LATIN AMERICA

Mexico launches nationwide searches for thousands of missing people

New investigative unit is still lacking a budget and director Around 27,000 people have disappeared between 2006 and 2012

Mothers whose daughters have disappeared hold a hunger strike early this month to demand the government search for their loved ones.
Mothers whose daughters have disappeared hold a hunger strike early this month to demand the government search for their loved ones.Sáshenka Gutiérrez / EFE

With thousands of people believed to have disappeared in Mexico in the last six years, the government of President Enrique Nieto Peña has made it a priority to investigate the huge number of missing person cases.

A new Missing Persons Search Unit was organized under the auspices of the Mexico Attorney General’s Office on Monday, the deadline set by Peña Nieto. But there is one major problem: the team has no leader, no budget and no office to work from.

“We are going to use all our options, and we are not going to wait for bureaucracy to run its course before we can start our work as a team,” said Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam at the unit’s official presentation. However, in a telephone interview later, Murillo Karam acknowledged that he had no precise work plans mapped out. “We will soon,” he said.

According to a press statement, 10 officers will be assigned to the unit, which will have the support of the entire federal police force.

Murillo Karam said Monday that he has met with “nearly all” family members who have missing loved ones. The pledge to create the unit came after a group of mothers held a nine-day hunger strike in front of the Interior Department in Mexico City early this month.

The figures relating to the numbers of people who have gone missing are dramatic. According to Mexico's National Defense Secretariat, there are 27,523 names recorded in a database of people who disappeared between 2006 and 2012 and have yet to be found. On February 20, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a 176-page report documenting nearly 250 disappearances that took place during the past administration of President Felipe Calderón, who governed during this period.

Mexico’s drug war has claimed more than 70,000 lives since 2006, according to government figures.

Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, who serves as interior secretary, said last week that in two months he will present a “precise” breakdown of the numbers with the names of the missing and where they disappeared.

The Peace for Justice and Dignity Movement, organized by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, has been pushing for more investigations into the disappeared.

“The goal is not only to find the remains of the dead, but hopefully people who are still alive,” said Julio Hernández, a lawyer for Sicilia’s movement.