By Mariana Gonzalez-Marquez
Guadalajara, Mexico, Dec 24 (EFE).- The official tally of missing persons in Mexico stands at 109,171 as 2022 draws to a close and families embarking on a search for loved ones run the risk of losing their own lives in the process.
Members of the dozens of search collectives that have sprung up across the Aztec nation are frequently on the receiving end of death threats and other forms of intimidation from organized crime.
Jalisco, the western state whose capital is Guadalajara, leads Mexico’s 32 jurisdictions with more than 15,000 missing persons, followed by Tamaulipas – on the border with the United States – with 12,460 and the central state of Mexico, where the number of “disappeared” is 11,880.
To put those figures in perspective, Mexico state has a population of 16.9 million, compared with Jalisco’s 8.3 million and 3.5 million in Tamaulipas.
The Searching Mothers of Sonora (bordering the US state of Arizona) have come to Jalisco several times this year to assist local organizations in the hunt for clandestine graves, only to have authorities reject their requests for protection.
The group’s coordinator, Cecilia Flores, turned last month to the federal government’s protection program after being threatened with death.
Another collective, Luz de esperanza (Ray of Hope) hunts for graves in Jalisco, but when they found three bodies in September in the town of Tlaquepaque, state officials refused to continue the excavation or even to secure the area.
“The danger is great, it’s continuous,” Luz volunteer Javier Gonzalez tells EFE. “There have been occasions when all of the people searching are deployed or at work and the protection doesn’t come. You even see bad guys walking around as part of threat plan and protection doesn’t come. We are truly unprotected and exposed.”
Gonzalez has spent the last six months searching for his son Ronaldo in the face of inaction by the Jalisco state Attorney General’s Office.
“The groups of searchers are the ones who find them (the missing), because there is no search, no support on the part of the government,” Javier Gonzalez said.
Guadalupe Ayala Contreras, of Families United for Our Missing, recounted to EFE the story of her son, Alfredo Ezequiel Campos, whose dismembered body was unearthed in February 2020, six months after he disappeared.
While the presence of a tattoo on one forearm allowed a positive identification, Guadalupe had to badger the state medical examiner’s office (Semefo) for more than 18 months to secure the rest of her son’s remains.
And it only in January of this year that she was finally able to bury Alfredo.
The knowledge acquired from that experience enabled Ayala to assist 56 other families in identifying and recovering the remains of lost loved ones.
Ayala said that Semefo is overwhelmed, with a backlog of thousands of unidentified bodies.
Time is of the essence in searching for missing persons, according to Jonathan Avila, a specialist at the Center of Justice for Peace and Development, an NGO based in Guadalajara.
“A large amount of evidence is lost in the process, many clues. Those who assemble them are the families and when they bring them to the authorities, they (officials) don’t take them into account, Avila told EFE.
“This year showed us that the safety of the families is fundamental. There have been multiple murders of families that were looking for their loved ones,” he said, adding that in some cases, the threats and intimidation originate from law enforcement. EFE