Mexican researchers said Thursday they have confirmed the existence of 1,606 secret graves containing 2,489 bodies from 2006 to 2017, but that may just scratch the surface of the true numbers behind what the study called a “building phenomenon.”
“Those are not all the graves … Unfortunately, it’s just a fraction,” Denise González, lead coordinator of the study, said at press conference at Mexico City’s Iberoamericana University.
The study found that Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Veracruz, Sinaloa and Zacatecas were the states with the most reported cases of secret graves, all places with a strong presence of organized crime groups.
University investigators worked alongside local human rights’ groups to conduct the study that they say shows the “deterioration of security” in Mexico. They criticized the country’s Attorney General’s Office and said the government gave inconsistent statistics on secret graves and bodies recovered.
“The Attorney General’s Office is actively violating the rights of information and of memory,” said Carlos Dorantes of the human rights organization Article 19, which participated in the study.
Karla Quintana, the government’s national search commissioner, said the new administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador inherited a “forensic emergency” when he took office Dec. 1. She added the government is working on a digital database of disappeared persons, and said the president will meet Monday with families to update them on his administration’s work to find and identify their missing relatives.
“We need to have this information to give answers to family members waiting on their loved ones,” Quintana said.
She also highlighted a lack of resources, saying the commission has a “one-person team” in its archives department and is short on personnel to carry out the exhumations.
Leticia Hidalgo, whose son disappeared in Nuevo León in 2011, asked Quintana to locate those like her son.
“We don’t have any more time. … We urge you to go out and look,” Hidalgo said.
Quintana said she does not know exactly how many disappeared people there are in Mexico. Roberto Cabrera Alfaro, her predecessor at the national search commission, estimated earlier this year that the figure likely is more than 40,000.
The 11-year period covered by the study begins with 2006, when then-president Felipe Calderón launched a militarized effort against drug cartels that set off an increase in killings.
Researchers said the alarming numbers of secret graves in the country are indicative of the rampant violence that goes unpunished.
“It is reflective of the level of social decay and dehumanization that the country has reached,” the report reads.
López Obrador’s administration released its first official report over the secret graves in May. Authorities reported having found 222 of them with 337 bodies between the administration’s first day though May 13.