Crime & Justice

Fear not enough to halt mothers’ search for missing children in Mexico

By Ines Amarelo

Mexico City, May 10 (EFE).- Mexican mothers are continuing to carry out a tireless search for their missing loved ones, soldiering on despite the fear provoked by threatening messages and the knowledge that their efforts could result in their own deaths.

“They ask us if we’re afraid, and of course we’re afraid. We’re trembling with fear,” Maria Herrera, a native of the western state of Michoacan who founded a network of collectives to help families investigate disappearances after four of her sons went missing, told Efe in an interview.

“But love is stronger, the desire to search for and find our children,” said the 73-year-old woman affectionately known as Doña Maria, who was recently included on Time magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people.

She added that the long, tedious and painful search for the more than 112,000 people who have gone missing amid the violence of Mexico’s longstanding drug war is ultimately worth it if families are able to locate and bury their dead.

The quest, however, is a perilous one.

Five mothers seeking out their missing children were slain in Mexico in 2022, while the first such killing of 2023, that of Teresa Magueyal, occurred earlier this month.

“Even though those are figures that are publicly available, the problem is much greater, and these mothers searching for loved ones are not provided with the necessary protective measures by the state,” Cesar Contreras, an attorney with the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro Prodh), told Efe.

He added that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who like his predecessors has faced criticism for relying on the military to battle drug cartels, has been unable to end the missing-persons crisis.

The attorney also said mothers and other family members of missing people in Mexico continue to face a so-called “double disappearance,” a phrase used to describe law enforcement officers’ failure to swiftly respond to their complaints.

Contreras said the problem is two-fold: a large case load that overwhelms investigators and a lack of political will on the part of Attorney General’s Offices and authorities.

When presenting their complaint at an AG’s office, the mothers expect investigators will conduct a basic inquiry, such as requesting security camera footage, tracking down vehicles or seeking out information from institutions.

“When they see that doesn’t happen, they (conduct) their own search, and that means they have to go to the places where the disappearance occurred” or where some trace was left behind, Contreras said, adding that “these are highly dangerous” areas.

And the protection offered to these women by the state is virtually non-existent, even when they had previously been the target of threats.

Yet despite the lurking danger, these mothers are prepared to embark on a nationwide search for their children in hopes of making any type of discovery.

“We all say that any remains found anywhere is our child. We call them treasures (the remains that are discovered) because that’s what they are. As we know, for mothers, the most sacred thing God has given us in this life are our children. And that’s why we have to struggle and persevere,” Doña Maria said.

Two of her sons, Raul and Jesus Salvador, initially went missing in 2008 while on a trip to the neighboring southern state of Guerrero.

The remainder of her children (she has eight in total) relocated from Michoacan to work because the family needed money to survive.

In 2010, two more sons of Doña Maria, Luis Armando and Gustavo, went missing while on a work trip to the Gulf coast state of Veracruz and were never seen again.

“The first thing I thought was ‘let me die,’ because I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear these absences anymore,” said Doña Maria, who even after the second two disappearances found the strength to continue her search, one that continues to this day.

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