With help from Argentina, Mexico goes out to look for the disappeared


There are 40 thousand recent victims of criminal networks. López Obrador launched a national tracking and identification plan this week.

Photo: Twitter
Photo: Twitter

Wariness of organizations and relatives

The government of Mexico has just assumed something that thousands of Mexicans know and suffer for a while: their territory became "a huge clandestine grave." The administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged this week this week by launching a search and identification program for the 40,000 disappeared who left the narco, the repressive forces, the paramilitaries, human trafficking and other criminal networks that destroy the country for a couple of decades.

The project is a great challenge for AMLO. It can mark a break with the contempt for human rights shown by his predecessors Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto and open for the first time a path of reparation for the victims. Or it may end up being a new disappointment for organisms and relatives already fed up with the impotence, inaction or complicity of the State.

AMLO promises a paradigm shift. In presenting his strategy for the issue of the disappeared, he criticized the "deep simulation" of his predecessors on this issue and assured that force will never be used again or war will be declared to solve social problems. For now, the human rights movement awaits the next steps of the government with as much expectation as a caution.

"The only thing we are doing is recovering the victims' claim and transforming it into public policy," says Aarón Mastache Mondragón, head of the Mexican government's Unit for the Defense of Human Rights. We are aware that the trust between family and State has been broken, even because many perpetrators belong to the State. Repairing it is our priority and that is why we do everything with the families ".

Unopened throughout the country

The government hopes to count on the support of international experts and, in particular, of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), a world reference in the matter. The EAAF has been working in Mexico for fifteen years and has a permanent presence there. He gained prominence from the case of the 43 disappeared students in Ayotzinapa when he demonstrated with his independent expertise that the "historical truth" that the Peña Nieto government had presented about the crime of the "normalistas" was an unsustainable montage.

"The EAAF is working on proposals for the new government of Mexico, to address a huge workload pending in the area of unidentified remains and disappearance of people," Argentine anthropologist Mercedes Doretti, director of the EAAF in Mexico, told this newspaper. There is great hope that this administration will generate a more favorable framework for investigations into human rights violations."

The EAAF already participates in Mexican institutional spaces such as the National Search Board and the Forensic Space for Human Rights, from where it makes its contributions. According to Doretti, the main framework for the work ahead should be the General Law on the Enforced Disappearance of Persons, approved in November 2017, whose implementation, for now, leaves a considerable be desired. 


Twelve years after the beginning of that total failure that was the "war on drugs" of Calderón, the situation picture that the new government inherits today is devastating. The clandestine graves are perhaps the most visible physical mark of the systemic violence that shakes the country. An investigation presented at the end of last year by the Mexican newspaper project

Where disappeared accounted for almost 2 thousand illegal graves discovered between 2006 and 2016 in 24 states of Mexico, almost twice those officially recognized, where remains and fragments of bones were found from nobody-knows-how many thousands of victims.

The concealment of bodies through illegal burials, also their incineration or dissolution in acid, was one of the hallmarks of the lost decade of the war against the narco. And it is an indication of the degree of penetration of organized crime in spaces of public power. Digging a huge well to bury tens or hundreds of corpses requires a lot of impunity. Even more so when the pits do not open in isolated places, as one would tend to believe, but also in communities and towns, in view of residents and security forces.

The search for Mexican missing persons has a particularity that makes it different, for example, from the Argentine post-dictatorial experience: in Mexico, the spiral of violence continues to rise.

The forensic ineptitude of the State victimizes the disappeared for the second time. Negligence in the exhumations, lax records of the NN under the protection of prosecutors and incomplete, fragmentary or contradictory information are common currency in the investigations. There is no approved protocol at the national level for state prosecutors to share a common criterion of registration of the graves and remains found, which prevents obtaining reliable statistics on disappearances.

"Within the forensic area you have to create or purge large national registries that do not exist today or exist partially: National Registry of Missing Persons, Unidentified or Unreclaimed Remains Registry, Forensic Data Bank, National Exhumation Program", Doretti details.

To face this situation, AMLO presented a strategic plan of eleven points last Monday. Some of the most prominent are as follows:

Creation of a National Institute of Forensic Identification before July 2019.

Disbursement of 21 million dollars this year to implement the project.

Designation of a new holder for the National Search Commission.

Priority to the search of disappeared in life.

Increased attention to migrants, who make up about 10% of the victims of disappearance.

Introduction of the figure of "effective collaboration" to obtain information and improvement of witness protection mechanisms.

Wait and see

In the human rights environment, almost no one is suspicious of the political will of AMLO to produce a change around the issue of the disappeared. What is fundamentally feared is that it does not have the strength or capacity to do so.

"The announcement is good, it gives an account of a good intention and it is a novelty that recognizes the size of the disaster, but now we must see how they are going to implement that policy," warns the Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia, leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity.

"The problem is not only the graves, but the collusion between the State and organized crime in Mexico is very deep. For that to change, state policy is needed, not a government policy. "

Sicilia decided to abandon poetry and dedicate herself to the struggle for human rights on March 28, 2011, when her 24-year-old son was found dead alongside a route in Temixco, Morelos, along with six other young people. Juan Francisco Sicilia belonged to the age group most punished by drug violence: people from 17 to 29 years.

"The search for the disappeared must be integrated with a process of transitional justice, something that today we do not see designed or announced by the media," remarks Sicilia. Without it, there is no possible repair. "

For him, it will be a matter of waiting and seeing. In principle, AMLO is a novelty for family members. One of the first things he did after being elected president last year was to embrace Ayotzinapa's parents. In recent days, he promoted the creation of a special prosecutor's office to investigate the case and promised legal protection to anyone who provides information on the crime of the normalistas. The Ayotzinapa case is, at the same time, a synthesis of the national drama of the disappeared and a reminder of the embarrassment that the Peña Nieto administration was in terms of human rights.

The original text of this article was published by the Perfil at the following address.

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