Crime & Justice

Search for disappeared people in Mexico facing disdain of prosecutors

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Aug 30 (EFE).- Thousands of families are moving heaven and earth to find their disappeared loved ones in Mexico, now with the determined help of the government, but their huge task often runs up against bureaucratic inefficiency and even the scorn of prosecutors and uncontrolled impunity.

“In the matter of justice there is a great debt and no progress. We have to rethink the forensic system, take it out of the hands of prosecutors’ offices and make it independent,” said the head of the National Search Commission, Karla Quintana, in an interview with EFE for the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on Monday.

Mexico is experiencing a severe crisis with more than 90,000 people having been “disappeared” without a trace since 1964, the year in which such figures began to be kept, with the overwhelming majority of these cases occurring after 2007 with the start of the so-called war on drug trafficking under the 2006-2012 administration of Felipe Calderon.

Most of the hidden graves are located in the states of Jalisco, Colima, Sinaloa, Guanajuato and Sonora, where organized criminal groups have a marked presence.

Quintana said that “This is the first time that the Mexican government has accepted that there is a disappeared persons crisis.”

Before Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office as president in December 2018, families of disappeared persons “had taken on the task” of searching for their loved ones themselves, but now the national commission is helping them.

On Monday, the government unveiled a coordinating group for the launching of the Extraordinary Forensic Identification Mechanism and announced that the United Nations’ Committee on Enforced Disappearances will visit Mexico for the first time when the coronavirus pandemic allows.

But the relationship between Mexico’s National Search Commission, which is part of the Government Secretariat, and the Attorney General’s Office is not as fluid as might be hoped.

Attorney General Alejandro Gertz pushed forward with a reform of the entity to limit its presence in the search operations for people arguing that these efforts were harming its autonomy.

“One of the biggest problems comes from the practices of the prosecutors’ offices themselves. If there is no coordinated effort to search for people, it will make fighting this crisis very difficult,” Quintana said.

She said that there is more than 94 percent impunity for the crime of disappearing someone and there exists no “equal treatment for the victims,” no sentences exist for human rights violations and there are no big outstanding cases, along with the fact that there is a serious forensic crisis with thousands of bodies that have not yet been identified.

Meanwhile, the National Search Commission is limited in terms of its budget and also regarding its functions, given that attorney general’s offices must authorize it to conduct geolocation operations and site inspections.

There are thousands of stories behind the disappearances in Mexico, some of which have attracted great media attention like the case of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, whose whereabouts have been unknown since 2014 but the investigation into which was reopened by the Lopez Obrador government.

A few weeks later, Quintana revealed the La Bartolina case involving a site where the Gulf drug cartel executed and cremated people that was found in 2017 in the city of Matamoros and from where at least 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of charred skeletal remains were said to have been recovered.

Delia Quiora thinks that the remains of her brother Roberto are there. He was kidnapped in 2014 and was never heard from again after the family, which was involved in the food and juice business, refused to pay ransom to the cartel that grabbed him.

“They tortured them here, dismembered them and burned the people with diesel fuel. Later they dumped their remains,” Quiroa told EFE.

The Attorney General’s Office, which took the case, right from the start prevented Quiroa and other relatives from having access to the site because it is off limits to the public due to prior investigations.

Several days ago, Quiroa planted herself before the headquarters of the Public Ministry in Mexico City, where officials informed her that, in reality, they had only found 67 kilos of human remains, a figure that the families simply do not believe.

“The problem is the Attorney General’s Office,” the woman said, adding: “I’m tired, exhausted, I’ve put my life into this … I’m only asking them to identify the bodies and return them” to the families.

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