaving 200 bullet shells, damaging the structure and five police cars.

The four detainees were traveling southbound in four cars; a gray jeep commander and Nissan Altima, both with California license plates, a Toyota pick up and Camry with baja plates.

The four people tried to escape by foot, but were quickly detained.

Inside the vehicles: 4 machine guns, two hand grenades, and 259 bullets, along with bullet proof vests.

Santiago Meza Lopez, 45, was born in Guamúchil, Sinaloa, and nicknamed “El chago”,

He quickly confessed to being “the pozole cook” for Teodoro Garcia Simental alias “El Teo” o “El tres letras”.

This nickname is used by narcos when they get rid of bodies by submerging them in caustic powder mixed with water to dissolve the remains.

In his initial statement, Meza gave detailed information about how he performed this sick ritual, practicing with cows feet at first to perfect the recipe, that he would latter use to dissolve up to 30 bodies a month.

He was taken by military personnel to the shed where he claims to have done all his work. The land is in the most Eastern part of the city of Tijuana, in a little unpaved road where the smell of raw sewage prevails.

An industrial size chemical container is outside the shed, a dirty dog watches from a distance.

His shed was a bare room with no windows, door or paint, surrounded by some removed land with at least four excavations, where —he explained—after four hours of “cook time” he would pour the remains: nails, teeth and pieces of skulls.

He was arrested along two other men: Héctor Manuel Valenzuela Lobo, 45, from Mocorito, Sinaloa, alias “El Chacho” and Fernando Lopez Alarcón, 49, born in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora.

These men claim to be the exclusive food providers for “El Teo,” who, like many others, has a fear of being poisoned by his enemies.

Along with them was a young girl, who said upon questioning she, “was hired to attend a social gathering.”

Meza said he used to be in construction, before getting into the business of dissolving corpses, a job he has done for the past 9 years, for a salary of 600 dollars a week.

He claims he never killed anyone.

The Baja California State prosecutor, Rommel Moreno Manjarez said his office is contacting the prosecutors’ offices in Nuevo Mexico and California, in order to get the technology and expertise for the titanic task of identifying the remains left by Meza.

Rest for those in pain

What appears to be a distasteful horror story is in fact a silver lining for hundreds of families who live in the agony of having a loved one disappear.

A chance to find peace, brought about by the hope that Meza, recognizes his family members as one of his hundreds of victims and they can finally know what happened, no matter what.

“His detention is a ray of hope for all of us” said Cristina Palacios de Hodoyán, mother whose son is missing since the late 90s, “as horrible as their ending might have been”.

Ms. Palacios is the head of the Citizen Association Against Impunity in Tijuana, who has asked authorities to allow them to show Meza 100 pictures of missing persons, in hopes he can remember them.

“[Meza] has claimed his busiest month was December 2007, when he disposed of at least 32 bodies. The same month, where a record high of kidnappings where reported throughout the state…its no coincidence,” said Prosecutor Rommel, who allowed for the pictures to be shown.

And that’s because Meza’s boss, Garcia Simental is not only considered a dangerous drug smuggler, but one of the most active kidnappers in the state, believed to be involved in hundreds of cases, including kidnapping for ransom, killing debtors and even ex-lovers.

Amongst those hoping for Meza to talk is Ernestina Cubillas, whose son Armando Figueroa went missing December 8th, 2007 in a crowded city bar.

Cubillas had been hesitant to come forward, because as she recalls, she had little answer from the authorities when she first reported him missing.

“I hope this person still has a Herat and can identify many of his victims,” said Cubillas, “that would bring us peace…I hope the DNA studies can help too, so we can finally know the truth.”

Now, Associtation members are asking the government to donate the land where Meza claims he worked, to have it turned into a memorial park where families can pray for their loved ones.

“It would be a place for families to gather, where we would feel a connection and find inner peace” said Ms. Palacios, “it would be a place where our loved one was, right before they ripped them out of our lives”.

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