Tijuana's Missing Poet

Where is Noé Carillo Martínez?

Noé Carillo Martínez. "He might be in San Diego because of the bank transactions that we see on his debit card. The transactions were made from a Mexican account but on U.S. ATMs."
  • Noé Carillo Martínez. "He might be in San Diego because of the bank transactions that we see on his debit card. The transactions were made from a Mexican account but on U.S. ATMs."

Fear of kidnapping has long spurred the upper classes in Tijuana to build high walls around their homes and mansions. Some even purchase insurance policies that will pay ransoms. But the literary community, never feeling as if they were a target, has never gone to these lengths. The disappearance of well-known poet Noé Carillo Martínez may change that.

Carillo, a local poet who had published two compilations and was scheduled to release a third in mid-March, was last seen on Monday, February 10. "He had a weekly show," says Christian Ramirez, "at the university radio station in Tijuana, and that show is from 8:00 to 10:00 every Tuesday night. We know that on Tuesday, he finished the transmission of his show, signed off, and went home and slept there that night. But after that, we don't know anything of his whereabouts."

Ramirez works for the American Friends Service Committee, an organization primarily dedicated to documenting and publicizing human-rights violations committed by law-enforcement agencies. The family of Noé Carillo has enlisted the organization's help in their search. According to Ramirez, Carillo "really does not fit the profile of a person who would be kidnapped in Tijuana. People who are victims of kidnapping are usually entrepreneurs, maquiladora owners, industrialists, who are very well known for having money. Noé really does not fit that profile, unless, of course, people thought because he was a published writer and he had a radio show that it might indicate that he had wealth. But that is not the case."

Carillo lived in a house in the Otay area of Tijuana, walking distance from the Autonomous University of Baja California, where he had his radio show. Ramirez says nothing about the house, which Carillo shared with two colleagues, indicated wealth. "I know him personally," he explains. "I've been to his house a couple of times, and he lived humbly. He is a government employee, and in Mexico, that does not carry you very far if you're not a corrupt individual. He was a very respected person. He comes from a working-class family, and he actually lives in what would be the Mexican equivalent of projects, government housing, really, in Tijuana."

In fact, Carillo's government job, manager of the lecture hall and reading room at the Centro Cultural de Tijuana in the Rio Zone, had ended a month earlier. "He left January 15," explains Teresa Vicencio, general manager of the Cultural Center, "because he was interested in having more spare time to write his new book of poetry. We are friends, and we had talked about that last year and decided it was a good idea for him to leave so he could have time to write his new poetry book."

Carillo's friends doubt that his writings could have spurred someone to snatch him. "I am not a literary critic," Ramirez says, "but I do have all of his books, and the poetry is not at all political or militant. It's more of human interest, of soul- searching and the human spirit."

Olimpia Ramirez, a friend and coworker of Carillo's at the Cultural Center, says, "It is ideological poetry. His poems make statements. But they didn't make social statements. They are more personal statements."

Without putting a figure on them, Olimpia Ramirez says that Carillo "has some fellowships and grants to write his poetry and publish his poetry. But I don't consider it enough money to make him a target for robbery or kidnapping."

Still, the only clue as to Carillo's whereabouts has to do with money. "The family has also provided us with some documentation that leads us to believe that he might be in San Diego because of the bank transactions that we see on his debit card," Ramirez explains. "The transactions were made from a Mexican account but on U.S. ATMs. One of them they think was at a store. We know his card and his PIN number were used."

Before U.S. law enforcement could get involved in an effort to find him, Carillo's family would have to notify Mexican authorities. But, "for whatever reason, his family has been kind of holding back on that," Ramirez says. "We don't know exactly why."

Olimpia Ramirez doubts that Carillo was kidnapped at all. "It's difficult to think that he was kidnapped," she says. "I know in other parts of the country, like in Mexico City, every person is subject to kidnapping; poor, rich, whatever. But in this region of the country, I find it very difficult to understand that the kidnapping of Noé is for any kind of money. I'm afraid that this kidnapping theory is misinforming the people, because, to my knowledge -- and I spoke to the family -- the idea that he was kidnapped is one of three or four theories they have. And the kidnapping is a very difficult theory, because Noé didn't have any enemies. And if the person just wanted to kidnap him to withdraw money from the account, it's been too much time to do that. Right now it's just one of the possibilities. I tend to think that Noé was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I just can't imagine why he was [kidnapped]," Vicencio says. "He is so peaceful, and he really has a lot of friends. And his personality is not aggressive at all. This is really shocking for all of us. Because apparently there was no reason to do that at all."

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