MEXICO CITY – Mexican authorities found nearly 5,000 bodies in more than 3,000 clandestine graves – most of them in the states of Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Sinaloa and Jalisco – between 2006 and the first half of August 2019, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration said Friday.
Those figures are sharply higher than an estimate in September of last year by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Mexico’s equivalent of an ombudsman’s office, which said that around 1,300 clandestine graves containing nearly 4,000 bodies had been discovered between Jan. 1, 2007, and Aug. 30, 2018.
“The search for missing persons is the priority of this administration and the guiding principal of searching (with presumption of) life is paramount. And if (people are not found alive), we need to go back and work with ... families in a dignified manner,” the Government Secretariat’s undersecretary for human rights, population and migration, Alejandro Encinas, said at Lopez Obrador’s morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City.
Most disappearances are tied to organized crime, although others are linked to authorities at the local level, authorities said in presenting an analysis of Mexico’s clandestine graves on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
“The search for people is the responsibility of the state,” Encinas said, adding that previous administrations had sought to “hide or minimize this phenomenon.”
For her part, the head of Mexico’s recently created National Search Commission, Karla Quintana, said in a press conference that the painful issue of disappearances is “not just about numbers.”
“It’s about thousands of people who are looking for their family members.”
“The number is dynamic,” she said in reference to the figure of 3,024 clandestine graves. “We’re reviewing it and have to corroborate it not only with institutions but with family members,” Quintana said.
She said it had been compiled through the efforts of civil society organizations, academia and other institutions.
Between Dec. 1, 2018, when Lopez Obrador took office, and Aug. 14, 2019, a total of 522 clandestine graves with 671 bodies were located in the states of Colima, Veracruz and Chihuahua.
But Quintana noted that authorities “not only find bodies but also bone remains that are not necessarily included in the reports.”
She said 200 of those 671 bodies have been fully identified and 116 have been turned over to relatives, while at the request of the families a special forensic mechanism will be launched under the observation of national and international organizations.
Forensic cemeteries and regional identification centers also will be established.
The government said in February that Mexico had a total of 40,000 unsolved missing-persons cases and 26,000 unidentified bodies lying in morgues across the country.
The tragedy of the disappeared “is the legacy of a wrong and failed policy to confront the violence in the country,” Lopez Obrador said on May 14, referring to the strategy of militarizing the struggle against powerful drug gangs that then-President Felipe Calderon launched in December 2006.