Mexico: relatives demand action on disappearances
Mexican governance secretary Francisco Blake Mora held a meeting in Mexico City on July 29 with more than 160 relatives of people who have been "disappeared"—kidnapped by criminals, by the police or by the military. The family members, many carrying photographs of the victims, were demanding action from the federal Governance Secretariat (SG), which is in charge of the country's internal security. The relatives came from a number of states, including Guanajuato, Morelos, Nuevo León, Oaxaca and Zacatecas, but the greatest number were from the northern state of Coahuila, where the "drug wars" between the authorities and drug traffickers and between different drug gangs have been especially intense.
"Enough of speeches and proposals," the mother of a disappeared person told Blake and other federal officials. "What we want is answers." "We aren't sitting here because we want to say hello and get acquainted," a man said, "but because we're burdened with a history of sorrow. We don't trust you." Blake admitted that there were problems with "corruption" and "omissions," but the federal officials insisted that the "great majority" of the disappearances were by carried out by organized crime groups, not the police or military. The relatives said there were thousands of disappearances and the situation called for a special prosecutor's office. Blake answered that the federal government was only working on 184 disappearance cases and that a special office wasn't necessary—although the SG's assistant secretary for judicial affairs and human rights, Felipe Zamora, said officials were seeking a "mechanism" for investigating disappearances.
Raúl Vera López, the left-leaning Catholic bishop of Saltillo in Coahuila, came to the meeting along with the relatives. He made it clear that he thought the situation had been made worse by the militarization of the "drug war" that President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa started shortly after taking office in December 2006. This "mistaken strategy of confronting crime" through a war "now has sufficiently serious consequences," he told Blake. (La Jornada, Mexico, July 30)
The meeting of high-level officials with victims' relatives came as public anger continued to grow over disappearances and drug-related killings—more than 35,000 Mexicans have died in the violence since President Calderón became president. On July 14 the relatives of 10 disappeared men began a hunger strike in Oaxaca.
The Association of Relatives of the Detained, Disappeared and Victims of Human Rights Violations in Mexico (Afadem), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), has records of about 4,000 disappearances during the Calderón administration, according to the group's executive director, Julio Mata Montiel. "There are people who talk of 10,000 or 20,000, but it's very hard to determine the exact number," he told the Mexican daily La Jornada. Since there is no central database of disappearances, relatives have to travel to different states and municipalities to file reports. There is also no central database for DNA, so the relatives have to give samples at each locality. Generally the victims are working people, and their family members can't afford the travel or the loss of workdays.
Adding to the relatives' difficulties, the authorities tend to treat disappearances as an indication that the victims themselves had links to the drug gangs. (LJ, July 31)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 31.