More than 100,000 people are missing in Mexico – kidnapped by drug cartels or victims of state violence. Relatives now hope that German experts can provide them with answers.
Mexico City – Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has offered the Mexican authorities increased assistance from Germany in locating missing persons and clarifying missing persons cases. “It is a tragedy that the people found dead cannot be identified,” Steinmeier said during a visit to Mexico City, where he met relatives of the missing. It is not a question of blaming the current political leaders in Mexico, stressed the Federal President, but of how Germany can help with clarification and identification.
In the North American country, more than 105,000 people are officially missing – many are young men who were kidnapped by drug gangs or, according to relatives, disappeared after contacting the prosecution. A large majority of the cases date back to 2006, when the so-called war on drugs began and conflicts with powerful cartels became increasingly violent. Only a fraction of cases are resolved.
105,000 is the official figure, said Karla Quintana of the National Search Commission founded in 2017. The actual number of missing persons could be much higher, as not all relatives report them under any circumstances. For fear of reprisals, many are reluctant to approach the authorities, who often work with criminal syndicates.
UN: “Almost absolute” impunity
In Mexico, making people disappear is mainly a tactic used by criminals, but also by corrupt security forces. Victims’ bodies are often secretly buried or even dismembered and burned to cover their tracks. This is what the UN Committee against Enforced Disappearances called the “perfect crime paradigm” in its report on Mexico in April. Impunity is “almost absolute”.
In 2014, the case of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa pedagogical school in the southern state of Guerrero caused a stir around the world. They were arrested by police and handed over to members of a drug cartel, who probably killed them. Only small pieces of bone from three of them have been found and identified so far.
Steinmeier wants to strengthen cooperation between authorities
Steinmeier proposed to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to intensify the existing cooperation between the German and Mexican authorities. German experts help to identify the victims, mainly with forensic means. “I think we have very good skills there, which we hope to have offered elsewhere and at other events abroad,” Steinmeier said. It is a tragedy for families not to know anything about the fate of their loved ones.
Steinmeier spoke to three women from Mexico City whose brothers or sons are missing. She expects German involvement to speed up the investigation, said Ana Enamorado, whose son was likely kidnapped by a drug cartel in 2010. But above all, those responsible must finally be punished – “if not the missing persons will not stop”.
Lenit Enríquez Orozco, whose brother Johnny disappeared in 2015, mainly criticized state violence and blamed police and prosecutors. Nobody can tell him why his brother disappeared, we only hear that if you don’t have dirt on your back, you have nothing to worry about. Even a change of government and a change of personnel within the prosecutor’s office would not have brought about any improvement. Relatives said they received no information from the authorities. This is why the families have come together to put pressure on the population.
The families of the disappeared suffer above all from the uncertainty. They are unable to grieve and often devote their entire lives to the quest. Many formed groups, searched by themselves mass graves in dangerous parts of the country and dug up the corpses with their bare hands, with shovels and pickaxes. They have found thousands of human remains in recent years. Mexican human rights organizations criticize the lack of political will to systematically implement laws and reforms.