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Missing Mexicans’ Families Waiting

December 2, 1999

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) _ It’s been years since they disappeared: Leticia Lucero de Medina’s husband. Ivan Kihara’s brother. Saul O. Sanchez Sr.’s son and daughter-in-law.

For now, the families of dozens of missing people from Ciudad Juarez are left to closely watch the news as the FBI and Mexican officials search desert ranches for bodies.

``I hope they don’t find his remains there, because I have faith that he might be living somewhere else,″ Sanchez, 73, of Laredo, Texas, said of his son.

With so many people vanishing from this border city since 1993, and with the police providing little or no information about the cases, relatives of ``los desaparecidos″ _ ``the disappeared″ _ formed a group in 1997 and bombarded Attorney General Jorge Madrazo with letters.

Last year, Madrazo appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the cases after three other prosecutors failed and were dismissed. He credited pressure by the relatives’ group for helping instigate this week’s searches. But the FBI has not contacted the Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons, whose members are friends and family of 196 missing people _ 18 of who are U.S. citizens.

By Wednesday, two days after the search began, officials had unearthed what appeared to be the remains of five people. An FBI informant said as many as 100 victims of the powerful Juarez drug cartel could be buried there, though officials on both sides of the border say the number could be much smaller.

``We are in a sea of confusion,″ said Jaime Hervella, director of the relatives’ group, which is based just across the border in El Paso, Texas. ``The FBI has not recognized our existence and they probably have nothing to tell us.″

Hervella said most of the missing had some connection to drug trafficking, as witnesses, informants or friends of people who were laundering money, for example.

One missing man, 40-year-old attorney Jose Alfredo Medina Vizcaino, was on his way to talk to a client accused of transporting drugs when he disappeared in Torreon in July 1997. A group of armed men was seen kidnapping him and three others in broad daylight, said Lucero de Medina, his wife.

Though this week’s searches are nerve-wracking, she believes her husband _ the father of 19- and 10-year-old sons _ is still alive.

``I have to have hope that sometime we’re going to see him or know what happened,″ she said.

One way or the other, Ivan Kihara wants to know what happened to his brother, Alfredo, who was 50 when he disappeared in February 1994. A builder by profession, Alfredo Kihara constructed mansions, commercial buildings, even discos _ likely with the money of drug traffickers, his brother said.

Rumors are that the father of four was picked up at the Juarez airport and never seen again, his brother said.

Ivan Kihara said he never contacted the Mexican police, because ``you never know if you’re talking to the right people or the wrong people.″ He feared retaliation from corrupt police officers.

Some, such as Kihara, said they suspect corrupt police might have been involved in the kidnappings. Mexican officials admit that one of their biggest problems is the vast bribes _ and deadly threats _ that drug traffickers use to turn police officers into criminal accomplices.

``It’s a nightmare. I’m always thinking of my brother,″ he said. ``I wake up thinking of my brother.″

Saul Sanchez Jr., 38, and his wife, Abigail, 39, vanished after going to a Juarez theater. According to Saul Sanchez Sr., his son had developed an electronic device to monitor conversations from airplanes and sold it to the federal police for drug investigations.

At this point, all the family wants is answers.

``We’re looking for the end,″ said the Sanchezes’ daughter, 21-year-old Claudia. ``We’re looking for the truth.″

In 1998

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