By: Néstor González
"Do you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe?" José Pilar Valdés Malacara asked the man who was watching him inside the security house where they kept him captive. "Yes," he answered as he could, psychologically exhausted, beaten and tortured, waiting for the fate that seemed most logical, while his thoughts were occupied by his family.
"Well, remember it. Take it a lot, because nobody left here alive, "his custodian said in turn.
This journalistic work is based on testimonies and statements of some people who lived the facts, as well as the investigations that have been carried out by the state authorities.
The conversations and the story of the events were obtained from the voice of those who participated in the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of the Cuban-American Felix Batista in December 2008, including the chain of events that led to his disappearance in Saltillo. The search for the anti-kidnapping expert has been extended for nine years.
On Tuesday, December 9, 2008, José Pilar Valdés Malacara, former security chief of some of the most prominent families in Saltillo, left his office located on Cuauhtémoc Street, in the downtown area. He had issues to attend in Monterrey related to his private security company.
Around 10:00 in the morning he received a call. It was Felix Isidore Batista, whom I had met some time ago.
Valdés Malacara offered security services and his professional closeness with the wealthy families of Saltillo earned him training in negotiations in cases of kidnapping. I traveled to different parts of the world acquiring knowledge and experience on the subject.
On a trip to Miami, he met Batista, a former military intelligence officer who worked for the ASI Global Kidnap & Ransom Response, a Houston-based company dedicated, among other things, to negotiating for the release of kidnapped people.
Hence, a working relationship was born that, without actually becoming a friendship, grew under the protection of common business interests.
The American, who according to the authorities came to participate in the negotiations of more than a hundred kidnappings, several of them in Mexico, had traveled to this country, specifically to Coahuila, to appear in some business circles and offer their services and advice.
Previously, the then secretary of Security of Coahuila, Fausto Destenave Kuri, took him to Torreón to offer talks and training for crisis situations in the Laguna Region, an area that in those days lived a bloody conflict between the Sinaloa Cartel and the one of Los Zetas for the control of that land located between the states of Durango and Coahuila.
A year earlier, in Torreón, the head of the Anti-kidnapping Group of the Prosecutor's Office of Coahuila, Enrique Ruiz Arévalo, had been kidnapped and murdered. He appeared tortured in a video accusing the alleged complicity of authorities and politicians of the Comarca with the Sinaloa cartel. That's how hot the plaza was.
Batista made several trips to Coahuila in the months prior to his disappearance. There are records in September and October 2008, a couple of months before becoming a victim of plagiarism.
In Saltillo, on December 9, he arrived at the office of Pilar Valdés. They had a business meeting pending. He did not find it. He called him on the phone and Valdés Malacara told him that he was busy and that he would arrive a little later, since the appointment they had agreed upon was until 1:00 in the afternoon. "Go to the office; feel like at home, use what you occupy, "Pilar told Batista.
The American asked permission from the secretaries of the office to use Pilar's computer. He sent reports by email to the offices of his company in the United States. This information, say the authorities, was not addressed to the Consulate, the FBI or the DEA, as it was speculated.
"It is a myth. Someone in the media reported that he was a government agent because he was an ex-military man and because of the nature of his work, but it is not true that he worked for the US government, "said a source close to the case.
For unknown reasons, Batista sent one of those emails also to Mexican federal authorities.
Even with his long career as an anti-kidnap expert, Batista made an elementary error: he trusted that the information he was providing to the Government was to be reserved by those who participated in intelligence work for Mexico.
It is known that someone inside gave notice to the Zetas that this information was coming from an email in Saltillo. They sent the IP address and with it the criminals soon found the office of Pilar. They called him by telephone, according to the findings of the case, saying that they were investors and that they would propose a real estate business. "I do not dedicate myself to that," Pilar told the supposed businessmen. The man on the other end of the phone insisted. He promised that it was a big business and that they would support him with everything he needed.
Deceived, he arrived at the Hotel Camino Real, east of Saltillo, where he would see the alleged investors. They put him in a van, put a hood over his head and took him away.
Meanwhile, in the office of Valdés, Felix Batista waited unsuccessfully to his colleague without knowing what was happening at that time. He dialed several times, but his phone was switched off. He apologized and left.
Pilar's wife called that night and the next day several friends to find out if they knew the whereabouts of her husband, because he had not arrived and he had not communicated, and he did not answer the phone.
One of those friends was the journalist Juan Manuel Dávila Udave, with whom Pilar had a relationship of many years.
"He has not arrived, and he wanted to know if you knew where he is," Pilar's wife told the journalist, who replied that he did not know his friend's whereabouts, but that he would help him look for him.
In her captivity, Pilar lived a hell. From blows to burns, from physical torture to psychological torture.
"Tell them what they want to know, little boss. What is he suffering for? ", One of the kidnappers told the businessman.
What saved Valdés's life at that moment was telling the truth: he did not know what his captors were talking about. They insisted that he tell them why he had sent this information and who else should reach them. The reports were written in English.
They threatened him, they told him they would go for his family. They burned the soles of his feet, which were broken, almost to the bone. They kept him kneeling for many hours, supporting his own weight with immense pain.
He himself tried to put into practice everything that he had advised his clients during the kidnapping negotiations: stay calm, think positively, try to clarify the thoughts and stay one step ahead of their captors.
But it was only his mind that they were going to kill him. From his years of experience he knew that there are two types of kidnappings: the economic, when plagiarists expect to obtain a gain in exchange for the life and integrity of the victim, and revenge, which invariably culminated in the execution of the victim. He was in the second
Time passed and the kidnappers got nervous. They intensified the torture. There came a time when they heard Pilar's pleas, and not out of pity, but because they began to realize that she was telling the truth.
They insisted that he had sent information from his computer to the authorities in Mexico and the United States. At one point, Pilar realized that Batista could have been the author of those emails.
The captors checked his phone and discovered conversations between Pilar and Batista. They asked him who he was, and they checked the businessman's sayings with what they saw on the cell phone.
They discovered that it was the American who had sent the emails.
One day later, on December 10, after having spoken with Pilar's wife, Dávila Udave made some calls. By third parties, the journalist learned that Felix was eating at the El Mesón del Principal restaurant in the company of Daniel Garza Ortiz de Montellano, a former private secretary of Enrique Martínez y Martínez, ex-governor of the state from 1999 to 2005. The Monterrey businessman was accompanying them. Claudio Canavati Both were there to receive advice from Batista, as they represented companies dedicated to the commercialization of armored vehicles and mobile booths.
Until that place came the journalist, who after introducing himself, told the anti-kidnapping expert about the Pilar affair. "I'm already aware. Right now we comment, first let's eat, "he replied calmly.
Minutes later the son of Pilar Valdés arrived at the restaurant, and apart from everyone he talked to Batista for 10 or 15 minutes, covering his mouth so that no one would read his lips.
Batista returned to his place, and at about 5:00 in the afternoon he received a call. He got up and said to those who were accompanying him at the table: "I'll be back later. In case you do not return, speak to this number ", and extended a business card, as well as your portfolio.
Batista left the restaurant. It was captured by security cameras. According to the inquiry, he boarded a white Durango van by his own will. In fact, one of the men who came down to open the door slapped him on the back. They closed the door and the vehicle left the establishment.
Inside the restaurant, Batista's companions waited in vain for hours. They left late, around 10:00 at night, fearful and confused by what had happened.
One of them called Pilar's house. To his surprise, it was this one who answered the phone. "You're good? What happened? "He said surprised. Pilar could hear herself tired, and told her that she could not talk on the phone, that she would tell him everything in person later.
Daniel Garza Ortiz de Montellano came the next day to hand over Batista's briefcase and to file the corresponding complaint with the Prosecutor's Office, which at the time was headed by Jesús Torres Charles. Extremely frightened, the businessman left the city the next day.
On April 25, 2009, just over four months after Batista's abduction, Germán Torres Jiménez, alias "El Tatanka" or "Z-25", was identified as one of the founders of the Batista kidnapping in Poza Rica, Veracruz. Zetas when this group was created as an armed wing of the Gulf cartel.
He had worked for the criminal organization under Osiel Cárdenas Guillén. He was considered at one time chief of Comales plaza, Tamaulipas, and after Saltillo. In the capital of Coahuila he was in charge of a group of assassins and "stakes" led by Miguel Ángel Loera Gloria, alias "El Tomás".
According to the ministerial authorities, Torres Jiménez came to have serious differences with "El Tomás" because of his impulsive nature, which led him to act on his own and to carry out executions and lifting without the permission of his bosses.
According to the investigation folder SIES-005/2014, in the van that Batista approached that December 10, there were five people: "El Tomás"; Eduardo Martínez de la Fuente "La Manzana" (formerly of Arteaga) and two other subjects whom they identified as "El Coyote" and "El Mano Negra". They took Pilar with them.
Investigations carried out by the Attorney General's Office of Coahuila (now the Prosecutor's Office), derived from Torres Jiménez's statement, point out that "Tomás" and his companions forced Pilar to set a trap for Felix Batista.
They told him to call him to let him know that a group of AFI agents would go by him to take him to where the businessman was.
"It is striking that with Batista's experience in these tasks, the video shows that he has climbed on his own volition to the van of his kidnappers. I think he sinned confident, "says an official source.
Batista was 55 years old at the time of his disappearance, and more than half of them had dedicated them to the negotiation of kidnappings and hostages, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The criminals left the restaurant with both in the van. Hours later, Pilar Valdés was released on one of the roads that converge with Saltillo, with obvious signs of mistreatment.
Internal documents of the United States consulate in Monterrey show the confusion that surrounded the local authorities and those of that country.
A cable dated December 29, 2008 sent by Consul General Bruce Willamson, states: "(...) Another theory is that there are two separate (criminal) industries, drug trafficking and kidnapping, and that Batista got into trouble when it included very detailed, sensitive information about the cartel's operations in its anti-kidnapping presentations. "
A source who was involved with the investigation points out that in the emails that Batista sent there was no information that compromised the operations of organized crime, but a general diagnosis of the distribution of the criminal groups in the state.
"In the computer of the 'gringo', as they told him, and in the USB memory there was no detailed information, it was general information. No routes, places or names were mentioned, it was just general information. "
That cable from the Consulate also showed the little confidence of the United States Government to find the anti-kidnapping expert alive. "Batista has been lost for more than a week, and every day he remains in captivity reduces the chances of his release. There were rumors that it would be delivered shortly after his abduction, and then other versions emerged that said he would be released on the weekend of December 13 to 14, has not happened, and Charles (?) Does not think it will happen.
"The kidnappers have not made demands. In most cases of levantones, the cartels kill the victim, destroy the body in acid and throw it in the desert ".
Another cable dated the following year, on June 26, 2009, indicates that intelligence reports indicated that Batista had already been killed.
"The governor and the prosecutor have informed us that according to intelligence information, Mr. Batista was murdered shortly after his abduction; they hope to arrest the perpetrators soon. "
In that meeting that mentions the consular cable it is indicated that the then attorney Jesus Torres Charles stated that "for intelligence information to which they have had access, Mr. Batista was murdered a few days after his abduction, his body was 'cooked' and his remains thrown away (...) the state has identified the head of the Gulf cartel in Saltillo, 'Tatanka', as the mastermind of the crime (...) Batista was kidnapped, although they (the authorities) speculate that he was executed once that his captors did not know what to do with him (they never made a demand for his release). "
What happened with Batista after boarding the truck is unclear. A former official points out that it could have been an accidental death, since Batista had become nervous when he saw that they were delinquents, and in a struggle he was shot in the leg and bled.
The official information only states that after lifting Batista and releasing Valdés, the first was executed, after his captors discovered that the American had a chip for its location.
"The testimonies tell us that Batista had a chip under his skin, apparently provided by the company he worked for. This frightened them and they executed him, and they got rid of the body for fear of being located by means of that chip, "says an official of the Prosecutor's Office.
The only clues come from the statement of Torres Jiménez, who had to go into exile after the murder of Batista, persecuted by the Zetas. "El Tomás," whom authorities identify as the material perpetrator of the US homicide, and "La Manzana," were executed by their own organization after putting the US government behind them.
Two others, "El Coyote" and "El Mano Negra", which according to the authorities are from the Agua Nueva ejido area, are missing. It is unknown if they were executed by the Zetas or escaped for fear of being killed.
"We only have the nicknames, and the investigations indicate that there were two subjects nicknamed that way in that place. The ejido people point out that it was common to see vehicles with armed men go by behind a hill, but nobody knows or nobody wants to identify them. "
The state authorities conducted a search in the area, however, only found a rusted tambo with bullet holes. "For the time that happened, it is not possible to find body fat, or hair for DNA analysis. The rain could also have taken away these elements that could at some point serve to identify if Batista was there. "
Months after the abduction, the authorities found clandestine graves in the Red Canyon, in Arteaga. Although at first it was speculated that there could be the body of the American, could not find anything to link the American to that place.
In spite of the sensitivity of the case, neither the local Attorney General's Office (in subsequent immediate years) nor the PGR, then in charge of Eduardo Medina Mora, had the intention of thoroughly investigating the disappearance of the anti-kidnapping expert.
Inquest 10/2008 was detained for several years, until the file was reopened in 2014. There were threats to state officials who were handling the case.
The Office of the Prosecutor requested the intervention of the PGR shortly after the events, but the federal authority only sent two agents who met with officials of the Government of Coahuila and limited themselves to compiling a record of what the local prosecutor's office had informed them.
The dispute between the federal government of Felipe Calderón and PRI Humberto Moreira went beyond the political.
The United States consul in Monterrey points out in the cable dated June 26, 2009, among the concerns about not finding Batista, that the La Laguna area was the center of a strong dispute in which there was no coordination between the Government of the State and the PAN government of Torreón, emphasizing precisely the political differences.
To date, nobody knows with certainty what happened to Batista. The authorities do not know how he died, and although they searched for a long time the other two members of the Zetas who participated in his kidnapping, "El Coyote" and "El Mano Negra", have not been able to locate them. It is presumed that they could have had the same fate as "El Tomás" and "La Manzana", although of these last two there is the certainty that they died.
On December 6, 2016, eight years after the disappearance of Batista, the Attorney General of the State of the State issued the non-exercise of criminal action against the material perpetrator of the homicide, as it was confirmed that "El Tomás" was dead, that there was even a death certificate.
In the case of "La Manzana" it could also be confirmed that he was dead, however, the other two participants of the kidnapping appear to have been swallowed up by the earth.
The conclusion of the authority is crude: "As long as we do not have a testimony from those people, it will be impossible to determine where Batista was. And being honest, we do not believe that they will appear after all these years. Possibly they have been executed and have had the same fate as Batista ... It is difficult to know. "
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