Over 50,000 Disappear in AMLO’s Term of Office

Relatives of missing people have carried out protests, such as this one organized in January in front of SEGOB, due to the lack of clarity in the census promoted by López Obrador. (Ulises Martínez/ObturadorMX)

While the National Registry of Disappeared Persons reduces its numbers as it incorporates the localizations obtained through the National Search Strategy, concern persists about the opacity of the process and new information emerges about irregularities in the conduct of the census

Where the Disappeared Go

More than 50,000 people have disappeared under the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. This was reported by the National Registry of Disappeared and Unlocated Persons (RNPDNO) on May 14th. Eleven days after that registration, the figure had decreased to 48,870 victims.

In this administration, on average, one person has disappeared every hour in the country. In the government of Felipe Calderón, when the militarization of public security began, 0.49 disappearances occurred per hour, and in that of his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, there were 0.64. Currently, the RNPDNO registers 114,184 missing people, that is, this six-year period accumulates 44% of the total.

Santiago Corcuera, former president of the UN Committee against Forced Disappearances, recalled that before Calderón’s failed security strategy there was no talk of missing persons in Mexico.

“Talking about 50,000 missing people is a terrifying thing, even for a country of 130 million inhabitants; “It is a horrifying humanitarian crisis,” he stated. “Unfortunately there is no immediate solution, the numbers of intentional homicides and disappearances are not going to go down overnight, but we have to start making a radical change, gradual but consistent, to make public security civilain, that is, the gradual abandonment of the militarized model.”

It was in June 2023 when the federal government announced a new census that would allow the number of missing people to be updated, with the purpose of denying that this is the six-year period with the highest number of victims; in December it was presented under the name of the National Generalized Search Strategy.

For months, the census generated numerous complaints from relatives of victims, since during house-to-house visits and telephone calls they asked about the return of people who were still missing, a procedure that was described as re-victimizing and received criticism from human rights organizations and raised fears of a “trimming” of the national registry.

Since May 19th, a message has warned on the RNPDNO site that the institutions are in the process of updating the figures after formalizing the locations obtained with the national strategy, but this does not imply, it is clarified, the elimination of any record.

The federal government reported that, as of March 16th, 20,193 people registered as missing had been located, more than half through information from local prosecutors’ offices, and the rest through house-to-house visits and death certificates. A minimal part, 191, were placed in penitentiary centers.

This did not affect the RNPDNO data; the count continued until it exceeded 50,000 disappearances in this six-year period, although later the number decreased to 48,870.

For Gabriella Citroni, member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), the reduction of the figures in the RNPDNO when incorporating the locations is worrying due to the lack of transparency with which it is carries out the process and the impact it could have on the victims’ families.

Citroni recalled that it was President López Obrador who questioned the number of disappearances that his own government generated, and that the WGEID had already sent Mexico a letter in which it expressed its concern about the new census.

Where the Disappeared Go has reported on the misclassification of dozens of cases, from victims of the “dirty war” to recent events, as well as people who appear with the status of being located when in reality they are still missing.

“Mexico has responded to the letter of allegations saying that in general everything was very good; in reality, we continue to receive information that worries us. We have no objection to recalculating the number [of disappearances] if there is indeed a problem, but how it is being done remains unclear and there are several testimonies of episodes that have been retraumatizing for families,” she said in an interview. “The information that has reached the UN calls into question how it has been recalculated and how it has attempted to reduce it.”

From Italy, Citroni stressed the importance of the census, since all the obligations of the State derive from it.

“If someone is not registered as disappeared, they will not be searched for, the family’s rights will not be recognized; so, we would have to multiply that same number by the entire universe around the disappeared people,” she said.

Citroni recognized that Mexico has, worldwide, the best legal and institutional framework regarding the disappearance of people, but if it is not implemented or a diagnosis is made of why disappearances continue to occur, it would be like “trying to cover the sun with a finger”.

Crisis of Violence

The 50,278 disappearances of the current six-year term are almost double the 26,121 that occurred in the period of Felipe Calderón, according to the data released in February 2013 by the newly arrived government of Enrique Peña Nieto. The Ministry of the Interior then reported that the list would be purged and former officials of the Calderón administration disqualified the figure, a story that would be repeated in subsequent six-year terms.

“As long as it is not one hundred percent validated, supported by prior investigations, it is not information that can be taken into account to make decisions,” Óscar Vega Marín, who was executive secretary of the National Public Security System in the PAN government, then told Milenio.

At the end of Peña Nieto’s term, disappearances had increased to 40,180. This means that 14,059 victims were added during his period, as revealed by Roberto Cabrera in January 2019 when he resigned from the National Search Commission (CNB). However, the RNPDNO, consulted on May 25th, reported 33,783 disappearances in the PRI administration.

For Santiago Aguirre, director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, the 50,000 missing people reflect a tragedy of enormous magnitude that requires extraordinary measures, although he warned that talking only about numbers can lead to sterile debates about which administration is better or worse without addressing the causes.

“Despite the open attempts to control the numbers, even accepting that this figure of 50,000 still has to be reviewed, without a doubt we are going to end this six-year term in a scenario with several tens of thousands of missing people, very similar to what we had in the six-year term of Peña Nieto, very similar to what we had in the six-year term of Felipe Calderón,” he noted.

“That is the main thing that must be emphasized, the reality that the phenomenon is not contained, the cases of missing people are not decreasing in the country. And I think that the current government has not wanted to fully deal with this reality because it does not have a complete understanding of the phenomenon.”

He argued that López Obrador has responded to the questions with the statement that his government does not order people to disappear, when what the figures show is that there is a crisis of “uncontainable violence.”

Questionable Localizations

According to CNB personnel who participated in the house-to-house visits as part of the National Generalized Search Strategy, the census collection lacked protocols and training.

In February, this medium interviewed four former officials of the organization who, together with members of the Welfare Secretariat (SB), made home visits mainly in the Pacific area and in the northwest of the country. For fear of reprisals that would prevent them from getting a job, those interviewed asked that their names and the states to which they were assigned be omitted.

“It was a push and pull between the [National] Search Commission and the Ministry of Welfare, because they [the SB] had the instructions to do that work, but they did not have the knowledge, the techniques or how to go and ask, so as not to fall into secondary victimization,” explained one of the people consulted.

“There was also the issue of security, because obviously we are looking for people who we do not know the reason why they are missing, but we know that they are from conflictive neighborhoods, where the issue of insecurity is very high and risky for public servants.”

The accounts agreed that there was little foresight regarding their safety. They reported that, on occasions, when entering certain communities, they realized that they were followed by armed individuals on motorcycles.

One of the former officials confessed that he worked as an administrator at the CNB, and despite having no experience in dealing with victims, they ordered him to go to the northwest of the country to join the house-to-house searches, without prior training.

In a state in the Pacific, six teams were formed with the objective of making 40 visits per day, between eight in the morning and five in the afternoon, but in reality only 18 to 30 visits per day were carried out.

They explained that the searches were carried out based on four lists kept by SB personnel, in which the missing person supposedly appeared. Since the methodology consisted of crossing the names of the RNPDNO with administrative records to find signs of life after the date of disappearance, these lists were from social programs such as Sembrando Vida, Pensión para Adultos Mayores, Diconsa and Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro. The officials went to the address that was on the lists, not to that of the person who reported the disappearance.

“There were homonymous people. I’m looking for José Pérez, the information they gave me was a table on my cell phone with all the information: full name, possible date of birth, possible date of disappearance, a possible CURP that could match. But there were 500 José Pérez in all of Mexico, and if I was in that state, in that municipality and in the so-and-so neighborhood, and four José Pérez appeared, I had to go knock at the four homes.”

The problem was also that, on occasions, members of the SB carried out the search without CNB officials and found people who were obviously not the missing ones.

“Since I was looking at the record I said: we are looking for José Pérez who was born in 1990, he is 34 years old, but in the database I see information about José Pérez who received the Pension for Seniors program; so, from that moment I said ‘it’s not him’, how am I going to look for a person [who is] in the senior citizen program if he is 30 years old,” explained a former official.

“So, I don’t know, the Welfare people didn’t get the information on how to do the activity very well, because they said: ‘I detected José Pérez, 34 years old, with the senior citizen program and here is the photo, and now we have located him’”.

According to the interviewee, in a Pacific state there was a list of 4,000 people supposedly located through social program lists. “[But we] did not even reach 10% of [locations of] the people who we said were the [missing] person, who for a reason was already at home, but had not been unregistered from the platform”.

Original article at A dónde van los desaparecidos, May 28th, 2024.
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.  

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