Disappearing the Disappeared
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The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, recently announced that prosecutors had sought to arrest 16 more members of the Mexican military in relation to the disappearance of 43 students in 2014. The announcement came after a Mexican judge last year ordered the arrests of 83 police officers, soldiers, and civil servants suspected of being involved in the case.
Officials have identified the remains of three of the 43 students, noted Reuters. The rest are among the more than 100,000 people who have tragically disappeared in Mexico due to drug cartel-related activities and other violence.
Twenty-five people are thought to vanish every day in Mexico. Even anthropologist Juan Carlos Tercero, a subaquatic forensics expert who had been searching for missing people, recently disappeared without a trace.
“It’s not that his disappearance is more important than the others,” Marisol Madero, Tercero’s friend told the Guardian. “But if the people who are doing the searching are disappearing, imagine the fear for mothers or other groups dedicated to the search.”
López Obrador’s announcement about the military and the student disappearances was especially ironic, however, because the Mexican president has flirted with political peril by questioning whether so many people have vanished without a trace in his country.
As the Washington Post reported, he dispatched public workers to conduct a census to affirm whether people reported as missing had come back home or not. Families of the missing claimed the president was seeking to play down their suffering before next year’s presidential election.
He wants a do-over of the numbers, saying it’s impossible that the tally of missing people is so high. It’s much lower, he adds.
That’s in contrast to his promises when he assumed office in 2018: Then, López Obrador, a leftist, pledged that he would investigate the disappearances, including the thousands of people reported missing during the country’s so-called “Dirty War” against leftist guerillas that began in the 1960s. The president has arguably failed, however, to hold the powerful military and law enforcement forces to account.
The United Nations recently determined that Mexico has failed to address enforced disappearances since 2017, according to the Yucatan Times.
Further casting shade on his bona fides as an advocate for grieving families, López Obrador suffered a setback when the commissioner in charge of searching for the missing people, Karla Quintana, resigned after the president’s call for a recount, saying only that she had to go “in light of current circumstances,” the Associated Press reported. But she sent the database of 110,000 missing persons she had overseen to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “for safekeeping,” the Washington Post added.
Meanwhile, investigators trying to verify the numbers on behalf of the president are showing up to question family members of the disappeared, leaving them furious.
“He always says that he has other numbers,” María Herrera, a mother of four missing sons, told the Post. “But the ones who have the real numbers are us, the mothers. Our families are the ones suffering this tragedy.”
Meanwhile, other investigators examining the case of the 43 missing students left in July saying they weren’t getting anywhere, and were being stonewalled by the military.
Cartel members, their allies, and other criminals use disappearance to sow fear in a population, “creating a climate of suspicion and betrayal,” argued the University of Bath’s professor in political violence Brad Evans in the Conversation.
López Obrador might wonder how many voters will feel that way about him next year.