Mexico was once thought of as a wonderful tourist destination, with beautiful beaches, a rich history and warm and friendly people. Over the past ten years, however, the country has become more and more synonymous with corruption, drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder. Although the beaches, history and people still remain, the danger increasingly deters foreigners from taking the opportunity to enjoy them. The violence in Mexico left more than 26,000 people missing during the Felipe Calderon Presidency, and due to a tangled web of bureaucracy and poor record-keeping, the country now finds itself with a massive missing-persons problem. As families search for the missing, the Mexican government steps up efforts to bring the issue under control.
Earlier this year, the federal government of Mexico released a list of 26,121 people who were reported missing during the six-year Presidency of Felipe Calderón. How many of these people were victims of crime, and how many simply left their homes, is not clear; and the uncertainty has become a source of personal grief and national embarrassment.
Mexico’s Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said Friday that the federal and state governments are currently eliminating from the list those who have emigrated or simply left home for other reasons. In addition, it is thought that some of the people on the list had since returned home, but the families had failed to notify the authorities. According to Chong, a new list will be released later this year and the number of missing “will be much lower.”
In protest of the government’s inaction over this issue, a group of mothers descended on the Mexico City office of attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam to stage a nine-day sit-in and hunger strike. On Monday, the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday set up a task force of 12 investigators to work on the issue. Their goal is to centralize the process and eliminate a confusing network of red tape. Before now, families of those who are missing have had to fend for themselves; travelling from state to state to visit jails and morgues, in the hope of locating their loved ones. The attorney general, acknowledging the families’ ordeal, hailed the creation of the new task force by saying “Today we want to destroy that bureaucratic maze.”
Other than those who left home of their own free will, many are believed to have been detained by the police or the army, while others may have fallen victim to the country’s ongoing drug-wars. The brutal Mexican cartels regularly kidnap individuals for ransom or to force them into labor; either as foot soldiers for the cartel or as virtual slaves in the meth labs, marijuana fields and other narcotics-processing facilities.
The creation of the new task force has been met with skepticism by both the campaigning mothers and human-rights groups. The criticism is due to a perceived failure to address the reasons why so many people disappeared: The task force will primarily focus on simply locating the missing or otherwise accounting for them. Tracking down the more than 26,000 left missing by the violence in Mexico will be a daunting task; discovering how and why they have been unaccounted for since the Calderon Presidency does not appear to be something into which the new government wishes to delve – to the chagrin of the families.
The federal government is claiming that drug-related killings in Mexico are on the decline. Interior secretary Chong claims that figures show around 34 such killings per day so far in May, as compared to about 41 for the same period in 2012. In April, the Interior Department reported that drug-related deaths fell 14 percent from December to March, as compared to the same period a year earlier. Deaths that were not attributed to the drug-wars, however, rose by 6.8 percent during that same period; skeptics claim that many drug-related deaths have merely been reclassified in order to give the appearance of a reduction in cartel violence. Chong insisted that the Mexican government does not “make up statistics” and offered to give the media access to those experts who had compiled the numbers.
Chong also said that Mexico has requested changes to the way the United States handles the deportation of Mexicans who enter the U.S. illegally. Many deportees who find themselves released in the border towns of Mexico become prime targets for the cartels. The Mexican government wants the U.S. to provide them with information on the identities of those being deported, in addition to arranging “interior deportation”; sending deportees back to their home towns, rather than simply leaving them on the Mexican side of the border.
Whether the renewed efforts of the Mexican government represent a genuine desire to solve the problem of the “disappeared”, or are merely a way of keeping a lid on the cries of protest, many Mexican families still yearn for closure. The violence in Mexico rages on. The powerful cartels continue their wars against both the Mexican authorities and each other, while the civilian population finds itself caught in the crossfire, with little hope of respite.
Written by Graham J Noble