Family Still Searching for Answers, 8 Years After Anti-Kidnapping Expert Was Kidnapped
Felix hadn't planned on becoming one of the leading experts in anti-kidnapping, but to hear his wife tell it, it was the role he was meant to fill.
For Lourdes Batista, there is no talking about her husband Felix in the past tense.
“He is an officer and a gentleman. He is a wonderful man,” she told InsideEdition.com. “I’m supposed to say ‘was,’ but I’m going to talk in the present. That’s been one of our problems, that we’ve had no closure. We never got to say goodbye. Not having closure makes it really painful.”
Lourdes has been living with that pain for nearly eight years, when her husband, a renowned expert on anti-abduction, was abducted himself in Mexico.
Eight years later, Lourdes has been paying tribute to the man she calls her soul mate, maintaining that he is not forgotten while holding out hope that she and her loved ones will get answers that so far, no one has been either able or willing to provide.
Felix Batista had traveled to Saltillo, the capital and largest city of the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila on business when he learned that his friend and colleague Pilar Valdez, the longtime director of security for the Saltillo Industrial Group, had been abducted.
An expert on negotiating kidnappings, Felix was tapped in December 2008 to help secure Valdez's successful return.
"I get a call from Felix. I can tell he’s busy. I call him back and he tells me, ‘honey, I’m really busy; I think there’s a kidnapping taking place. I’ll call you back.’ That was the last time I spoke with him,” Lourdes said.
Then on December 10, Valdez called Felix as he dined at one of the town’s best restaurants, El Mesón Principal del Norte, saying that he was safe and free but that the local police needed to speak with him.
Lourdes is sure her husband knew this was a sign something was wrong.
“I know my husband; he was no fool,” she said. “Felix would’ve thought this is very odd, something is going on, I know that.”
After a few more calls from Valdez, who insisted he meet them outside, Felix left all of his belongings inside the restaurant and went out to wait.
“Batista knew that something was not right here,” FBI Special Agent Alexandra Montilla told InsideEdition.com. “He left an emergency contact with the restaurant, with the people he was with, saying, ‘if anything happens to me, please call this number.’ He felt he had to do it. I feel he felt obligated to do something.”
Surveillance footage reportedly shows Felix waiting for nearly a half an hour before a white van pulls up and a man in uniform approaches.
“He kind of greets Felix in a friendly way,” Lourdes said. “What we [probably] don’t see is the pistol and what have you. Pilar is in the van, he’s hurt ... They gave Pilar some money and he is dropped off by the road. And Felix is gone.”
Felix hadn’t planned on becoming one of the leading experts in anti-kidnapping, but to hear his wife tell it, it was the role he was meant to fill.
“Everything led that way,” Lourdes said.
Felix was 4 years old when he and his family moved from Cuba to the United States, settling in New York City where he attended Our Lady of Lourdes elementary school and then the prestigious all-boys preparatory high school, Xavier.
“His father was a blue collar worker, a mechanic and a superintendent. His mother was a housewife, and they worked really hard. For college, Felix paid his own way and won scholarships,” Lourdes said. “He didn’t want to put that burden on his parents.”
Felix attended Middlebury College in Vermont and went on to get a master’s degree in language, traveling through South America while working on his thesis.
Throughout it all, Felix kept in touch with his then-girlfriend, Lourdes.
The pair began dating when she was 14 and he was 15, having grown up together as their families knew each other from Cuba.
“We fell in love when we were teenagers,” she said, laughing. “We went our ways for college. He won his scholarship; I still had a year of college to finish. He would travel all through South America, study his thesis topic, the Native South American Man through the eyes of a U.S. businessman or citizen... and I went to Spain to study for a term. Somehow he called me and he asked me to marry him.”
After months apart, Felix and Lourdes met in the Panama Canal Zone, where they were married and then spent more than a year traveling across the continent.
“We stayed in small villages, small towns, jotting down things, we did excursions just out of curiosity to interesting places,” Lourdes said. “We traveled by bus, I carried this bag—a little sports bag made out of leather you get in one of these native shops—it had three changes of clothing, a little sweater and that was it. That was our honeymoon.”
They eventually headed back to the States, where they had a traditional Catholic Church wedding and started their family — going on to have Adam, Adrielle, Amari, Alysandra and Andrea — while Felix began what would become a decorated military career that would take the family to Arizona and Colorado.
“I remember him getting medals... and I was in awe of how his men respected him so much,” Lourdes said. “It wasn’t out of fear; it was just that was the person he was.”
After four years in the military, Felix in 1983 found himself wondering what to do next, and a friend of a friend suggested he look into private security.
By this time, both Lourdes’ and Felix’s families had moved to Miami, where many firms that specialized in part in the burgeoning kidnapping and ransom business were based, making the city a perfect fit for the Batistas.
So, Felix interviewed with companies in the area.
“They told him they sent their consultants abroad to assess companies’ security at not just a guard-level... but to look at a business from the bottom, up,” Lourdes said. “A part of it was teaching the families of business owners how to avoid being kidnapped; how to avoid trouble if there was a protest or uprising. That’s how he started doing it and it just evolved. He was a natural; he was really good at it.”
After five years in the business, Felix went independent.
He worked for companies such as Kroll Security, AIG, Henderson Risk Limited, St. Paul’s Travelers, Lloyd’s and ASI Global, helping companies develop security plans, look for potential vulnerabilities and in the event of an abduction, negotiate to bring the person home.
An extensive traveler and former U.S. Army major with a background in intelligence, Felix thrived in the field, successfully negotiating a resolution in nearly 100 kidnapping and ransom cases.
“There were some very hard cases and he was away a lot. He would travel; he would go away for three months at a time. He would bond with these families,” Lourdes said. “When he’d finally get home, he’d tell me — and his eyes would well up — ‘I am going through withdrawal, I miss the families.’ I still get letters from some of the families.
“He had a beautiful soul and he wanted to do good in the world,” she continued. “His idol was Don Quixote, and he did live that kind of life, always. Even to the end, I know for a fact that he went out there so that man could be saved. Felix went out there because he knew that they were going to kill Pilar if he didn’t show up. And he couldn’t live knowing that somebody would be killed if he didn’t show up.”
No criminal syndicate has ever claimed responsibility for the abduction, nor were any ransoms or demands made after he was taken, but authorities believe that the Los Zetas cartel was behind Felix’s kidnapping.
“Pilar signaled to Felix that it was Los Zetas,” Lourdes said of the brief moment the two men had before her husband was taken in exchange for his friend.
Valdez also told the FBI that Los Zetas was responsible for the kidnapping.
“He is positive,” Special Agent Montilla said. “They asked specifically for Felix Batista. He feels [Valdez] was bait to get to Felix Batista. This guy got very lucky.”
Considered by the U.S. government at one time to be the most technologically advanced and sophisticated cartel operating in Mexico, Los Zetas was born out of a group of former military officers that defected from the Mexican Army, Alejandro Hope, a security policy analyst and former intelligence officer, told InsideEdition.com.
Formed in the late 1990s as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas eventually broke away as a separate criminal organization.
“Los Zetas evolved into something of a paramilitary squad that increasingly operated without control from the Gulf Cartel,” Hope said.
By 2010, what was once known as a tactically sophisticated group that had broken out on its own was splintering into cells that while known as “Los Zetas,” were no longer a coherent, cohesive organization, Hope said.
“No less than 10 to 12 different groups call themselves Zetas,” he said. “Initially they were former military officers … but increasingly it was about petty thieves and murderers. You don’t have a national organization behind it. They use that brand to extract money.”
With hands in drug trafficking, extortion, assassinations, sex trafficking, gun running and kidnapping, Los Zetas uses an unprecedented level of savagery to exert control.
“They are extremely brutal,” Hope said. “It’s not only that they kill people, they torture them and they relish it. And they can dump bodies in a very, very public matter. They’re extremely public and theatrical in nature.”
Their brutality includes the August 2010 slaying of 72 undocumented immigrants from Central and South America, whose bodies were found piled together inside a ranch in San Fernando. The victims — 58 men and 14 women — were shot in the back of the head after they had refused to work for Los Zetas, or provide money for their release, investigators learned from the three survivors.
And in March 2011, about 33 miles from the Texas border, Los Zetas pillaged a town with a population of about 22,000 called Allende, destroying dozens of buildings and abducting 300 people.
Those 300 people were murdered — believed to have been incinerated, or “cooked,” as the cartel was known to do to its victims — to exact revenge against members of the gang suspected of stealing drug profits or working as a government informant, former Zetas testified during a federal trial that year.
“They pretty much wiped out a small town,” Hope said. “They wanted to punish everyone connected to those guys.”
The former mayor of the rural Mexican town, Sergio Lozano, was arrested this November in connection to the mass kidnapping, the attorney general's office said in a statement. His alleged role was not clarified, but a government report noted it would have been “inconceivable to accept” that Lozano had no knowledge of events.
It appeared that the reach of Los Zetas knew no bounds.
It’s nearly impossible for Lourdes to put into words what she felt when she learned that Felix had been taken.
“When I was told, I was in disbelief,” she said.
She got the news while she was with their youngest daughter, who just six months prior had suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was hit by a car.
A talented guitar player, Felix would sit by his daughter’s side and sing while waiting for her to wake from a coma.
“She was still recovering when Felix was taken,” Lourdes said.
After receiving the news, the family was left in a state of limbo.
“Imagine how it would feel to be waiting on this side — it was horrible,” Lourdes said. “Waiting for just some news. Any news... I kept asking ‘What do I do?’ Guys Felix worked with said 'stay put, maybe we’ll get a call,' and nothing happened."
While investigators in the U.S. had officially designated Felix’s case as a kidnapping, authorities in Mexico treated the incident as a missing persons case.
"They said, ‘no, it’s not a kidnapping, it’s a disappearance.' I said, ‘no, we all know he didn’t go willingly,'" Lourdes said.
A leaked cable of a correspondence that occurred a month after the abduction revealed officials in Mexico had done “a minimal investigation.”
“It is possible that the Batista case will be federalized, which may or may not result in a more complete investigation. Mexican federal government officials claimed in the press that they could not bring the case to the federal level because the family had not filed a complaint,” the cable said.
However, Lourdes said that she did file a complaint with the Mexican Consulate on December 24, two weeks after her husband was abducted, and was told that the complaint would be forwarded and filed. She said that she later learned that the complaint had not been forwarded to San Antonio until January 11 because of employee vacations.
“Here I am, my heart is broken, and these people are on vacation,” Lourdes said. “I went to the press. After that, they called me back right away.”
Still, things seemed to move at a glacial pace, she said.
In a meeting with U.S. consular officials and the office of then-governor of Coahuila State, Humberto Moreira, law enforcement officials said intel revealed Felix had been “murdered a few days after his abduction, with the body being ‘cooked’ to dispose of the remains,’” a leaked cable revealed.
“State law enforcement authorities had not uncovered information as to why Mr. Batista was abducted in the first place, although they speculated that he was executed once his captors could not figure out what to do with him [no ransom was ever made],” it continued.
Investigators floated several theories as to why Felix was targeted.
"Statements by Valdez to the FBI indicate that his abductors believed that Batista had been passing information on the drug cartels to Mexican federal law enforcement authorities,” a classified U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010 read.
Los Zetas did not take kindly to opposition, so it could stand to reason that dealing with and making an example out of a man such as Felix, who may have become a thorn in their side, crossed the cartel’s mind.
“It’s a very wealthy area,” Hope said of the location where Felix was last seen alive. “You have a lot of potential targets for extortion or kidnapping. It’s also a place that’s strategically located for transporting drugs to the U.S. It’s a hub. Fear was their currency. They really made a point of striking fear in the hearts of their rivals and the general population. Fear is very useful for these kinds of groups.”
One day before Felix was abducted, two prominent Saltillo industrial leaders told Consul General the security there was worsening, while other Saltillo businessmen had previously indicated they wanted to move to safer cities in the U.S., a cable read.
“Another theory is that there are two separate industries, and Batista got into trouble when he included background information on the extent of cartel influence in his anti-kidnapping presentation,” another cable read.
Law enforcement officials in Coahuila recovered Felix’s power point presentation, which included detailed slides on drug cartel territory, bosses and trafficking routes.
“Although this information was available through public sources, it could have been seen as a threat to a cartel,” the cable read. “Less likely, but still possible, is that it could be that the Batista abduction was intended to send a message to Saltillo civil society – i.e., no one is safe from kidnapping and security consultants can’t help you.”
It was believed that Felix’s death was ordered by a local Zeta boss known as Tatanka, who had been arrested for drug trafficking before Felix was taken, but was later released, Mexican officials told the U.S.
Tatanka, whose real name is German Torres Jimenez, was recently arrested again on drug charges in Mexico and is currently in custody, an FBI spokesman told InsideEdition.com.
Immediately after Felix’s abduction, officials assured the U.S. that multiple arrests were imminent. Eight years later, it was still not clear whether Jimenez would ever face any charges related to Felix's abduction and assumed murder.
An hour after his meeting with the U.S., Governor Moreira reshuffled his cabinet, giving Attorney General Jesus Torres Charles power over the Secretariat of Public Security.
He also relegated Secretary of Public Security Fausto Destenave Kuri, a former federal prosecutor, to the State Commission on Water and Sewage.
Destenave, a “bureaucratic rival of Torres’” and a longtime ally of Felix, had provided U.S. investigators with surveillance footage of Felix outside the restaurant as well as copies of Felix’s notes and papers, a cable said.
“I am so disappointed with the Mexican government,” Lourdes said. “Felix loved Mexico. He was even talking about, for retirement, buying an apartment by the beach in Una Playa del Carmen, so we could have the children and grandchildren in Mexico. I think he did an awful lot of good there. And I think it’s so cruel what they did to him.”
InsideEdition.com has reached out to the Coahuila State Attorney General’s Office for comment.
In June 2016, a self-described Zetas financial operator testified in court that the cartel paid top government officials in Coahuila in exchange for help from police.
According the San Antonio Express-News, Rodrigo Humberto Uribe Tapia, 41, named Moreira and Torres in his testimony, saying: “It was done through …. Jesus Torres Charles, and what they did is, several payments were made in Saltillo. It was some kind of agreement with governor Humberto … Humberto Moreira, who was at the time the governor of Coahuila.”
Kent Schaffer, Moreira’s Houston-based attorney, said at the time that the allegations were false, telling the newspaper: “He’s lying. That’s what criminals often do. Governor Moreira has no connection to the Zetas. That is pure fantasy.”
He moved to Barcelona after his son was found shot to death in Coahuila in 2012, which he said in an interview at the time that he believed was ordered by the Zetas.
InsideEdition.com has reached out to Schaffer in regard to the allegations made against Moreira.
Attempts to locate Torres for comment were unsuccessful.
Felix had worked in the business for so long without incident, which left many wondering what had changed to put him on Los Zetas’ radar.
“He felt very comfortable in Mexico,” Special Agent Montilla said. “They offered him armored vehicles; he didn’t want that. He felt that he was part of Mexico. He had so many friends, so many associates [there]; he felt very comfortable.”
Lourdes said her husband had no reason to think someone was out to do him harm.
“I grew to be very trusting of him, that nothing was going to happen,” she said. “I thought my husband was so smart, but he told me, ‘I’m not smart, I just have common sense.' All these years, he didn’t have a threat on his life. He never had someone try to kill him. Never, not ever.”
But in the months before his abduction, Felix had done something he had never done before — he talked to the press.
"People would say to him, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’ and he’d say ‘no, not in my line of work," Lourdes said. "But a very well-known journalist in Mexico was dying to get him to give her an interview... and he gave her an interview."
Felix appeared on the Spanish-language program 'Complete Safety,' speaking with journalist Ana Maria Salazar about kidnappings in Mexico.
“Nowadays, the kidnappers have realized that the middle class is much more attractive,” Felix told Salazar, who had served as a drug official in the Clinton administration. “Mexico overall has had to suffer an extreme amount of levels of danger, as in problems with negotiations, problems as in something will most likely happen to the victim. They will probably kill them, torture them, violate them, maim them or rape.”
That interview, which aired throughout Mexico, was one of a handful Felix had done on television, having appeared on a Mexico City-based CNN affiliate and NBC News to discuss issues Mexico has faced.
"I guess he didn’t think anything would happen to him," Lourdes said. "We were going to start the second half of life together soon; the sweet second half."
Not a day goes by that Lourdes doesn’t think of her husband, and while there are many days she and her family are fine, the anniversary of his abduction is always difficult. Adding to their anguish is the fact that the anniversary comes along with the holiday season.
“It’s the time of year that everybody [else] loves,” she said. “I know the anniversary is coming up. We talked about getting together to honor him, not to say goodbye or bury him, but to honor him.”
The grief is cyclical at times, Lourdes and Felix’s daughter, Adrielle, said.
“The truth is that there are times, especially during the holidays, that we all retreat into silence. I can feel it. I know even without talking with my mom or my siblings that it is happening. I know because it becomes palpable,” Adrielle said. “It comes down heavy and you know it's going to be one of those times when it's hard to do anything. And you don't know when it will let up. You don't know when, so you try to find a way to get through. You claw if you have to, and you remind yourself that you've managed to do it before and that Dad's wish would be for us to live our lives.
“He is still the noblest man I have ever known and he didn't deserve this,” she continued. “Everything has changed. I hate that he won't be here to enjoy his grandchildren. It makes me cry every time I think about it. How can I reconcile this reality? How is it that this could happen to such a great man? How can we ever truly heal from this? I don't think it's possible. It's been eight years without answers and it hasn't gotten any easier.”
But time, and therapy, has helped in some ways, and life has gone on.
“The kids are grown. One is a teacher, one is a NICU nurse, another is turning to teaching,” Lourdes said. "One works at Home Depot, one is a nurse practitioner... Eight years ago, it was a time when [the kids] were trying to figure themselves out. Thank goodness things worked out."
But the Batistas are not the same people they were before December 10, 2008.
“It has changed me. It has changed my children. My oldest daughter said ‘I feel like we all suffer from some PTSD.’ I agree with her,” Lourdes said, her voice shaky. “We know what he would tell us, and sometimes I remind the kids, and sometimes they remind me — he’s ever-present.”
And Felix has let them know that he’s watching, she said.
“Our oldest daughter got married last year. She got married on our anniversary,” Lourdes said. “Felix was there in so many ways. I used to call Felix my Marco Polo — he loved wheeling and dealing with artisans and vendors... and in Colombia he bought a tapestry cloth that was dark blue. That’s what she used to walk [down the aisle] on — that beautiful blue tapestry. “
And when Lourdes was looking for a card to give her daughter to celebrate the big day, she came across another trinket that showed Felix was still there.
“One time, Felix and I were late for a wedding — we were often late for things,” she said with a laugh.
While Felix wrote a note to the bride and groom in a card he found in the house, Lourdes had already bought and made out another card.
“He said, 'OK, save it for another occasion.' I found it for my daughter’s wedding," she said, clearing her throat. "My daughter just crumbled."
“I miss him terribly... When he was around, I felt like I could climb a mountain. Now it’s very different. The world is a very dangerous place. I look at the world with doomsday eyes. It’s not the same,” Lourdes said.
Though the family has tried to make their peace with the loss of Felix, it’s hard to mourn without a place to lay one’s grief.
“You remember his smile. You try to remember the good times — the sweet memories they can't take away from you. You try to live around the pain, the part of you that is shattered,” Adrielle said. “You try not to think about how every single day, you are left without answers, you are left screaming from this gaping hole in your heart and nobody can hear you. It's like punching a ghost. Only it's not a ghost.
“You know that this is real and that they are still terrorizing you and all the people you love, even today, through the silence. You know other families will suffer too,” she continued. “Somehow you try to find peace and live from your blessings instead of your anger or sadness. You try to be strong and not think about how much it hurts not to have him around or to hear his voice. But it's hard to do."
Just weeks before Felix was abducted in Mexico, Lourdes’ father passed away, and his actions at the burial have stayed with Lourdes ever since.
“Felix, he loved music. He loved to play guitar — he played guitar daily,” Lourdes recalled.
Sitting on a bench in Our Lady of Mercy cemetery, Felix strummed his beloved guitar, playing Cuban songs that left the family comforted. It’s the last place he played music that the family can remember.
“There was a spot across from my father’s mausoleum, and I ordered a bench,” Lourdes said. “It says ‘In Loving Memory of Felix Batista.’”
Though it had already been made, she at one time hoped to add an additional line to the bench.
“I wanted to put ‘In Loving Memory of Man of La Mancha’ — In Loving Memory of Don Quixote. Because that’s what he did. He went out there to rescue people.”
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