Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently reinstated the National Search System for Missing Persons (NSSMP), raising hopes that a real effort to uncover clandestine mass graves will take place. However, his pledge raises more questions than answers about the rather complex implementation of this project.
In late March, López Obrador, also known as AMLO, stated that the federal government will allocate unlimited resources for the search of approximately 40,000 disappeared people. In addition, the program will also direct funds to assist the country’s limited forensic system, which is currently struggling to identify over 26,000 bodies already in its morgues.
The announcement by AMLO has been welcomed by multiple non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations. Activists agree that having an adequate allocation of resources would provide families and search groups the opportunity to explore the more than 1,300 clandestine graves already known to exist in the country, and to find many more.
In an attempt to ensure that the NSSMP can succeed, each individual state is expected to create a search committee with the aid of the federal government, with López Obrador demanding they be in place by September.
The president added that, over the next three months, he would meet with relatives of victims, human rights defenders and experts to verify progress.
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Despite López Obrador’s commitment to tackle the challenging issue of forced disappearances and clandestine graves, the restoration of the NSSMP raises more questions about what is likely to be an uphill battle to implement this program.
In the past decade, the arduous task to discover and explore clandestine graves has been mostly organized by the families of those who have disappeared and assisting NGOs. This is highlighted in the recent discoveries of dead bodies in mass graves in states such as Sinaloa, Oaxaca, Colima, Veracruz and Sonora among others.
Of these, one of the most notorious is a mass grave uncovered in Colinas de Santa Fe, an urban area of Veracruz, where a group of families known as the Colectivo Solecito de Veracruz discovered over 300 human remains. A member of the group publicly denounced the lack of support and aid from the state’s Attorney General’s Office.
The president’s promise to provide unlimited resources to this mission does not provide clear answers to the multiple questions surrounding implementation. How will the federal government and Mexico’s 31 states work alongside NGOs and families to ensure that resources are adequately being used? And given that these graves are often located in areas where organized crime groups operate, how will the government ensure the safety of those involved in the search efforts?
On March 30, Abiram Hernández Fernández, a local activist who was actively assisting families seeking missing persons, was assassinated in Veracruz.
Falko Ernst, a senior analyst for International Crisis Group, told InSight Crime that “symbolically, this is a significant leap in the right direction when compared to the obstruction and denial of past administrations.”
It is clear that López Obrador sees this topic as a priority. The families of the thousands of victims are clinging to the hope that this is not another empty promise in a long list from the Mexican government.
The “[NSSMP] radius of action will only reach as far as the federal government is able and willing to provide protection,” added Ernst.
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