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By Gabriela Minjares and Rocío Gallegos, La Verdad, Ciudad Juárez, México
“I have calluses on my feet.” That phrase was a signal. If Edgar Andres Montilla uttered those words, his family would know that the 19-year-old was in danger while traveling through Mexico on his way to the United States.
Edgar uttered that phrase in Ciudad Juárez, to no avail. After being kidnapped, he was murdered in Ciudad Juárez, in a sector located about five miles from the border that the young man planned to cross to meet his romantic partner. The criminals beat him to death and the authorities of three countries, Mexico, Ecuador and Venezuela, abandoned him, amidst bureaucracy and omission.
“The main problem the family had was in the process of filing the disappearance report,” said Carla Palacios, general coordinator of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre, an association that assists victims of torture and forced disappearance in the state of Chihuahua. She explains that when Edgar’s relatives heard the phrase that sounded the alarm, they sought support from consulates, embassies and institutions in charge of investigating crimes, such as the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) in Mexico. Everywhere the answer was the same: that there was nothing they could do, that the family should travel to Ciudad Juárez to file a complaint.
“There is a lack of mechanisms to file urgent complaints when a person’s life is in danger,” Palacios said. “In this case, Edgar’s partner, originally from the United States and who was waiting for him in that country, had reason to believe that he could be facing a risky situation, but there was no place to report it.”
Edgar, originally from Venezuela but living in Ecuador for humanitarian reasons, traveled to Mexico in mid-February 2021 with the intention of migrating to the United States. He arrived in Cancun, where he vacationed for a few days with his partner, and from there he took a plane by himself to Ciudad Juárez on February 20. Twenty days later, on March 12, he was found dead. His body was dumped wrapped in a blanket in a field full of garbage and tires.
“The road ends only when we decide to stop walking,” Edgar posted on his Facebook page on Sept. 25, 2016, in a photograph where he is seen with his back turned, accompanied by another young man. That road began for humanitarian reasons, when together with his family he migrated from Venezuela to Ecuador, where the young musician lived his last years before trying to reach the United States.
From the moment he planned to make the journey through Mexico, Edgar was aware of the dangers he could face. According to the file held by the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre, Edgar hired a “pollero” or “coyote” — a term used to refer to a migrant smuggler — from Ecuador, who traced the entire route to the United States.
Six days after arriving in Ciudad Juárez, on February 26, he informed his partner that he had managed to cross into the United States but was deported and returned with the pollero. Then the situation changed. Edgar said via text message that he was taken to a house where there were more people, where he felt uncomfortable because there was a violent atmosphere. He shared his location and asked his family not to deposit the amount they still owed, because that would be covered until he was in the United States, and he was still in Ciudad Juárez.
According to the location sent to his family, the young man was in a house in the Parajes del Valle neighborhood, southeast of Ciudad Juárez, a residential area with low-income housing. His partner stopped communicating with him, “but they sent a video where Edgar is seen saying that he is already in the United States, that everything is fine, asking them to make the payment, and he tells his partner the phrase they had agreed on: ‘I have calluses on my feet,’” Palacios said.
Once the warning signal was activated, Edgar’s partner mobilized and questioned the pollero, who began to demand payment and then changed his story, saying that they had lost Edgar and that if the outstanding balance was paid, they would look for him. Edgar’s mother and his partner decided to pay, but by that time Edgar had already been killed.
Edgar’s mother began the search by contacting all the possible institutions, in Ecuador, Venezuela and Mexico. According to her statement to the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre, she tried to file a complaint with the Mexican Embassy in Ecuador and got no response. She went to the Venezuelan Embassy and got no response. She traveled to Mexico City, where she went to the Attorney General’s Office, and nothing. Everyone told her that she had to travel to Ciudad Juárez to file the complaint.
Desperate, on July 27, 2021, she contacted the Human Rights Centre, told them about the case, and provided information and physical characteristics of her son. After reviewing the lists of incoming and outgoing bodies at the Directorate of Forensic Services, they found that one of the bodies matched Edgar’s profile. Edgar’s mother traveled to Ciudad Juárez to file a report and identify the body.
The autopsy performed on the body, which was found on March 12, 2021, in the Parajes de Oriente neighborhood, about a mile from where Edgar was held captive, reveals that the cause of death was brain damage due to a blow to the head. Palacios said information discovered by her organization indicates that Edgar was kept alive for at least a week after the video was sent and then he was murdered.
This collaborative investigation by El Mercurio in Ecuador and La Verdad Juárez was produced with the support of InquireFirst.