"They went out for cigarettes . . ."
In the last months of the administration of former president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and the early ones of president Enrique Peña Nieto, the international press had a field day reporting that over 25,000 persons had supposedly vanished during the first six years of Mexico's drug war (2006-2012). The strong implication was that many if not most had been kidnapped and executed by government police and military forces.
In February 2013, Mexico's then three month old PRI government said that stories in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post claiming that those papers had received a huge database of missing persons from unidentified officials in this country could not be true, because no such list existed. The papers, which referred to a "secret list" of more than 25,000 compiled by Mexican state and federal prosecutors but never published, did not retract their stories. Their reports continue to be widely quoted in articles about Mexico's drug war, which turns 90 months old tomorrow. Mexican officials dispute U.S. press reports on drug war disappearances: claims are based on "nonexistent data."
The same month Calderón's arch enemy, Human Rights Watch, reported that it had "verified 149 forced disappearances" at the hands of security forces during the president's term, which had ended 90 days before. A major news network which examined the document - no friend of Calderón or his National Security Strategy - concluded it was vague and "lacked rigorous analytical methodology." Mexico's drug war was already 75 months old at the time, and HRW's findings seemed rather anemic evidence of alleged wide scale human rights violations by government forces. Hype is always present in Mexico's drug war, especially when Human Rights Watch comes to town.
On Friday Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam reported that most such disappearances which have been investigated by the administration since it took office 18 months ago have been resolved "simply by lifting up the telephone."
"When we went through all the numbers and all the names, and checked out everything which was given to us, we ended up with about 8,000 people whom we still have not fully accounted for, but that number is changing daily, it means very little," Karam told a Mérida press conference Friday at the close of a national prosecutor's conference.
Karam emphasized that there is no evidence such persons were drug war victims. They were reported as "overdue or whereabouts unknown" to local and state law enforcement offices over the last decade. Most eventually surfaced, but when they did family members or friends failed to notify the officials with whom they had made inquiry, or the officials failed to update their lists.
Karam said hundreds of such cases have been resolved by a single call to family or associates of the once missing person.
"Look, my uncle, the one I reported, he finally showed up. He went out to buy cigarettes, and was gone a little longer than usual," Karam noted in illustrating the results of a typical investigation.
The attorney general said that even he had participated in the process, getting lucky on his first call. "No, sir, my loved one is here with me. Yes, I did make a report of a disappearance, but what happened, fortunately, is that he left for personal reasons, but he's right here at home with us now."
Karam acknowledged that some human remains eventually identified from the dozens of narcofosas, or drug war burial grounds, unearthed in recent years were persons who had been listed as missing. As forensic scientists continue their work on an estimated 19,000 unidentified cadavers, descriptions of missing persons are being compared with the physical attributes of the remains, most of which were severely decomposed when discovered. Federal prosecutor: more bodies in narco grave site on Lake Chapala outskirts.
Mexicans have greater confidence in their military forces than any other public institution
HRW's latest condemnation of Mexican drug war reveals how little it understands conflict
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