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At least 100,000 people missing in Mexico

noAditya Rosales The bedroom is a typical 17 year old’s bedroom. In her modest house in Puebla, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of the Mexican capital, a Beatles poster and a Minnie Mouse balloon hang above her bed. Several Barbie dolls, some makeup and a teddy bear litter the dresser. But since Nadia disappeared on her way to school in 2017, she hasn’t slept. Since then, her mother, Vicky, has been searching for her on street corners and among the bodies at the state morgue. “We didn’t move or change the number in case she came back,” she said.

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On the other side of the country, in Saltillo, forensic experts work in the quiet labs of Mexico’s first human identification center to identify dead bodies. In a laboratory, a skeleton exhumed from a mass grave is laid out for analysis. In another photo, a forensic anthropologist digs into a brown paper bag containing the debris.After examination, the scientists tried to extract DNA Search from the remains to see if they can find a match with the person reported missing.

Empty bedrooms and unnamed bodies bear witness to national disgrace. Mexico’s register of missing persons dating back to 1964 surpassed 100,000 in May. This cumulative total does not include those who disappeared but were subsequently found; the true figure is undoubtedly much higher (see Figure 1).

Most of these missing persons may have died. Between 2006 and 2016, more than 2,000 secret graves were discovered in Mexico. The country’s forensic service has 52,000 unidentified bodies that may or may not belong to people on the “missing” register.

These numbers are staggering for a peacetime democracy. Mexico has officially recorded five times as many people missing as Sri Lanka recorded during its quarter-century-old civil war. That’s 80 times the number of Chileans who went missing during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. It shows how violent Mexico has become over the past 15 years, and how drug gangs have carved out a turf where they can kill with impunity.

Until the 1990s, relatively few Mexicans went missing. Those who do are often victims of the government itself, which is waging an ugly campaign with left-wing student and guerrilla groups. Since 2006, this number has increased dramatically. About 80% of disappearances occurred after Felipe Calderón’s government launched the “War on Drugs”. During Mr. Calderón’s tenure, from 2006 to 2012, an average of eight people disappeared every day. Today, under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in 2018, 25 people go missing every day.

Part of this increase could be because of better counts, or people being more willing to report their loved ones missing. But experts believe it mostly represents an increase in gang violence. The number of murder reports relative to population has tripled since Mr Calderón’s war on drugs began. He tries to decapitate gangs by capturing or killing their leaders. This strategy backfired. The headless gang is splintered. New factions fight for control of smuggling routes. The Crisis Group think tank estimates that the number of criminal groups in Mexico more than doubled between 2010 and 2020, from 76 to 205.

find a solution

Some ostentatiously murdered their opponents, hanging their bodies on bridges as a warning. Others prefer to make the bodies disappear by burning them, dissolving them in acid, or burying them in the desert. The aim is to pre-empt the investigation before it begins. (Cynics argue that the police also prefer to do this when no body can be found, because it makes homicide numbers look lower than they really are.)

Most of the missing are young people, many of them gang members. In addition to murdering rivals, gangs also eliminate witnesses. Some of the missing youths aren’t dead; they’ve been kidnapped and forced into gangs. Other victims were killed by mistake. María Luisa Núñez, whose son and two friends went missing while traveling in a car in Puebla, believes they were taken because of rival gang rules that after 9 p.m. No more than two people can travel together in their area.

An increasing number of cases involve women and children. Female victims tend to be younger than males: often in their teens rather than their 20s (see Figure 2). Many are thought to have been kidnapped and forced into sex work – a lucrative sideline for some gangs. Some were raped and murdered.

Karla Quintana, head of the National Search Commission, a government agency created in 2017, said the scandal was more than just so many people missing. Two other scandals followed. The search for the body was slow and ineffective. Families of missing people rarely find justice. A United Nations The committee found the disappearances “almost absolutely impunity”. It estimates that only 2-6% of cases are prosecuted. Journalist Héctor de Mauleón said the issue of disappearances was “not a national priority”. “It’s normalized.”

TOPSHOT - Mexican students take part in a protest against violence in Mexico and the murder of three students at the Guadalajara Audiovisual Media University in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, April 24, 2018.  - Three Mexican film students went missing five weeks ago who were kidnapped, tortured, killed and possibly dissolved in acid, investigators said Monday, April 23, 2018, in a horrific case that sparked an outcry. ending. The students — Salomon Aceves Gastelum, 25; Daniel Diaz, 20; and Marco Avalos, 20 — went missing on March 19 while filming a movie outside Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city project, where they study at the University of Audiovisual Media.  (Photo courtesy of ULISES RUIZ/AFP) (Image credit should read ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images)
give voice to the voiceless

Mr López Obrador’s tactic against gangs, dubbed “hugs not bullets”, appears to be making matters worse. The president believes that poverty leads to crime, so welfare can be used to fight it. Sadly, welfare programs are not as lucrative as drug smuggling. Mr López Obrador has pledged to stop the armed forces from fighting the gangsters. They are still stationed in areas where many gangs are rioting, but have been told not to confront them. Experts believe the president’s lack of a coherent security strategy has increased the perception that gangs and other criminals are getting away with it. “We have never had such a problem of organized crime and such a fragile state,” said Francisco Rivas of the National Citizen Observatory. non-governmental organization.

Officers are sometimes in league with gangs, or on their payroll. One infamous incident in 2014 remains a mystery when 43 male trainee teachers disappeared in Iguala, in the southwest. A government investigation concluded that local police pulled the teachers from a bus and handed them over to a drug gang, which killed them. The motive is unknown. The teachers requisitioned a bus as they travel to Mexico City each year to mark the anniversary of a historic massacre. One theory is that they inadvertently got on a bus laden with drugs, which the gang and their police associates believed they were trying to steal. A report this year by outside experts found evidence that the military also helped cover up crimes.

violence begets violence

Until recently, authorities did not even acknowledge that disappearances existed in Mexico. Some police refused to accept reports of missing persons, saying they might have just fled, or insisted that families wait 36 ​​hours. That changed under the leadership of Mr Calderon and Mr López Obrador’s predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, following outrage over the Iguala teacher’s case. Laws were passed in 2012 and 2017 to address this issue. Police are asked to immediately accept reports of missing persons. The Government established a network of search committees and a national register of missing persons, collating all local registers, dating back to 1964.

Mr. López Obrador has made some attempts to improve things. In May, his government updated a 2017 law to create a national identification center like the one in Saltillo.It also plans to establish a DNA Databases that try to help match missing people and their relatives; currently only some states have local ones. He poured more money into the network of 32 search committees. But this year the president’s actual budget increased only 0.3%, to $37 million. That’s unlikely to be enough, considering this year’s funding also includes the establishment of a national human identification center. Building just one center in Saltillo cost $9 million, not including staff salaries.

The president has gone hot and cold on the issue. After taking power, he formed a commission to investigate the Iguala teacher’s case. However, he initially dismissed a recent report involving the military before acknowledging that some officers were under investigation.

In many places, authorities remain indifferent or in denial. In Jalisco, the state with the most registered missing persons, the attorney general for missing persons is Blanca Trujillo. When asked about disappearances, she first spoke of people who had run away because of family problems, before acknowledging the role of organized crime.

too little too late

Friction between different agencies, including the attorney general and the search committee, could also slow the investigation. Basic failures abound. Luz Araceli Díaz, whose daughter disappeared in Guadalajara in 2020 at the age of 23, said authorities lost files for three months. Ms Rosales said she asked authorities to trace Nadia’s mobile phone but claimed they did not.

No doubt some officials are not disturbed by the disappearances, which are usually poor and often criminals. Many voters shared their views. Victim fired as “Marlos Passos” (wrong path). Missing women are often thought to be with boyfriends.

However, investigations are sometimes slow because investigators do not have the skills or resources to respond to a tragedy of such magnitude. It is estimated that if all capacity were devoted to identifying the dead instead of dealing with new murders and other crimes, it would take the forensic service 35 years to deal with the backlog of unidentified bodies. Evidence is lost due to slow investigation; witnesses die, retreat or leave. In 2020, Ms. Nunes found her son, who disappeared in 2017, in a grave along with six other bodies. It was not until February of this year that authorities formally identified him and returned him.

Where governments fail, the mothers of missing people step in. is called”collectivismmostly female relatives of victims, has long operated as a support network, or digging in fields to find hidden graves. They hold workshops, investigate their cases and engage with authorities. Missing person laws. “Mothers are doing what the authorities should do,” said the head of a company called Rosalía Castro Toss. in a group In Veracruz, her son is being searched for.

The state government’s response may be slowly improving thanks to these groups. The Coahuila government established the Human Identification Center in Saltillo in 2020. It has returned 16 bodies to their families. Protocols for the search for missing persons involving their families are being drafted. Officials from the National Search Commission are trying to get authorities to cooperate more.

but for now collectivism Continue to lead the way. Ms. Nunes is still campaigning to find and prosecute her son’s killer. On a recent Friday, she and other mothers visited Puebla’s Forensic Services, where they go weekly to examine bodies. After leaving, they removed a banner from a tree outside. It shows the faces of some missing locals. Ms Núñez said it was difficult to make a poster large enough to show all these people. They folded it and discussed the recent case of a missing boy whose parents avoided the spotlight. It takes courage to speak up. The simple truth, Vicky Rosales said at home, is that “if we’re not looking for Nadia, no one is.”

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