Nearly US$20 million in government funding is to be spent on the hunt for over 40,000 people who have disappeared in Mexico within the last few years. The announcement came alongside an alarming statement by human rights official Alejandro Encinas, who claimed that the country had become ‘‘an enormous clandestine grave.’’
The official also explained that there had been 1,100 mass graves already identified but yet to be investigated and more than 26,000 unidentified bodies located.
Whereas Al Jazeera has documented that over 1,300 clandestine graves containing more than 3,900 bodies have been found in 17 states since 2007, authorities anticipate the discovery of many more.
The use of mass graves is a trademark of organised crime groups which continue to wreak havoc throughout the country, and that last year topped violence levels with the highest annual rate of homicide. Making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for gang-related violence, a large number of victims are young people, one in ten of which are migrants.
Since the new government came to power last December, there appears to have been increased collaboration between human rights groups and authorities. ‘‘We want peace, and we are going to achieve peace,’’ President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently announced during his morning press release. The statement revealed that the government is no longer pursuing the war on drugs that previous administrations had launched, leading to thousands of deaths.
It might seem that the government is working to put an end to violence, however, the preceding years were identified by the UN Human Rights watch as failing to protect basic human rights – the number of clandestine graves merely add to this factor.
Between December 2012 and June 2018, there were 11,268 kidnappings officially reported in Mexico, a number of these were victims of criminal gangs who demand a ransom for a person’s return. According to a report by the Registro Nacional de Datos de Personas Extraviadas o Desaparecidas (The National Registry of Data of Lost or Missing Persons) which was dated from April 2017, between the years 2009-2015, irregularities were also detected in the investigations of missing persons due to investigative and police failures.
Although these figures relate to more than just gang-related forced disappearances, Mexico’s attempts to reduce narco-trafficking and the violence surrounding it have stagnated. This has been further exacerbated by the apparent corruption inherent in the investigations carried out by the police force. For example, police have been implicated in recent kidnapping cases such as when police were charged with selling three Italian men to an organised gang before the foreign tourists reportedly disappeared in 2018.
Ties between police authorities and the local cartels have also been a presiding concern that the new government has started to address. Allegations that 19 police officers in Veracruz were arrested for orchestrating the killing of 15 civilians, also the implication of police officers selling five youths to the same cartel organisation are just some ongoing accusations. The proposals of a new national guard, as well as an acknowledgement that a military presence will be upheld in short term plans, signals the government’s intent on bringing crime levels down and holding police forces to justice.
The identification of the bodies that have since been located is another effort that local collectives have struggled to achieve due to failures by state institutions. It was just a few months ago that a mobile morgue made it into Mexican headlines, as it was holding over 150 bodies due to a shortage of space in the official morgue in Jalisco.
“We seek to develop a differentiated approach that allows us to attack in a better way the task of searching throughout the country that, unfortunately, has become a huge clandestine grave,” Encinas said according to TeleSur. “We must act immediately to recover people linked to forced disappearance and face problems related to trafficking in persons,” he said.