Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon exits office leaving 25,000 missing people unexplored

MEXICO CITY – Ever since President Felipe Calderon took office six years ago, more than 25,000 people have gone missing in Mexico, according to unpublished government documents. The revelation has left many, including human rights activist pondering the question as to why Calderon would exit office, leaving a cloud over his administration of so many fellow citizens vanishing without at least a deliberate investigation into their whereabouts.

Juan Lopez Villanueva of the group United Forces for Our Missing in Mexico asks, “What does the government do? Nothing or almost nothing. Why? There is a paralysis.” Lopez suggests that Calderon has left the cases of the missing unexplored, and concludes, “The state has failed us.”

Mexico’s attorney general has compiled a list showing that more than 25,000 adults and children have gone missing amid violence in the country’s fight against drug mafias and crime gangs, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The data sets, submitted by state prosecutors and vetted by the federal government but never released to the public, chronicles the disappearance of tens of thousands of people. They cover stories like, “The father was arrested by men wearing uniforms and never seen again.” “His wife went to buy medicine and disappeared,” says another document.

Government bureaucrats, whose names were not reported, said they released the list because they are frustrated by what they said is a lack of transparency about the cases and a failure to investigate the disappearances, the Post reported.

Families have been left wondering whether their loved ones are alive or among the more than 100,000 victims of homicides recorded during the presidency of Felipe Calderon, who leaves office today. The names on the list – many more than in previous, non-government estimates – are recorded in columns, along with the dates they disappeared, their ages, the clothes they were wearing, their jobs and a few brief, often chilling, details.

The leaked list is not complete – or, probably, precise. Some of the missing may have returned to their homes, and some families may never have reported disappearances.

Nevertheless, the list offers a rare glimpse of the running tally the Mexican government has been keeping, and it confirms what human rights activists and families of the missing have been saying: that Mexico has seen an explosion in the number of such cases and that the government appears to be overwhelmed.

According to the National Commission on Human Rights, more than 7,000 people killed in Mexico in the past six years lie unidentified in morgue freezers or common graves. The commission’s numbers suggest the government count might be accurate. From 2006 to mid-2011, the commission notes that more than 18,000 Mexicans were reported missing.

Mr Calderon’s spokesman declined to offer a reason why the numbers have not been made public during his tenure, and the Attorney General’s office did not respond to questions.

The task of tracking the missing now falls to the incoming President Enrique Pena Nieto’s new government. There is no statute of limitations for missing-person cases, and Mexico has heard withering criticism from both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations about its handling of them.

In December 2011, Mr Calderon pledged to create a national database including lists of the people who had disappeared and of unidentified bodies, and he promised it would be ready in early 2012.

Then in March, the Mexican Congress passed a law that required the government to establish Mr Calderon’s database, which medical examiners, law enforcement officials and families could use to help track cases. Since then, politicians have failed to publish the regulations that would allow the law to be implemented.

But the list has proven to have been a disappointment to rights activists. That is because it contains a broad spectrum of cases, mixing together all those who have vanished, whether they were forcibly abducted, young lovers running away or simply people who left their homes to work in the United States or elsewhere. “This half-baked effort is reflective of an administration that never took the problem of disappearances seriously and is now trying to cover its tracks. But for all its problems, the list provides clear evidence that thousands of Mexicans have gone missing and that the government knew about them,” said Nik Steinberg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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