Mexico presents plan to find thousands missing amid drug war

By Haley Ott

/ CBS News

Hunting for hidden graves in Mexico

Mexico's government will create a national forensic institute and invest more than $20 million to help find tens of thousands of people who have disappeared in the country's drug war, government officials announced Monday.

Alejandro Encinas, undersecretary for human rights at the Department of Interior, told reporters this week that there were approximately 26,000 unidentified bodies and more than 1,100 unexplored hidden burial sites in Mexico.

"Unfortunately, our territory has become a huge clandestine grave," Encinas said. He said the government would work in coordination with the families of the missing.

The hunt for Mexico's missing has, up to now, been driven primarily by the families of the disappeared who organize grassroots campaigns, search parties, and systems for locating and identifying remains.

Mexico's official institutions have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis. The morgue in Guadalajara, Mexico's second city, was recently filled to capacity with unidentified bodies. DNA samples have been taken from many family members, but the testing of remains is limited, if it happens at all.

Esperanza Chavez runs the group Por Amor de Ellxs (Out of Love for Them), a collective of families that searches for the missing in the state of Jalisco. Her brother, a 55-year-old lawyer, disappeared four years ago.

"I was the last person who saw him," Chavez told CBS News in September, sitting outside Guadalajara's morgue. "He left my house and never returned."

At least once a month, members of Por Amor a Ellxs visit the morgue to view remains found in the city. They write down what they see in notebooks, including details like tattoos and birthmarks, and share the information with other families of the disappeared. Because of their work, at least eight families have been able to identify the remains of their missing loved ones.

"I will keep looking, not just for my brother, but for all the families," Chavez says.

The majority of those who go missing in Mexico are young people who fall victim to violence caused by organized crime, but Encinas said around 10 percent of the disappeared are migrants. As part of the government's plan, therefore, Encinas said extra resources would be devoted to migration corridors which are heavily trafficked by Central Americans travelling northward, hoping to settle in the United States.

This reporting was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation.

First published on February 7, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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