'Extermination Site' Illustrates the Scale of Mexico's Missing

Progress is slow, and justice is nowhere in sight for families of the nearly 100K who have disappeared
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 5, 2022 1:50 PM CST
'Extermination Site' Illustrates the Scale of Mexico's Missing
A technician organizes bone fragments at the forensic lab in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.   (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

The human foot—burned, but with some fabric still attached—was the tipoff for investigators. Until recently, this squat, ruined house in Nuevo Laredo was a place where the remains of some of Mexico’s missing multitudes were torn apart and incinerated. At the site—to which AP was given access this month—the insufficiency of investigations into Mexico’s disappearances is painfully evident. There are already 52,000 unidentified people in morgues and cemeteries, not counting places like this one, where charred remains are measured by weight, and bones are still scattered across nearly two acres. Six months into their investigation, forensic technicians still cannot estimate how many people disappeared at this cartel “extermination site.”

They catalogue whatever they find—bones, buttons, earrings, scraps of clothing—and send the contents to the overwhelmed forensic lab in the state capital Ciudad Victoria, where slim resources cannot keep pace with incoming evidence. “We take care of one case and 10 more arrive,” said Oswaldo Salinas, head of the Tamaulipas state attorney general’s identification team. Meanwhile, there is no progress in bringing the guilty to justice. Recent data from Mexico’s federal auditor shows that zero out of more than 1,600 investigations into disappearances opened by the attorney general made it to the courts in 2020.

Today, Mexico’s official total of the missing persons stands at 98,234, second only in Latin America to war-torn Colombia. The problem exploded into 2006 when the government declared war on the cartels. For years, the government looked the other way as violence increased and families of the missing were forced to become detectives. The National Search Commission was finally established in 2018. The next year, incoming President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government was the first to recognize the extent of the problem and mount effective searches. He also promised authorities would have all the resources they needed. The Commission was supposed to have 352 employees this year, but it has just 89. Money is not the only issue; in Tamaulipas, nearly half the budgeted positions remain open due to difficulty finding applicants who pass background checks. "This issue is a monster," says the head of the state search commission.

(More Mexican drug cartel stories.)

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