The virus does not stop those who search for their disappeared in Mexico


Relatives of victims of violence demand that the authorities continue with the investigations

Isabel Cruz removes the land where she sees a mountain alone, some lush trees, a nearby river. She is looking for her son Yosimar, a 31-year-old policeman who disappeared in the State of Sinaloa in 2017. He cannot afford a day without doing it. The covid-19 pandemic has not stopped violence in Mexico, where more than 230 people disappeared between March and April, nor does it stop her: “There are more disappearances, there are more murders. And we here crying? Well, no”.

Cruz, 51, is finishing high school and has trained for tasks he didn’t think he would do in his life. He knows how to hydrate a tattoo, strain bones and operate a drone. “We have learned all these things on the way so that the Prosecutor’s Office does not tell us that we are crazy,” Cruz says in front of the computer. The wall behind it is papered with maps of the State of Sinaloa and index cards with red missing letters. He keeps more than 270 files in a filing cabinet and two life-size images of his son fill the space.

The founder of Hounds Guerreras continues to go out into the field with some of the mothers who make up the collective despite the recommendations of the Mexican health authorities, where there are more than 3,000 deaths from covid-19. Before, they went to the field three times a week in groups of 15 or 20 people; Now they only go out once and they are six on top of a Chevrolet Astro “to keep the healthy distance.” They start at seven in the morning clad in special suits with gloves, masks and balaclavas. On April 9 they made a find.

Mexico seeks more than 61,600 people. Most began to disappear since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón took the Army out to the street to fight the cartels. The war against drug trafficking has continued since then. The violence continues to take several lives even with the coming to power of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who promised to change the strategy. During the first months of this year, more than 100 homicides were recorded daily, according to the count of the Security authorities.

Until 2017, there was no law in Mexico to facilitate the location of the disappeared and guarantee reparation to victims. Even today, part of the regulations is breached in some areas, as reported by civil associations. The lack of personnel, resources, forensics and the lack of coordination between the authorities of federal and state commissions and prosecutors now adds the impossibility of leaving. The pandemic puts more obstacles to a system full of deficiencies.

When Cruz and the rest of the group found bones in a field near Culiacán on April 9, they called the Prosecutor’s Office, according to how he recounted: “They gave me a bag and they said ‘Isabel, if you find another bone, well, put it there” . He appreciated a skull, a coccyx, ribs, and vertebrae. “Would it have stayed there if we hadn’t excavated?” She asks. The predisposition of the authorities varies according to each state, the relatives criticize, and the response that Cruz received that day confirmed that he had to continue dating.

More than 230 disappearances between March and April

The disappearances have not stopped and the Government has prohibited the incineration of unidentified or identified and unclaimed bodies for the duration of the pandemic. Between March and April, the Undersecretariat for Human Rights registered 237 cases. 87 people have already been located. The National Search Commission and the State Attorney General’s Office have postponed the field work, although their teams keep guards and continue with other tasks from their homes.

“80% continue to function,” says Karla Quintana, the national search commissioner. The receipt of complaints and the immediate investigation of recently disappeared persons have not stopped. This Thursday, for example, his team located a pregnant woman in the State of Mexico after receiving an alert hours earlier. Meetings and administrative and legal work, registration and data analysis are also continuing, the commissioner said. Sources from the Attorney General’s Office also confirm that “cabinet” investigations have not stopped.

Edgar Cortez, project coordinator of the Mexican Institute of Human Rights and Democracy, warns, however, that “there is not always that clear disposition” to study cases. The lawyer adds that “there is a lack of personnel with the knowledge” to perform these tasks. “It is not enough that they say now we are going to do context analysis. If you do not have a team that knows the subject and a minimally armed methodology, it is more a good wish than a concrete possibility, ”he criticizes.

“They should be taking out all the files they have laggards, because they have thousands,” claims a mother from the group Por amor a ellxs, from Jalisco, who prefers not to identify herself. He lives in the State with the most missing in the last year, with 2,100, according to the national registry. “There are more deaths from murders than from the virus in Jalisco and the prosecutors do not want to attend to families. Violence does not stop, ”he denounced last Tuesday, when there were five homicides in Jalisco, according to the government’s daily security report. In the first week of May alone, a dozen families contacted the organization to ask for support. They provided virtual assistance.

Some groups have stopped touring hospitals, prisons, psychiatric and land for safety in the pandemic, but have not stopped completely. The delay puts the soul of the family “in a thread,” says Montserrat Castillo. He is a member of the María Herrera Family in Search collective, which has excavated three of the entities with the most clandestine graves in the country in the States of Veracruz, Guerrero and Sinaloa. “It is time, it is accepting that more and more evidence is erased. And more bureaucracy, which is a nightmare, ”he laments as his computer screen is completed with the faces of his colleagues.

For a month, they have been meeting weekly online. Virtual conference rooms, instant messaging chats, and phone calls are the meeting places for many for the duration of the emergency. The minutes of this Tuesday at eight o’clock at night: detail the action they will do on May 10, Mother’s Day; comment on the search protocol that the National Commission is designing to present its observations; define how your fight will continue when the pandemic passes.

It rains and the Internet trembles at Castillo’s house in Mexico City. María Herrera, 71, mother of four disappeared children in Guerrero and Veracruz, manages to connect after 40 minutes trying. Doña Mary is learning to make video conferences. The circle of his face is cut out, the chin in the foreground. The lady does her part. He hopes that the State will make his own.

This Sunday, Mother’s Day, they will be noticed on social networks, as they do every year on the streets. The National Links Network, to which the Maria Herrera Family in Search group belongs, will join the virtual “march” organized by the Movement for Our Disappeared, which brings together more than 60 groups. Mothers, fathers, brothers and activists have started an online campaign with photos and videos of people with their faces covered by a face mask and the inscription “Where are they?”. Even a pandemic does not erase this doubt from the minds of the families of the disappeared.

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