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Moms in Mexico keep searching for the missing, even as officials rallied to find the kidnapped Americans

MEXICO CITY — While the FBI and the Mexican National Guard scrambled to find the four kidnapped Americans, Maria Isabel Cruz Bernal spent years searching for her missing son on her own with the help of family and friends.

Reyes Yosimar Garcia Cruz disappeared in Sinaloa state in 2017, but the investigation stalled two years ago.

So from dawn to dusk, across deserts and open fields and over graves, she searches for her son – or rather searches for his remains. He was 28 when he went missing.

“It saddens me greatly that those Americans were kidnapped and two were killed. But the Mexican government found them quickly, dead and alive, but they found them. We’ve been searching for years, and they won’t help us.” do,” Cruz Bernal said.

In Mexico, more than 14,000 people went missing last year, at least 27 every day, according to data from the National Search Commission in Mexico. Last March, the number of the country’s missing reached more than 100,000.

“We think it is a joke because there is no investigation, no search, no guarantee that our family will come back,” she said. “The years go by and we die hoping to find our loved ones.”

The families of the missing have called for assistance and action from the Mexican government, Mexico City
Family and friends of Irma Paola Vargas Montoya, Daniela Marquez Pichardo, Viviana Marquez Pichardo and José Gutierrez Montoya, who have been missing since December 25, demand government action in Mexico City on January 5. Louis Barron / Future Publishing with Getty Images

Last Friday’s kidnapping of four American citizens in view of many passers-by drew heavy condemnation from Mexico’s president and a pledge of a thorough investigation. After a joint US-Mexico search and investigation, they were located on Tuesday. Two were dead and the other two were returned to the United States.

For most Mexicans, there is no quickly deployed, heavily resourced search or investigation for their abducted or missing loved ones. And those who go missing have no idea whether they are alive or dead.

Ricardo Ainslie, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who made the 2007 documentary film “Ya Basta!: Kidnapped in Mexico,” said a “quick” resolution in a kidnapping is very unusual.

“In Mexico, there are people who haven’t been found in years who are still missing. People don’t know what happened to them. People are being taken off the streets, as you saw in the video. A pickup truck pulls up An armed gunman takes them and they are never seen again,” he said.

Cruz Bernal is helped by others in a group he created, the Subeusos Guerreras (Warrior Bloodhounds), a Sinaloa association dedicated to tracking down the remains of disappeared people.

‘It shows how big the problem is’

“There’s a lot of gun violence in the United States that goes unreported. And a lot of gun violence that goes unreported in Mexico, or there’s no prosecution or no conviction,” said the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. “So the problem is clearly much greater than last Friday. It shows how big the problem really is.”

A member of Mexican security forces stands next to a white minivan with North Carolina plates and multiple bullet holes, at the crime scene where gunmen kidnapped four US citizens crossing from Texas into Mexico, Friday, March 3, 2023. took.  Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said four Americans were going to buy drugs and were caught in a crossfire between two armed groups after entering Matamoros from Brownsville, Texas, on Friday.  (AP Photo)
The kidnapped Americans were driving a minivan with North Carolina plates when they arrived in Mexico from Texas on Friday.AP

Mexico has struggled with violence for decades. President Felipe Calderón, who was in office between 2006 and 2012, declared an aggressive war on his drug cartels and deployed troops across the country.

It was supported by the Merida Initiative, the US-Mexico security agreement. He also launched the Todos Somos program in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. It also massively invested in city infrastructure in several areas in response to the violence in Juárez, which was among the worst in the country. Ainslie said that this helped bring down the number of crimes in the area.

But Calderon’s approach has been criticized for leading to even more violence as smaller drug gangs proliferate. The current President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often referred to as AMLO, took a different approach.

Rudman said, “When AMLO came into office, his policy was hugs, not bullets.” Accompanying that policy was a promise to prioritize job creation and employment opportunities, believing that this would deter people from joining gangs or engaging in criminal activity.

But López Obrador’s strategy has also come under fire.

“I think, ideologically, the idea that you need to make choices to join gangs makes sense in the long run, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” Rudman said.

López Obrador replaced the federal police with a civilian-led National Guard. Amid ongoing gruesome violence, much of it perpetrated by cartels and gangs, he transferred the Guard to military control in September.

“Mexicans live in fear in some parts of the country; That they would be innocent bystanders, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Even if they didn’t support the security policies of the past, I don’t think they are seeing the type of change that AMLO promised or that they were looking for,” Rudman said.

‘People bow their heads’

It may occur to many people in the US who watch the video of the abduction of Americans that there were other people and cars during the violence, but no one mobilized after the abduction. Ainslie said that when brazen violence becomes normalized it shows the effects on communities. This is what he saw in Juarez around 2010.

“When the violence reaches a pitch that makes it all the more present, people bow their heads,” he said. “They realize that there are dangers in saying too much and knowing too much.”

In Mexico, women are usually the members of the family doing the searching. They dedicate themselves to the preservation of memories and the location of remains, bones, bodies or anything that brings them a little closer to knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Grace Fernandez said, “We women have to go out in search of our lost because the state doesn’t do it, neither do the state governments, nor the federal… We subsidize their work and they join us.” don’t go.” A member of the Movement for Our Disappeared, who also has a missing family member.

“We are very sorry for what happened to the American people in Mexico. No one deserves something like this, but this situation happens every day in this country. People disappear every day,” she said.

Mothers of missing children demonstrate in Juarez
Mothers of the missing march on Saturday in Juarez, Mexico. Christian Torres / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

searchers are targeted

The group of sleuths say they are looking for treasure, and avoid talking about corpses or the dead. They usually receive death threats which force them to leave their homes and areas. Their search can be dangerous. Last July, Aranza Ramos was killed while searching for her husband in Sonora.

Cruz Bernal said, “They keep killing us searchers, those of us who are looking for our disappearance.” Her face lights up when she remembers that Sabuesos Guerreras, an organization she founded four years ago, has brought together 850 women and three men who have helped more than 480 people find 70 survivors. bodies and 19,000 charred pieces have been found.

But this is a temporary salve.

“This void is not filled one bit. I want our family to no longer suffer and suffer, because what happened to me,” Cruz Bernal said, “I do not wish upon anyone.”

Albinson Linares reported from Mexico City, Suzanne Gamboa from San Antonio and Carmen Cesin from Miami.



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