Tuesday 26 February 2013

Human Rights Watch should take a bow: It’s “official” – at least 26,121 people reported missing during Calderón sexenio

She counts
After weeks of stonewalling and misinformation, it looks like Lia Limon, the Mexican Interior Department's subsecretary for human rights, was right when she said that there was a list of people who have disappeared during the country’s six year war on drugs.

And though Limon initially claimed that the list had over 27,000 names on it, the official count released on Tuesday, February 26, confirms only that “at least” 26,121 people were reported missing during the term of President Felipe Calderón.

This compares to last week’s claim by a former member of the Calderón administration that no more than 5,319 names had been collected. That a government could “miscalculate” the disappearance of over 20,000 of its own citizens during the most brutal conflict since the Mexican Revolution a century ago is worrying, to say the least. It reveals the state of denial that was endemic within the last administration, and that was exemplified by Calderón himself.

There is one reason, and one reason only, why this number has been released: relentless pressure from Human Rights Watch (HRW). Apologists for the conflict have repeatedly disparaged HRW for everything from its allegedly shoddy methodology to its ideological underpinnings, but the organization was right to persist in its efforts to unearth the seriousness of the problem.

That said, the unease that such a reality creates within Mexico is understandable. It is the same unease that caused many Guatemalans to disbelieve that 200,000 of their own people could have been killed as part of a deliberate genocide: only years of detailed work by the United Nations, human rights groups, and the Catholic Church brought the truth to light.

And it is the same unease faced in Argentina when the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo began to ask where their children went. It took years of pressure, but the government has now admitted to 9,000 disappeared – though the Mothers believe it is closer to 30,000.

Mexico is now at a cross roads. Though the 26,121 number includes people who have gone AWOL in the United States, or who don’t want to be found, it also excludes all the disappeared who have never been reported and, perhaps more seriously, the thousands of Central American migrants who are not Mexican citizens.

Rubén Figueroa, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement (Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano), said recently that, according to various sources, including Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, or “CNDH”), some 70,000 migrant workers disappeared during the Calderón administration.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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