Family members of disappeared persons in east Mexico have discovered 75 mass graves in a month in a stark demonstration of the incapacity -- or unwillingness -- of authorities to determine the fate of thousands of citizens that have gone are missing in the country.
The Solecito Collective of Veracruz (Colectivo Solecito de Veracruz) found the mass graves in Colinas de Santa Fé, an urban area of Veracruz city that borders the port facility there, the organization's coordinator Lucía de los Ángeles told RadioFórmula.
About 90 members of the collective, all relatives of disappeared persons, began their search on August 3, based on information from anonymous informants, Animal Político reported. So far, eight of the 75 mass graves have been exhumed by Federal Police technicians and 28 bodies have been found, De los Ángeles said.
The collective noted that this may turn out to be the biggest mass grave discovery ever made by citizens in Mexico.
Asked by RadioFórmula what the government was doing to find bodies of the disappeared, De los Ángeles responded:
"They want to hide and deny [the graves]. We want to find [them]. We put all the effort in, we prepared ourselves with our own resources, we bought tools. We brought specialists in from Iguala, Guerrero, two people came, and we worked with the entire collective and achieved this result."
De los Ángeles, whose son disappeared three years ago, said the authorities want to ignore the problem because they bear some responsibility for it.
"They would prefer for the problem not to exist," she said. "They caused it from the start, because they failed to guarantee security. They allowed widespread impunity. Veracruz became a state of terror."
In a September 3 press release, a representative of the Veracruz State Prosecutor's Office denied that the institution was trying to hide from the issue and characterized the private efforts as invaluable support.
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The discovery of so many clandestine graves by a group of ordinary civilians is an embarrassing reminder of the government's inability to effectively tackle the enormous issue of forced disappearances in Mexico. Up until March 2015, the national register of the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública - SNSP) had records of nearly 26,000 people whose location was yet unknown, Contralínea reported.
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As victims' relatives and other observers have often denounced, the government's inadequate response is much to blame for this phenomenon. Systematic impunity is considered a key driver of disappearances, as are the state's insufficient efforts to investigate cases and publicly address the topic. Moreover, security forces are themselves alleged to be the perpetrators of a large number of disappearances.
Indeed, Veracruz is the state worst affected by forced disappearances in which the victim went missing after being detained by federal forces, according to figures from the attorney general's Special Search Unit for Victims of Forced Disappearances (Unidad Especial para la Búsqueda de Personas Víctima de Desaparición Forzada), created in 2013. That unit has only opened files on 621 cases recorded between 2001 and 2013, and 120 of those cases are characterized as possible forced disappearances, nearly a quarter of those registered in Veracruz.
In one recent case, 42 municipal police were detained in Papantla, Veracruz, in relation to the forced disappearance of three men on March 19, 2016. Eight officers were later arrested, among them the chief of the police force. The rest of the local force was disarmed, with state police taking over security for the municipality.