Mexico’s Other Disappeared

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A Mexican lawmaker is demanding that government authorities pay more attention to a case of 31 missing migrants. Juan Fernando Rocha Mier, a state legislator for the National Action Party (PAN) in the central state of Queretaro, said the same “emphasis” should be placed on locating the disappeared migrants as on safely returning former presidential candidate and millionaire lawyer Diego Fernandez de Cevallos.

Presumably kidnapped near his Queretaro ranch earlier this month, the disappearance of Fernandez de Cevallos, a historic leader of the center-right PAN, touched off the latest political crisis in Mexico.

Receiving far less attention, a crisis has enveloped families in the indigenous Sierra Gorda region of Queretaro since last March, when 17 local men joined 14 fellow migrants from the states of San Luis Potosi and Hidalgo on an apparently ill-fated journey to the United States. None of the men has been heard of since they left in a bus connected to immigrant smugglers known as coyotes.

“This is worrisome. We are not certain the (government) is looking for them…,” said Rocha. “With the disappearance of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, we believe that insecurity in the state is getting worse. If this happens to a political figure like him, what can the rest of us common citizens expect?”

According to relatives of the missing men, their loved ones each paid $2,500 for transportation on a bus to the US border. Based on the account of one of coyotes, family members told a Mexican reporter the vehicle was intercepted by armed men dressed in black before it arrived to the municipality of Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas, across the Rio Grande from Texas.

If the coyote’s account is true, it means the men vanished in a region of Tamaulipas which has been in turmoil since all-out war broke out between the Gulf and Zetas drug cartels last February.

The Zetas reportedly had long controlled a stretch of the route in which the missing men traveled, charging a fee of 1500 pesos for each migrant who passed through the area. However, the wife of one of the missing men said immigrant smugglers insisted the men who halted the bus were not Zetas but members of another “mafia.”

According to the story attributed to smugglers, the men could have been kidnapped to work in the drug industry. Alternatively, it is not publicly known if the migrants could have been mistaken for gunmen sent to reinforce one of the cartels. The warring groups have brought in outsiders, including Guatemalans, to serve as foot soldiers in the bloody conflict over economic and political control of Tamaulipas.

The vanished men set out from an impoverished region that is increasingly dependent on dollars from migrants working in the United States. In the municipality of Landa de Matamoros, from where the migrants originated, jobs, schools and basic infrastructure all are in short supply. Nearly half of all young people 15 years of age or older have not finished elementary school, and 22 percent are illiterate.

In Tres Lagunas, home of three of the missing migrants, at least one member of the 300 families inhabiting the community has migrated to El Norte. According to Mexico’s National Population Council, migrant remittances received in Queretaro soared from $71 million in 1995 to $364 million in 2009.

A woman identified only as Socorro, mother of a missing 17-year-old who went on the bus trip, said some family members did not file formal complaints because of fear they might be killed for exposing the disappearances.

In the aftermath of the mass disappearance, Queretaro Governor Jose Calzada Rovirosa said he contacted the governors of San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon to aid in the search for the migrants.

Sources: La Jornada, May 13 and May 23, 2010. Articles by Mariana Chavez.


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