The record of missing persons found in Mexico falls abruptly since the creation of the new census

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised results in June for the thousands of families of missing people with a “new census”, however, the figures from recent months show the opposite effect: fewer people have been located despite the mobilization of resources and public servants in all regions of the country. The decrease has been gradual in the last five months until reaching a percentage decrease of 60% in November. A missing person was three times more likely to be found in May, before the new federal plan.

An exhaustive analysis of the National Registry of Missing and Unlocated Persons (RNPDNO), carried out by EL PAÍS, shows that the decline coincides with the implementation of the program of visits to homes where a disappearance has been reported and the authorities have signs that someone could be alive. The Welfare Secretariat cross-checks millions of data from different lists with the names on the list of disappearances. A big problem has been homonyms.

The daily average of finds is a jump off the cliff when comparing month to month throughout the year: every day of January 52 locations; each day of May, 51; each day of June, 45; every day of October, 30; and for each day of November, just 19 people.

As the locations go down, more disappear every day. In January, 29 people disappeared and not located daily, in August, 37 disappearances per day; in September, 39; in October, 35 people disappeared daily; and in November, disappearances were again at 29 a day, as at the beginning of the year.

The database is a moving record. The federal entities and the Federation constantly update the status of missing persons, but the variation from one month to the next had not been so dramatic. For this investigation, a database was assembled with month-by-month statistics of the six-year terms of Felipe Calderón, Enrique Peña Nieto and the current López Obrador until November 30.

Fewer people alive

According to Arturo Arango, an expert in crime analysis, it is important to pay attention to the decrease in the location of people alive in the last five months. The number of people found alive is the indicator that demonstrates the efficiency and effectiveness of the State in terms of search, says the expert.

In January 1,515 people were found alive and in October 872, although there were more people missing. “We are talking about 40% fewer people being found alive than in January of this year,” highlights Arango, president of Crimipol, an observatory of violence and crime in Mexico.

The location of dead people fell by 64% between January and November, according to statistics from the national registry, whose operation began in 2019 and is fed mainly by state prosecutors’ offices.

“No one is against having a better registry, it is a function of the State to update it,” says the former head of the National Commission for the Search of Missing Persons (CNB) Karla Quintana in a seminar at the College of Mexico, her first public appearance since to leave office. “The dissent, the criticism that I make, is that it is only being done for a purpose and a temporality, and that purpose is to reduce the registry.” According to the president, the database was not well managed and he is looking for evidence to show that the former commissioner wanted to “affect” her government. Quintana says that she did not want to lend herself to manipulation.

More than 113,004 people remain missing and not located as of December 1. When Quintana left office in August, the figure was 110,972. The escalation is more than 2,000 people missing in three months. Each number is a name, a family, a story.

“Most families agree to update the registry, but not in the way it is being done,” says José Ugalde, on behalf of the Movement for Our Disappeared. “The census is intended to reduce the figures, not update them, and that is a great annoyance among us.” His son Saúl Ugalde was found dead in 2015 after he disappeared in Querétaro.

“First we are burdened with a misfortune that has no name, a horror movie that is difficult to forget for a lifetime. In addition, we are faced with the insensitivity of the Government in the search and justice process. And we are still re-victimized by the party that should be looking for us and keeping an eye on us,” he adds.

The enormous database with names and characteristics of thousands of missing nationals and foreigners had had the same pattern for years: around 60% were found people and around 40% were missing. After the creation of the new census, it began to reverse. In November, for the first time, the proportion changed to 40% found and 60% missing. Only 582 people were located last month. It is the lowest amount in absolute numbers since December 2018, when López Obrador came to the Government.

Never before had the number of locations plummeted. Never below 50%. Not even in the years of former presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón. Not since the advance of the Armed Forces in public security tasks due to the so-called war against drug trafficking.

Five months without public data and opacity

The methodology that has been used since June has not been public, nor has the number of national servants, police officers, commanders or other State workers who participate in the brigades. The money invested in this task is a mystery. The results of the brigades in each State cannot be audited. No authority is responsible, through the Transparency Law, for the brigades and if any official speaks it is with fear, without a recorder and with the promise of confidentiality for fear of losing their position or reprisals.

A big problem with the crossing of Wellbeing data has been the namesakes. Only after a series of interviews, under condition of anonymity, has this medium been able to learn that the exercise has had at least three stages: a pilot test in April led by former commissioner Karla Quintana; one in June that relegated Quintana; and one in August that left out the local commissions.

The former undersecretary of Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas, before leaving his position spoke of the existence of an agreement between the CNB and Bienestar, this is only to share databases and support the brigades, not to supplant search functions as is happening .

The CNB began last year to track names, addresses and characteristics of people with a complaint or report of disappearance in different databases of Mexican institutions. Part of the methodology, according to a response via Transparency, was to visit the houses in pairs—a man and a woman to generate trust and security; be tactful and careful not to mentally affect families (re-victimize) with sensitive information; and respect if people did not want to open the door or talk, among other things.

A series of irregularities documented during the new census include the taking of a georeferenced photograph of the facade of the houses visited, without consent. Ugalde, the father member of the Movement for Our Disappeared, adds others: untrained public servants knock on the homes of people threatened and fearful of new disappearances; visits to houses where their inhabitants have had to temporarily move for safety. There, instead of withdrawing and acting prudently, the bureaucrats knock on the neighbors’ doors, question them and put them at risk. “This is very serious, it is terrible, they cannot do this, it is not the right path,” says Ugalde with indignation.

Even with complaints of violation of privacy, revictimization of families, and his own data against it, López Obrador assures that the plan is effective and promised to demonstrate it this December. “In many places there is good news because young people are being found,” he said in August. “There is important progress in the search because it is an action of thousands of public servants,” he mentioned in September. “The missing have been found,” he said last month. There are 10 months left in his Government and he is already on his way to closing the six-year term with the highest number of disappearances in history.

“In Mexico, not only are fewer found, but there are more missing people per day,” says Santiago Corcuera, former member of the United Nations Committee against Forced Disappearances, in an interview. “The registry is not going to deflate just like that because its intention is not humanitarian, it is electoral.”

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