Homicides and Disappearances Reach New Levels in 2019

A relative holds a photo of her missing loved one during a protest in front of the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Demonstrators presented a petition with 102 thousand signatures to demand that the disappeared be found and identified. Photo and Caption: The Associated Press, Marco Ugarte.

01/14/20 (written by kheinle) – The last year of the decade was one of Mexico’s most violent years on record. Homicides and disappearances played critical roles in driving up the numbers.

Homicides

When looking at homicides, several of the year’s top headlines and prominent stories emerge. Perhaps most important, more homicides occurred in Mexico in 2019 than in any other year in the country’s modern history. Additionally, Mexican journalists were particularly at risk, as they were more than three times as likely to be killed than journalists in any nation worldwide. The country also grappled with several high profile displays of violence, particularly in the second half of the year. This included when 27 individuals were burned to death at a strip club in Veracruz in August, as well as the catch and release of Ovidio Guzmán in October that left at least 13 people dead in Culiacán. The murder of nine dual U.S.-Mexican Mormon citizens in Sonora in November caught international headlines, and the year came to a close with more homicides (127 dead) registered on one day in December than any other day throughout 2019. 

Disappearances

At the beginning of the new year, violence in the news then turned to the topic of Mexico’s staggering number of disappeared persons. On January 6, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, announced at a conference that 9,164 individuals were disappeared in 2019, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB). Including the 2019 data, 147,033 persons have thus been disappeared since 1964, said Karla Quintana, the director of Mexico’s National Search Commission (Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas). Of these, more than half (58%) have been found, meaning the remaining 42% of persons (61,637 individuals) are still missing. This is significantly higher than the estimated 40,000 disappeared persons that the government reported in early 2018 leading many to question the underreporting in previous years.

Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Human Rights, presents on disappearances at a conference on January 6, 2020. Photo: Reforma.

Demographics of the Disappeared

Many of these cases of missing persons are linked to organized crime and drug cartel violence. In fact, 97% of all those registered since 1964 came after 2006 when then-President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched his aggressive campaign against drug trafficking and organized crime. There are thus are several commonalities among the victims.

First, just over half (53%) of the 61,637 victims were between the ages of 15 and 34 years old when they were disappeared, reported Quintana. Over 13% were in their early twenties (20-24), another 13% in the late twenties (25-29), and 11.7% early thirties (30-34). Second, almost three-quarters are men. However, when considering all 147,033 persons documented since 1964, women between the ages of 10 and 24 actually have the highest rate of disappearance. Third, there are also geographical tendencies among the disappeared, as they have mostly been registered in just ten specific states (in descending order): Tamaulipas, Jalisco, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, Coahuila, Puebla, Guerrero, and Veracrúz.

Head of Mexico’s National Search Commission, Karla Quintana. Photo: El Economista

Mass Graves

Not only did the number of disappearances increase in 2019, but so, too, did the discovery of mass graves containing many of said missing persons. Mexico’s National Search Commission located 873 clandestine graves housing 1,124 bodies since it began its focused search in late 2018. As the Associated Press reports, Tamaulipas has often been home to such graves, although that has come to include Jalisco with the Commission’s new findings. In fact, a discovery was made outside Guadalajara, Jalisco in early January of 26 plastic bags containing miscellaneous body parts. In addition, the states of Sinaloa, Veracruz, and Colima collectively accounted for nearly a third of all 1,124 bodies located by the Commission since its launch.

“These are data of horror,” lamented National Search Commission Director Quintana. She continued, “there are many painful stories from families both in Mexico and of migrants,” alluding to the serious dangers migrants face as they become easy targets while they make the journey north to the United States.

National Search Commission Efforts

Quintana’s Commission will continue to focus efforts and resources on unearthing mass graves and burial pits in 2020. In addition, the Commission also released a one-stop website in November 2019 to streamline reporting of a missing loved one. Mexico’s Ministry of the Interior developed the portal with the Commission as a means for family and friends to submit information if someone goes missing.

Sources:

“Homicide rates on pace for record-breaking year.” Justice in Mexico. August 8, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “Extreme acts of violence in Mexico are on the rise: 27 burned to death at a strip club.” Los Angeles Times. August 28, 2019.

“The Capture and Release of Ovidio Guzmán in Culiacán, Sinaloa.” Justice in Mexico. November 5, 2019.

Franco, Marina E. “Ante la crisis por desaparecidos, México presenta un portal para reportar nuevos casos.” Telemúndo. November 8, 2019.

Secretaría de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas reportadas por delito de homicidio.” Gobierno de México. December 1, 2019.

“Mexico homicide record: 127 deaths reported in a single day.” Al Jazeera. December 3, 2019.

“Municipal police chief arrested over Mexican Mormon massacre.” Reuters. December 27, 2019.

Franco, Marina E. “Son datos del horror’: México revela que hay más de 60,000 desaparecidos en el país.” Telemúndo. January 6, 2020.

González, Isabella. “Registran 9 mil desapariciones en 2019.” Reforma. January 6, 2020.

“Mexican missing persons search effort finds 873 burial pits.” The Associated Press. January 12, 2020.

Villegas, Paulina. “A New Toll in Mexico’s Drug War: More than 61,000 Vanished.” The New York Times. January 6, 2020.

Ordaz Díaz, Arturo. “Jóvenes mexicanos, los que más han desaparecido en 6 décadas.” Forbes. January 7, 2020.

“26 bags of body parts found in western Mexico ravine.” The Associated Press. January 9, 2020.

Website. Portal de Desaparecidos. Secretaría de Gobernación, Comisión Nacional de Búsquedas de Personas. Last accessed January 12, 2020.

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