‘It’s a crisis of civilization in Mexico.’ 250,000 dead. 37,400 missing.


V.A makeshift altar dedicated to Zumiko, who disappeared nearly three years ago. PHOTO/© Yael Martinez

One recent day, a line of grieving mothers armed with picks and shovels worked their way across a muddy field looking for Mexico’s dead and missing, their own children among them.

“It smells bad here,” said Lizbeth Ortega, a member of Las Rastreadoras de El Fuerte, or the Trackers of El Fuerte, a group of mothers who look for missing people.

The mothers literally wear their pain. Some don white T-shirts, like Ms. Ortega’s, which has a blown-up photograph of her daughter Zumiko, kidnapped almost three years ago and still missing. On the back, her shirt says “I’ll search for you until I find you.”

Other mothers wear green shirts with the words “Promise Fulfilled.” They are the ones who have found the bodies of their missing children.

That day, the mothers scoured the site outside El Fuerte, a town in Sinaloa state, on Mexico’s northern Pacific Coast, looking for one of two men presumably kidnapped by cartel gunmen in recent weeks. One body had already been found in a field. The women believed the other may be nearby. In the end, they came up empty.

“This is my life,” said Mirna Medina, a forceful woman who holds the group together. “Digging up holes.”

Her son, who sold CDs by a gas station, was kidnapped in 2014. Three years later to the day, she and the other mothers of the search group dug up his remains. “I felt his presence,” she said, remembering the day and breaking out in tears. “I wanted to find him alive, but at least I found him.”

Some 37,000 people in Mexico are categorized as “missing” by the government. The vast majority are believed to be dead, victims of the country’s spiraling violence that has claimed more than 250,000 lives since 2006. The country’s murder rate has more than doubled to 26 per 100,000 residents, five times the U.S. figure.

Because the missing aren’t counted as part of the country’s official murder tally, it is likely Mexico’s rate itself is higher.

The killing and the number of missing grow each year. Last year, 5,500 people disappeared, up from 3,400 in 2015. Mexico’s murders are up another 18% through September this year.

Victims’ families, mostly mothers, organize search parties, climbing down ravines or scouring trash dumps. Their technique is crude. Sometimes they hire laborers to hammer steel rods into the soil and haul them up to see if they smell like decomposition. Other times, they simply look for an exposed body part or shallow grave.

The sheer numbers of the disappeared now rival more famous cases of missing people in Latin American history.

The Disappeared, or Desaparecidos, became a chilling part of Latin America’s vocabulary during the Cold War, when security forces kidnapped, killed and disposed of the bodies of tens of thousands of leftist guerrillas as well as civilian sympathizers. The most infamous case is Argentina’s “Dirty War,” where at least 10,000 people vanished from 1976 to 1983. In Buenos Aires, mothers of the missing organized weekly vigils in front of Argentina’s presidential palace, gaining world-wide prominence.

MSN for more

Comments are closed.