Mexico’s Disappeared Are Drug War’s Hidden Victims

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Mexico’s foremost human rights body says that almost 5,400 people have gone missing in the nation since 2006, the year that President Felipe Calderon was elected.

The Comision Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) also reported that just under 9,000 dead bodies recovered during the same period have not yet been identified.

The unclaimed bodies and disappeared Mexicans are of a piece with a broader decline in Mexican security over the past few years. A wide variety of crimes related to the drug trade have spiked under Calderon, with murders topping out in 2010 at more than 15,000, after years of increases. However, according to the BBC, the issue of disappeared people in Mexico predates the Calderon administration, starting to rise in the 1990s.

A large number of the disappearances are thought to be related to organized crime. Victims of criminal groups are often disposed of in such a way that their remains will be forever lost; after his 2009 arrest, Santiago Meza Flores, nicknamed the “Pozolero del Teo,” or “Teo’s Soup-maker,” admitted to dissolving more than 300 bodies in vats of acid while working for Tijuana Cartel boss Teo Garcia earlier this decade.

Excelsior reports that the list also included some cases in which individuals were kidnapped and forced to work for a criminal group, a practice that has been documented in the northern states of Tamaulipas and Coahuila. Other disappearances have been blamed on military troops, roughly 50,000 of whom have been deployed around Mexico during Calderon’s term.

However, the BBC also reports that the missing are often young males who have jobs unrelated to organized crime. Many of the disappearances are the result of group abductions, such as the kidnapping of 20 Mexican tourists in Acapulco last year. The men were later found in a mass grave not far from the famous resort city. Other mass graves, housing unidentified victims of criminal groups, have been found across the nation in recent years.

The CNDH report comes just days after a UN report charged the Mexican military with playing a role in many of the disappearances over the past few years. The UN called on the Mexican government to remove the army from the streets “within a short timeframe.”

The Calderon administration rejected the recommendation. “Mexican families are not going to be left to the mercy of criminal groups,” said Felipe de Jesus Zamora, undersecretary of the interior, in a press conference. “It would be irresponsible to withdraw the armed forces at this time.”

While it remains a controversial issue, many polls have shown that the use of the military in a domestic policing capacity has wide support among the public.

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