The drug war in Mexico not only killed hundreds of thousands, but it is believed that more than 73,000 people have disappeared. The family members are left with the frustrating and dangerous search for their loved ones.
Bryan Arias worked at a burger stand three blocks from his home in Nayarit, western Mexico. Two and a half years ago, the 19-year-old disappeared one day on his way to work. His mother, Virginia Garay, has been looking for him ever since. And she’s not alone: More than 73,000 people in Mexico have disappeared.
The Corona crisis is now making it difficult for Garay and the other families to be sure of the fate of their relatives. Even before that, it was not easy to find out the status of missing person investigations. And now the authorities are only working on a smaller scale. Searching for mass graves in groups is no longer automatically possible. And the reassuring hugs are missing.
“Many have lost their jobs and have nothing to eat”
On Sunday, International Day of the Disappeared, the Mexican Movement for the Disappeared is spreading hashtags like #LesQueremosDeVuelta (We Want Them Back) on social media to raise awareness of the plight of the families of missing people. “The authorities are adapting to the situation like a glove because they have more excuses not to do their job and to keep us at bay,” said Garay.
José Ugalde sees it the same way. His 25-year-old son José Esaú disappeared in September 2015 and was found dead three months later in the central Mexican city of Querétaro. “Many fellow campaigners have lost their jobs. They have nothing to eat and have to choose between making money to eat something or looking for their children,” said Ugalde, who is a spokesperson for a group that does justice to them. calls for missing family members.
The month-long search was a family nightmare
Garay has founded an organization for the mutual support of affected families: “Women warriors in search of our treasures”. She is now not only looking for Bryan, the youngest of her three children, but also the children of other mothers.
Virginia Garay Cazares is looking for her son Bryan Arias: he was 19 when he disappeared. (Source: Jesus Alvarado / dpa)
José Esaú worked in a gourmet restaurant. Over the weekend, he played drums in a band that was about to record an album. The remains that were eaten by wild animals were found in a quarry. The month-long search was a family nightmare. A man has been arrested and convicted of the murder of José, but the assessments are still ongoing.
More than 333,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since 2006
The “war on drug trafficking” that began in 2006 marked the beginning of a bloody era in Mexican history. More than 333,000 people have been murdered since then, and nearly 100 murders a day are currently taking place. Not counting the 73,000 people for whom it is unclear what happened to them. A connection with organized crime is often suspected, not infrequently also an involvement of the police. Enlightenment is rare, there is impunity.
Protest in Mexico City: In May, thousands demonstrated in the capital of Mexico demanding clarification of the fate of their children and relatives. (Source: Jair Cabrera Torres / dpa)
Unmarked graves are discovered again and again – around 6,600 bodies were found this way. According to estimates by the National Human Rights Commission, there are also 30,000 people in morgues that have not yet been identified.
In 2014, 43 students were kidnapped and massacred
The disappearance of 43 teacher training students in Ayotzinapa also caused an international furore. They were kidnapped by police officers in southern Mexico in 2014 and handed over to a drug cartel. Despite efforts by the current administration, only bone fragments of two of the students have been found so far – and none have been convicted.
More than a hundred groups of relatives of the missing have formed to search for themselves. They go to morgues, hospitals and prisons. They use shovels and buckets to search for mass graves in forests, in abandoned mines and on river banks.
Mexico is suffering from a double pandemic
Under pressure from families, a law was passed in 2017 providing for the establishment of search committees at the national level and in the states. Other requirements for the government remain open. The families want Mexico to recognize the UN Committee Against Enforced Disappearances so that their cases can be taken there.
With all the attention that the corona virus currently needs in Mexico – the country with the third most deaths – the relatives of the disappeared people do not want to be forgotten. The country is facing a double pandemic, they emphasize: the virus and the disappearance.