Disappearances at US-Mexico Border Highlight Persistent Insecurity

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A new report has revealed that the Mexican states with the highest rates of disappearances are located along the US-Mexico border, illustrating how both crime groups and security forces in those areas have adopted the tactic for various reasons.

The report, released by the Center for Human Rights of Women (Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres – CEDEHM), compiled data from the US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and only included the top 14 states with the most disappearances.

The highest rates of disappearances are concentrated in the border states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Sonora, according to the study. The Pacific state of Jalisco also reported a high number of disappearances.

Tamaulipas reported particularly high numbers of disappearances, especially in the “Frontera Chica,” or “Little Border” region, the stretch of the border from the Gulf Coast to the cities of Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo.

Rates of Disappearances in Mexico

View Disappearances in Mexico in a full screen map

One city in Tamaulipas, Ciudad Mier, had a staggering rate of 1,855 reported missing or disappeared persons per 100,000 inhabitants. The second highest rates were in the cities of Guerrero and Jiménez, also in Tamaulipas, with rates of 582 and 487 disappearances for every 100,000 inhabitants, respectively.

More than 34,000 people have been reported disappeared or missing in Mexico since 2007, according to the National Registry of Missing and Disappeared People (Registro Nacional de Datos de Personas Extraviadas o Desaparecidas – RNPED). The agency registered a total of 4,972 last year, one of the highest annual totals ever recorded.

InSight Crime Analysis

There are several reasons why disappearances may be more common along the US-Mexico border. The border is a criminally-strategic area for human smuggling and drug trafficking groups, who typically are trying to enter people or illicit substances into the United States. In addition, the region has large oil reserves that are important for criminal organizations engaged in fuel theft.

These illicit economies have generated violent conflict for control, not only among crime groups, but also between criminal actors and security forces. And disappearances are used to ensure impunity for violence carried out in the course of those conflicts.

Security forces, “at least in some parts of Mexico, use disappearances as a way to secure impunity,” Ariel Dulitzky, Chair of the UN Working Group on Involuntary or Enforced Disappearances, told InSight Crime.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Disappearances in Mexico

The prevalence of disappearances in border states is also indicative of the sophistication of crime groups operating in that region, and the complicity or lack of capacity on the part of security forces.

“Disappearing someone takes a higher level of sophistication,” Stephanie Leutert, Director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin told InSight Crime.

“To capture someone, extract information, kill them and dispose of the body takes longer than simply committing murder in the street. So you have to have either the backing of police, or at least remove the fear of getting caught,” Leutert said.

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