MATAMOROS, Mexico (AFP) — A woman, whose son disappeared a year ago, begged to be allowed into a former cornfield in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas where half a ton of human remains have been found since 2017.
“I just want a bone to lay to rest beside my husband,” the mother, in her 50s, said but received no response from the soldiers.
The site, La Bartolina, is located a few kilometers from Matamoros, a city on the border with the United States beset by violence linked to drug trafficking and other organized crime.
It is considered an “extermination camp” by the National Search Commission, the official body that coordinates the hunt for Mexico’s missing.
Access to the site is forbidden even for victims’ relatives, who often accuse the authorities of ineffectiveness and so undertake their own searches.
More than 11,800 people are registered as missing in Tamaulipas, which sits on a drug smuggling corridor. Along with the western state of Jalisco, it has seen the largest number of disappearances in Mexico.
Countrywide, 95,121 people have gone missing, according to official figures released Friday during a visit by the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances.
People began to vanish during the Mexican authorities’ so-called dirty war against the revolutionary movements of the 1960s-1980s.
But it was after then-president Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against the drug cartels in 2006 that the number of people missing — and murdered — began to soar.
Since then, the country of 126 million people has recorded 300,000 murders, including more than 36,000 in 2020 alone — an average of nearly 100 every day.
“Organized crime remains one of the main causes of disappearances,” Laura Atuesta, an expert at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, said.
In Mexico, myriad gangs fight for control of lucrative routes for smuggling drugs, migrants and stolen fuel.
The disappearances are also a result of “corruption of police forces linked to organized crime,” Alejandro Encinas, a deputy minister responsible for human rights, said in mid-November.
The missing are mostly young people, aged 15 to 30, who are trapped in poverty — which afflicts 44 percent of the population — and unable to find work.
Others are caught in a vicious circle of gang recruitment or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.