Relatives of missing Mexicans simulate secret graves outside National Palace


City workers remove piles of dirt symbolizing clandestine graves that were placed by people who have missing family members who demand answers from the government outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Families of missing Mexicans simulated one of the many clandestine burial sites dotting the country, dumping dirt and rock on part of the capital’s massive plaza Monday then digging it away to reveal their demands for the government to act.

Holding photos of their missing loved ones and shovels, members of three search collectives from the central state of Guanajuato staged a morbid protest in front of the National Palace.

During President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s daily news conference, the groups chanted that if he “doesn’t go to the graves, the graves come to him” as they pounded the ground with their shovels.

Guanajuato is one of Mexico’s most violent states. Two of its municipalities — Salvatierra and Acambaro — rank among Mexico’s top 10 for recovered bodies during López Obrador’s administration.

“When the authorities told us there weren’t secret graves in the state, we with our hands full of dirt and love showed them there were,” the groups said in a statement.

Such search collectives, typically made up of relatives of the missing, have sprung up across Mexico and become one of the most visible symbols of successive administrations’ failure to ensure security for their citizens. The grim work of looking for clandestine graves where drug cartels dispose of their victims was largely left to desperate parents, siblings and grandparents.

On Monday, those participating were mostly women who have led the majority of the efforts.

Mexico has more than 95,000 disappeared, according to government data. More than 93,000 of those disappearances occurred since 2006 when the government began its war against organized crime. The government has struggled to identify even the bodies that have been found. Some 52,000 await identification.

When the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances recently visited Mexico they concluded the problem was “an almost absolute, structural” impunity when it came to the disappearances. The committee called Mexico’s security efforts “not only insufficient but also inadequate.”

The collectives protesting agreed. They said the current security strategy “has had as a consequence an increase in the violence.”

They requested a meeting with López Obrador, recognition that the government’s security strategy has failed and for the government to work with civil society to find answers.

López Obrador’s administration has raised the profile of the issue and makes information about disappearances and search efforts available periodically. It has also said that it is willing to address the U.N. group’s recommendations.

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