The rate of reported disappearances in Mexico during President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has more than doubled since he took office, raising questions about the security achievements trumpeted by the president, as well as the methods of collecting data on these issues.
Proceso said that on average 13 people were reported missing every day in Mexico from when Peña Nieto took office in December 2012 through October 2014. The number is more than twice the rate of 6 per day during the presidency of Felipe Calderon (2006 – 2012).
These figures are based on a revised system engineered by Mexico’s National Public Security Secretariat, according to Proceso. In total, 40 percent of the 23,272 disappearances — or 9,384 — that Mexico’s missing persons registry (RNPED) reported between January 2007 and October 2014 came during the administration of Peña Nieto.
The western state of Tamaulipas registered the highest number of disappearances from 2007 to 2014 with 5,293 cases (see graphic below in which higher rates of disappearances are a darker shade of red – source: RNPED), while Jalisco ranked second with 2,139.
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Peña Nieto has recently touted plummeting murder rates in Tamaulipas and Ciudad Juarez as evidence his security strategy in these violence-wracked states is working. However, the high number of disappeared in Tamaulipas suggests the lower murder rates may be due, in part, to the fact that bodies that are disappeared are not registered in homicide data. A similar phenomenon was registered in Colombia and in El Salvador.
The discrepancy in the number of disappearances between the old and current tallying system also underscores just how subjective some security indicators can be. Under the old format, over 26,000 people were reported missing while Calderon was president; there is no data on the number who went missing during Peña Nieto’s time in office using the old system.
At times, a new or alternative method for measuring statistics plays a bigger factor than any government reform or change in criminal dynamics. The official number of reported kidnappings and murders in Mexico last year have already been questioned by watchdog groups and independent observers, which registered higher rates for both crimes.
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Under the government’s former counting system, the RNPED would have probably registered an even higher number of missing persons during 2013 and 2014 — both of which were record years for disappearances in Mexico. Increased rates of disappearance would do little to help the Mexican government’s standing, which is already facing a credibility crisis due to the fallout from the missing students case last September in Guerrero, which reportedly involved dozens of police colluding with a criminal gang, on orders from the local mayor.