When the Mexican government announced its intention to review the official register of “disappeared” individuals, the move was framed as an effort to eliminate inaccuracies. However, due to a lack of transparency in the process, activists suspected that it might be a tactic to decrease the numbers before the 2024 election.
The government has now declared that it was only able to confirm 12,377 out of the 113,000 cases of disappeared people. Another 16,681 were located, either alive or through death certificates. Yet, in approximately two-thirds of the cases, there was insufficient information to identify or initiate a search, leaving the status of these individuals in limbo.
The registry had become a politically charged issue, symbolizing the ongoing insecurity in the country, while President Andrés Manuel López Obrador argued that the numbers were being inflated to criticize the government. However, investigators argue that the focus on the quantity, which might be either an underestimation or an overestimation, is misplaced. The real concern is the prevailing impunity.
Violence in Mexico escalated with the militarized “war on drugs” in 2006 and has remained persistently high during López Obrador’s term, which started in 2018. Despite promises to change the security strategy, improvements have been elusive, and the escalating number of disappearances, along with the consistently high homicide rates, have been a major criticism of his administration.
In June, López Obrador initiated a “census” to scrutinize disappearances on a case-by-case basis. However, the process faced criticism, and the head of the National Search Commission, Karla Quintana, resigned, alleging an intention to manipulate the numbers.
The UN’s human rights office in Mexico criticized the appointment of Quintana’s successor, Teresa Guadalupe Reyes Sahagún, citing a lack of consultation, transparency, and scrutiny. Many family members of missing individuals rejected the update, expressing concerns that the lack of transparency was causing the disappeared to be further marginalized.
The underlying issue of disappearances in Mexico remains poorly understood, with questions about who these missing people are, where they are, who is responsible for their disappearance, why it occurred, and why investigations are lacking. Despite the ongoing catastrophe, political points are being contested instead of addressing the systemic causes, according to Tyler Mattiace, a Mexico researcher at Human Rights Watch.