06/03/13 (written by tianacarriedo) — On Monday, May 27, 2013, federal officials for the Mexican government announced the creation of a federal task force to search for missing persons. According to Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, who made the announcement at a press conference alongside Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, the special investigative unit will put an end to the “bureaucratic maze” that currently characterizes the search for missing persons in Mexico. The unit will be supported by 12 investigators and a federal police group, and should be, according to Osorio Chong, functional in a “matter of days.” More importantly, the task force will serve as the sole coordinating body for all government entities involved in locating missing persons. The Interior Minister did not, however, specify the proposed budget or the working location of the special unit, points that, along with the size of the task force, led to great disappointment among family members of missing persons.
In an interview with Animal Político, a Mexican news source, Margarita López, a mother of a missing person, said the task force of 12 investigators is “totally insufficient” and the search for the missing remains “stalled.” López’s daughter, Yahaira Guadalupe Bahena López, was taken from her home in Oaxaca by an armed group on April 13, 2011. Bahena López has not been seen since, and her mother has received scant assistance from authorities in helping find her.
The creation of the task force came as mothers and family members of missing persons staged a hunger strike to protest the government’s lack of urgency in investigating the cases of the 26,121 persons who have gone missing since 2006. The exact number of missing persons in Mexico, however, is disputed. Though a government database shows that there are 26,121 missing or disappeared persons in Mexico, the Interior Minister asserted at a recent press conference that, due to emigration to the United States and family disputes, the actual number of missing persons is most likely much lower than the official government figure.
Regardless of the exact count, the problem of missing persons in Mexico is considerable. Since the launch in 2006 of former President Felipe Calderón’s (2006 – 2012) crackdown on drug cartels, the country has been mired in brutal violence. An estimated 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related deaths with thousands reported missing, and many others forcibly disappeared by Mexican security forces. The latter is an increasingly prominent dilemma for the government.
In February of this year, the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the issue of enforced disappearances. The report, “Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored,” painstakingly documents a small sampling (249) of the many disappearances that have occurred in Mexico in the last sexenio and provides strong evidence that 149 of the investigated cases are enforced disappearances involving public security agents (i.e. federal, state, and municipal police, and/or military forces are implicated). In response to reports and complaints about human rights violations—including kidnapping, enforced disappearances, and torture—committed by the military and police forces, U.S. lawmakers have called on the State Department to continue to withhold security assistance funds to Mexico until the Mexican government systematically investigates these abuses and prosecutes those cases involving military personnel and civilians in civilian courts. Read more about this issue here.
Given the small size and as of yet unknown budget, it is not clear if the newly created task force will have the resources or support to fully investigate the thousands of cases of missing persons and enforced disappearances currently on record.