University students who are members of the Yo Soy 132 movement chant slogans… (Marco Ugarte, Associated…)
MEXICO CITY — No one knows exactly why Aleph Jimenez Dominguez, an Ensenada activist, disappeared last week. In Mexico, people disappear all the time, for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it's difficult to get anyone to pay attention.
But the Jimenez case has been different.
The 32-year-old Jimenez is a spokesman for the Yo Soy 132 student movement that has spearheaded the peaceful, if raucous, protests against President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whom the group accuses of cheating their way to victory in July's elections.
On Sept. 15, Jimenez and more than 20 fellow activists were arrested by Ensenada's municipal police. They had yelled, "Fraud!" during the city's traditional Mexican Independence Day ceremonies, which were headed up by the mayor — a member of the PRI. Local media reported that the officers roughed up some of the activists, with one woman sent to the hospital.
Two days later, Jimenez and the others filed a formal complaint with the local human rights commission. Then he told friends about a black pickup that was following him around. He was last seen Thursday afternoon at an Ensenada bank branch by a friend who had dropped him off there.
On Monday, the Yo Soy 132 movement alleged that Jimenez was the victim of a "forced disappearance" at the hands of Ensenada's municipal government, without offering any proof of government involvement. A statement released by the group's legal and human rights committee called upon President Felipe Calderon and other national leaders to "launch an immediate, impartial and exhaustive investigation into the human rights violations" committed against the activist.
Aides at the office of the mayor, Enrique Pelayo Torres, did not return calls for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office in the state of Baja California del Norte said that the case was being treated, for now, as a run-of-the-mill missing person investigation.
In the meantime, news of the disappearance has ricocheted across social media and the Mexican media landscape, raising the political stakes for both Peña Nieto's party and the student movement that has sought to delegitimize the incoming leader at every turn since the vote in July.
If the Jimenez case turns out to be something other than a political kidnapping, it could damage the legitimacy of Yo Soy 132, which maintains a high profile here but is fighting to remain relevant after a federal electoral tribunal in August rejected charges that Peña Nieto had won the election through fraud.
However, if Jimenez's disappearance is revealed to be politically motivated — or even if it remains a mystery — it will probably add fuel to the lingering fears about Peña Nieto's party. For much of the last century, the PRI ruled Mexico in a quasi-authoritarian manner, occasionally suppressing dissent with violence. During the election, Peña Nieto said his party had become more respectful of democratic norms.
According to the Tijuana-based newspaper El Mexicano, Pelayo justified the Independence Day arrests by saying that the activists had hung a banner that was obstructing the view of the festivities. He also said the protesters acted in a "disrespectful manner" during the national anthem.
In a nationally broadcast radio interview Monday, Jimenez's father, Julio Jimenez Aponte, said that his son was the victim of a "forced disappearance, in which some kind of authorities — which ones I can't say — deprived Aleph of his liberty."
The Yo Soy 132 movement has scheduled a march for Wednesday in Mexico City to protest Jimenez's disappearance.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.