Forced Disappearance and the Genocide of the Poor

by R. Aída Hernández Castillo

The term “genocide of the poor” is a concept that don José Dolores Suazo, of the Committee of Disappeared Migrants from the Center of Honduras (Cofamicenh), has been proposing in various public spaces, expanding the use of the legal concept of genocide, in order to point out the direct or indirect responsibility of states in the continuation of a politics of death that disappears, massacres and mutilates the bodies of poor people on the continent. Based on deep knowledge of migrant massacres, like the one in Cadereyta, Nuevo León, where they murdered his brother Mauricio Suazo on May 13, 2012, don José Dolores argues that it’s about a hate crime that seeks to totally or partially destroy an ethno-racial group: poor and racialized migrants.

Last June 11 in the discussion Living in Search: Disappearance and Struggles for Justice” ( the reflections of don José Dolores joined the voices of Diana Gómez, of Sons and Daughters for Memory and Against Impunity in Colombia; Angélica Rodríguez Monroy, of Returning to Casa Morelos; Vanesa Orieta, militant against State repression in Argentina, and Priscila Sette, an activist of the Cree people against the disappearance of indigenous women in Canada. From different geographic contexts, these men and women, who have suffered the torture that having a loved one disappeared implies, coincided in rejecting a legal classification that differentiates forced disappearance from the disappearance by individuals. It was argued that this dichotomy makes the responsibility that the States have, either by negligence or direct participation in the disappearance of people, invisible. When there are contexts of State impunity and complicity, all disappearances are forced, participants argued. It involves embodied theories emerging from their experiences and knowledge of looking for their loved ones and demanding justice for all the disappeared.

The conversation began with the uniting of voices in demand for the live appearance of the Yaqui leader Tomás Rojo1, disappeared since last May 27 in the town of Vícam, Sonora. Tomás, like hundreds of disappeared indigenous people on the continent, had led the struggle of his peoples in defense of the territory against construction of the Independence Aqueduct that would affect the reservoirs that supply the Yaqui peoples. We also remembered our compañera of Ciesas-Northeast, Gisela Mayela Álvarez, who disappeared 10 months ago in Monterrey, Nuevo León. 

With the slogan “Vivos los queremos” (We want them alive), these activists shared experiences and theories. Despite differences in national contexts, the testimonies presented have in common the use of forced disappearance as a crime against humanity that is mostly perpetrated against young, poor and racialized people, in contexts of state impunity, sometimes on the part of security forces or in complicity and acquiescence with the perpetrators. In Central America, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, the use of forced disappearance against political activists during the “dirty wars” and internal armed conflicts, and the decades of impunity around them, created the cultural climate that made the continuity of this practice possible in times of so-called “democracies.”

The 5,000 Native American women who disappeared in Canada; the more than 200,000 migrants disappeared in Mexico; the 100,000 disappeared in Colombia, 87 of them in recent weeks, in the context of the national strike in that country; Luciano Arruga and the hundreds of young people disappeared or murdered by Argentine police; the more than 80,000 disappeared in Mexico, including the 201 that still wait to be identified in the graves of Jojutla and Telecingo ( 08/09/opinion/015a1pol), share this — having been treated as lives that don’t matter, stigmatized and criminalized by a racist system in order to justify State impunity and society’s indifference. The voices of don Lolo, Angélica, Diana, Vanesa and Priscila, with the thousands of relatives of the disappeared in the Americas, remind us that as long as they don’t return to their homes alive, no country on this continent can be considered fully democratic.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada on Wednesday, June 18, 2021.
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee and shared with Schools for Chiapas.

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  1. Tomás Rojo disappeared on May 27, 2021. A body was found several weeks later and recently identified as his.
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