Then in March, the Mexican Congress passed a law that required the government to establish Calderon’s database, which medical examiners, law enforcement officials and families could use to help track cases. Since then, lawmakers have failed to publish the regulations that would allow the law to be implemented.
State prosecutors agreed to provide data from their missing-person cases to the attorney general, but their reports appear uneven. For example, prosecutors in the northern border states of Chihuahua and Coahuila report only a few hundred cases, even as the governors of those states have stated that there were many more.
The list is a first step, but it is also a disappointment, according to Mexican officials and rights activists. That is because the list, as it is compiled, contains a broad spectrum of cases, mixing together all those who have vanished, whether they were forcibly abducted, young lovers running away or simply people who left their homes to work in the United States or elsewhere.
“This half-baked effort is reflective of an administration that never took the problem of disappearances seriously and is now trying to cover its tracks. But for all its problems, the list provides clear evidence that thousands of Mexicans have gone missing and that the government knew about them,” said Nik Steinberg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
According to his family, Antonio Verastegui, a shopkeeper, and his nephew, an engineering student, were detained by hooded men wearing police bulletproof vests on Jan. 24, 2009, when they were traveling from a religious festival to their home in the state of Durango.
“A police commander told us they had made a mistake in detaining them,” said Jorge Verastegui, a brother. “He told us they were arrested and beaten and released.”
The two have not been found.
“If the government releases the figures of the displaced, the missing and the dead, it would reflect badly on them, but they ignored us, they ignored the reality,” Verastegui said. “Because to release these figures would show that their strategies had failed, and they had failed us.”
Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.