Kidnapped Conductor Still Missing in Mexico: Interview

Rodolfo and Ludivine Barbier-Cazares
Maestro Rodolfo Cazares with his wife Ludivine Barbier. Cazares was visiting his family when thugs took them hostage in Matamoros. Source: Ludivine Barbier via Bloomberg

This is the second Christmas that Ludivine Barbier will endure without her husband, the conductor Rodolfo Cazares, who was kidnapped in Mexico in July 2011.

Cazares, 36, was on the rise in Europe and a popular presence on the podium at Bremerhaven’s municipal theater in northern Germany.

Accompanied by his French wife, the Mexican-born conductor was visiting his family when thugs took them hostage in Matamoros, a city close to the Texas border.

In all, 18 relatives were kidnapped from three houses, tied up and pushed into a van.

Three days later, the kidnappers released Ludivine and a few others. But despite having paid a $100,000 ransom, Cazares remains among the missing.

How can a young artist with dual passports (Mexican and French) and a respected position in Germany just disappear?

The question plagues Barbier, 33, as she continues to battle for her husband’s release in the face of appalling bureaucratic indifference.

I spoke with her on the telephone from Paris shortly after Barbier and Frederique Santal, the sister of Olivier Tschumi, another hostage missing even longer, presented a petition at the Mexican Embassy intended for the country’s new president, Enrique Pena Nieto.

Mexican Inertia

Hoelterhoff: Any news?

Barbier: It’s too early, really, but we are hopeful of an answer. Santal and I were accompanied by the well-known Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia, and we were all warmly received.

Hoelterhoff: It’s unbelievable that three countries have not been able to find out what happened to him.

Barbier: I really don’t know why we’ve received so little help. The German authorities in Mexico City and in Germany have tried to help behind the scenes, even though my husband is not German. Ultimately, it’s up to the Mexican authorities.

Hoelterhoff: How do you explain the inertia?

Barbier: It may be a matter of being overextended. There are so many people who are murdered or disappear.

Hoelterhoff: Did you think you were at risk in Matamoros?

Barbier: We went every year. In the last years, it did seem more dangerous. But we never ever expected anything like this.

Hoelterhoff: When was the last time you heard from the kidnappers?

Like a Movie

Barbier: In July 2011, we received the ransom demand, which we paid in installments for a total of $100,000. It was like in a movie, always a different place, like a fast-food restaurant, with one of Rodolfo’s uncles hiring the go-between. We kept ringing the same number. Nothing.

Hoelterhoff: Who else remains missing?

Barbier: In addition to Rodolfo, his father, two uncles and a brother-in-law.

Hoelterhoff: Who do you think kidnapped you and why so many people?

Barbier: There were about six or eight with guns, all quite young, probably not older than 25. My thinking is that they hadn’t expected to take so many hostages. It was just an accident that a lot of us were staying with my in-laws.

Hoelterhoff: What happened then?

Barbier: We contacted the local police commander in Matamoros on September 13, 2011. But by the end of last year, it was clear nothing had been done.

Then I wrote a letter to the state attorney general, which was forwarded to the assistant attorney general’s Office for Special Investigations Into Organized Crime

Hoelterhoff: That was another dead end?

Barbier: Yes, we learned that the Special Investigations unit hadn’t been advised of our kidnapping and the disappearance of part of our family.

Hoelterhoff: It must be unbearable to live with such terrible uncertainty.

In Vienna

Barbier: Every day is hard. Every day I fight to find out what happened to my husband,

Hoelterhoff: Where did you meet?

Barbier: In Vienna, in 2002 when we were both students -- I am a translator. We married in 2006.

Hoelterhoff: What did he conduct in Bremerhaven?

Barbier: Opera and musicals. His colleagues have been wonderfully supportive in their constant demand for action. And during his Mexico tour in October 2012 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti spoke to the Mexican authorities to ask about his colleague.

I trust the new Mexican government. They can help me to find him now. I know.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, Bloomberg’s arts and leisure section. Any opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation in German.)

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