Mexico’s Search for ‘Missing’ Reveals Flawed System

In a controversial move, the Mexican government's search for falsely listed missing persons uncovered over 16,000 individuals whose homes were unreported, exposing systemic flaws in the national registry.

Activists, family and friends of Luisa Fernanda Garcia

12/14/2023.- Activists, family and friends of Luisa Fernanda Garcia Villegas, a 28-year-old woman who disappeared in Acapulco. EFE/ David Guzmán

The Latin American Post Staff

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Leer en español: La búsqueda de México de “desaparecidos” revela un sistema defectuoso

Revelation of the Missing: Unveiling Mexico's Hidden Truths

In a startling revelation, the Mexican government announced the discovery of 16,681 individuals previously listed as missing who had returned home without notifying authorities. This finding is part of a contentious nationwide initiative led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, ostensibly aimed at reducing the country's alarming tally of 113,000 'disappeared' people – a figure that has surged under his administration.

Contrary to the typical searches involving clandestine graves and crematoriums, this operation deployed about 5,000 police and officials for over 111,000 home visits. These efforts focused on identifying individuals potentially active in tax, hospital, or bank records.

However, this method has its shortcomings. An additional 17,843 people who appeared active through credit card usage, vaccine records, or government benefit applications while listed as missing remain untraceable. The government's response was establishing a hotline, seemingly shifting the narrative towards criminalizing these unlocated individuals.

Inadequate Record-Keeping: A Major Hurdle in the Search

Interior Secretary Luisa Maria Alcalde disclosed a shocking aspect of this endeavor: the national registry's inadequate record-keeping. In about 68% of cases, even more contact information was needed to initiate a search—consequently, many missing-person reports must be adequately pursued.

Launched over a year ago in Mexico City and expanded nationwide last August, the search confirmed only 12,377 individuals, about 11% of the missing person cases as of August, as genuinely missing. This approach, often involving contacting distressed relatives years later, has sparked anger among families of the lost. These families have long conducted investigations and searches without official assistance.

Focus on Numbers, Not Field Searches: Government Criticized

Activists and victims' families criticize the government's focus on reducing the missing persons count rather than actively participating in field searches. Families often depend on anonymous tips, sometimes from ex-cartel members, to locate suspected body-dumping sites. Authorities usually limit their involvement to retrieving remains, which often remain unidentified. Mexico struggles with approximately 50,000 unidentified bodies in morgues and mass graves.

This apparent disinterest in actively searching for genuinely missing individuals was highlighted in Guadalajara, where locals discovered a burial site with 41 bags of human remains, not through police efforts but after seeing dogs with human remains.

Shifting Categories: "Found Alive" and the Debate on Numbers

While Alcalde insists the effort is not intended to downplay the issue, the categorization of those found will change to "found alive," a list already containing about 190,000 names. Despite this apparent reduction, experts suggest that the actual number of missing persons may be higher, especially in cartel-dominated regions where reporting missing individuals can be perilous.

President López Obrador has attributed the inflated figures of missing persons, which have risen by about 47,000 since his office tenure began in 2018, to political adversaries attempting to tarnish his image. However, the severity of the issue is evident in incidents like the one in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, where residents found streets littered with bullet-ridden bodies accompanied by cartel threats.

Also read: Devotion in Mexico City to Honor Our Lady of Guadalupe

This initiative by the Mexican government has unveiled deep-seated issues within the system tasked with addressing the crisis of missing persons. While it has led to the discovery of thousands who were not missing, it also highlights the profound gaps and inefficiencies in handling and resolving such cases, underscoring a dire need for systemic reform and more proactive investigative approaches.

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