Mexico on Edge
|Kent Paterson||September 24th 2012|
Long touting the central Mexican state of Queretaro as a tranquil enclave, local officials are now on the defensive in the aftermath of growing reports of missing girls and women hitting the national press. State Attorney General Arsenio Duran Becerra was quoted this week acknowledging that investigations proceed in an undisclosed (and disputed) number of cases that could involve human trafficking.
Still, Duran insisted, the issue of disappearance does not signify an “important problem” for a state that until now has not suffered the levels of violence witnessed in other regions of the country. Situated about three hours north of Mexico City, Queretaro has attracted a battery of foreign-owned factories in recent years.
Duran told non-governmental organizations this month that his office has “active reports” of 53 disappeared women in Queretaro, including 48 minors. The state attorney general’s office (PGJQ) maintains a web page that lists nine missing males (including three juveniles), three adult females and 15 underage females.
Many of the missing females share a similar profile: teenage girls ranging from 13 to 16 years of age who vanished “exponentially” since 2010, according to the Mexican newsweekly Proceso.
“In the last two years, Queretaro has been converted into a kind of black hole for adolescents,” Proceso charged. “And instead of investigating and addressing
the problem, the local authorities falsify the numbers, criminalize the victims and hide behind an ambiguous law to justify their inaction.”
Although the issue of missing women and girls in Mexico has garnered national and international attention since the 1990s, the disappearance of a person is not classified as a crime in Queretaro.
According to Mexican press accounts, the experiences of family members of missing women in Queretaro are reminiscent of the gut-wrenching odysseys undertaken by their counterparts in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua City, Mexico state and other parts of the country.
Family members carry out their own investigations, encounter bureaucratic run-arounds from justice system officials and often confront public portrayals of missing loved ones as troublesome individuals.
Evidence has emerged in the case of 16-year-old Celia Serrato and others that their disappearances could be linked to human trafficking for sexual or labor exploitation.
Queretaro’s disappearances coincide with mounting reports of organized criminal activity in a state that has been billed as an ideal spot for international investment and tourism.
On Tuesday, September 18, nine individuals were arrested in connection with a shootout in the municipality of Corregidora. Two of the suspects accused of crimes were juveniles. Security forces confiscated 19 firearms, 500 rounds of ammunition and three grenades. State law enforcement chief Duran said small-scale drug dealing was suspected as the reason for the shootout, but declined to pin blame for the incident on organized crime pending further investigation.
Yet less than a week earlier, on September 12, so-called “narco banners” were displayed in Corregidora. Supposedly signed by the Zetas underworld organization, the messages appealed for a truce with the Knights Templar, an offshoot of La Familia Michoacana which reportedly has increased its presence in Queretaro.
Also on September 12, similar banners presumably signed by the Zetas and directed at the Knights Templar were discovered in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero. The messages hinted at a common front against the Sinaloa Cartel.
It’s likely the same declarations were posted in other Mexican cities as well, but not reported in the media since security officials routinely try to hide the existence of narco-banners and their content from both the public and the press.
“Who knows how long the state authorities will be able to maintain the image that nothing happens in Queretaro,” said Lluvia Cervantes, Queretaro coordinator for the Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Mexico. “The residents of Queretaro realize what is happening, that violence is touching us. There are murdered women, and banners hanged by criminal groups while the official discourse is always that these are isolated cases, and that there is no violence here.”
In response to a freedom of information request from Mexican journalist Eric Pacheco earlier this year, the PGJQ reported that a total of 330 people, men and women, disappeared in Queretaro from 2006 to August 2011.
The vast majority of the disappearances (265) happened in 2010 and 2011, representing a dramatic leap from 2006, a year when only five such cases were officially recorded. According to Duran, many missing persons cases are resolved within a few days when the person in question is located safe and sound.
The number of disappeared persons released to Pacheco did not include the more than 40 Queretaro-based migrant workers who disappeared while en route to the United States Many of the disappeared migrants came from Landa de Matamoros, Pinal de Amores, Arroyo Seco and Jalpan.
Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news from the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University.