MEXICO CITY – Federal police officer Luis Angel Leon Rodriguez disappeared in 2009 along with six fellow police as they headed to the western state of Michoacan to fight drug traffickers.
Since then, his mother, Araceli Rodriguez, has taken it into her own hands to investigate her son’s disappearance and has publicized the case inside and outside Mexico. She’s found some clues about what happened but still doesn’t have any certainty about her son’s whereabouts.
As Mexican troops and police cracked down on drug cartels, who also battled among themselves, Leon was just one of thousands of people who went missing amid a wave of violence that stunned the nation. A new report by a civic participation group has put a number for the first time on the human toll: 20,851 people disappeared over the past six years, although not every case on the list has been proved related to the drug war.
With at least another 70,000 deaths tied to drug violence, the numbers point to a brutal episode that ranks among Latin America’s deadliest in decades. In Chile, nearly 3,100 people were killed, among them 1,200 considered disappeared, for political reasons during Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship, and at least 50,000 people disappeared during 40 years of internal conflict in Colombia.
The new database is shedding needed light on Mexico’s unfolding tragedy. It’s also sparking angry questions about why it doesn’t include all of the disappeared.
Neither Rodriguez’s son nor his six colleagues who went missing on Nov. 16, 2009, are in the database, which was allegedly leaked by the Attorney General’s Office to a foreign journalist. The group Propuesta Civica, or Civic Proposal, released the data on Thursday.
Rodriguez’s mother said she’s been in touch with authorities investigating the case and has spoken about it in several public forums about the missing.
“I don’t think any government entity has a complete database,” she said.
As compiled by Civic Proposal, the report reveals the sheer scope of human loss, with the missing including police officers, bricklayers, housewives, lawyers, students, businessmen and more than 1,200 children under age 11. The disappeared are listed one by one with such details as name, age, gender and the date and place where they disappeared.
Some media in Mexico have reported that the number of missing could be even greater, at more than 25,000, with their estimates reportedly based on official reports, although media accounts didn’t make the reports public.
Public attention to Mexico’s disappeared has grown especially since 2011 when former President Felipe Calderon publicly met with members of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a human rights group led by poet Javier Sicilia. His son was allegedly killed by drug traffickers that same year.
Sicilia’s movement demanded that the thousands of killed and missing should be treated as victims of the drug war, even if they were criminal suspects. Calderon’s government responded that it would create a missing persons database. Calderon also ordered the creation of a special prosecutor in charge of assisting crime victims and supporting the search for the missing.
“There is nothing worse for me than having a missing relative. Not knowing where the person may be is very serious and so … in every case that comes to us, we try to find a solution, to find the person,” said Sara Herrerias, the head of Provictima, the office established by Calderon to help crime victims.