When Gregoria Ortiz made her way from Chihuahua State to Mexico City to mark Mother’s Day, she went by herself. Her only son Gustavo has now been missing for seven years.
In solidarity with a thousand others whose spouses, siblings and children have disappeared without trace throughout Mexico in recent years, she marched for the third year at the nation’s capital this weekend.
“Child, hear us” she chanted as the Mothers of the Missing advanced down the city’s main thoroughfare, “your mother is fighting for you.”
“He was 12 when he disappeared. Seven years have passed and we haven’t heard anything,” she told VICE News. “And from the day he disappeared until now the authorities have done nothing.”
“At this point I just want someone to confirm that he’s dead, so I can be at peace,” she said.
While official figures put the number of individuals that have disappeared throughout Mexico at 27,000 between 2007 and 2013, other non-governmental organizations as Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en México (FUUNDEM) put the number at more than 40,000.
The Mothers of the Missing organization is demanding that the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto to establish a commission on disappeared persons — dedicated to resolving disappearances and bringing their culprits to justice.
“These women are living a daily hell from the uncertainty of what has happened to their children,”said Santiago Corcuera, a member of the UN’s Committee on the Disappeared. “The simple truth is that for all the many hundreds of bodies that enter our morgues every month, there is very little information.”
The missing individuals fall under the category of forced disappearance — the sanctioned abduction of an individual by the state with the intent of placing them outside the justice system.
Tending to differ from kidnappings by the absence of a ransom, and by the responsibility of any level of the State, for action or omission, as establishes Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, forced disappearances is an issue in Mexico since late 1960’s, during the so called “dirty war” but increased strongly in 2006 with the start of President Felipe Calderon’s war on drugs.
Impunity within Mexican organized crime has reached such an extent that it has caused more than 65,000 killings since the start of concentrated cartel-government conflict.
Kidnappings, another major cause of disappearance, are up 24 percent in 2014 according to the National Anti-Kidnapping Coordinator Renato Sales, who in an interview with Mexico’s Informador blamed the rise on “the authorities’ inability to cope with crime.”
According to Mr. Sales, only one out of every 11 kidnappings which occurred during 2013 was reported to the authorities.
Rather than blame Mexico’s struggles with drug cartels, the association of Mothers of the Missing puts the blame for their tragedy upon the country’s government.
President Nieto won his 2012 election bid by campaigning primarily on tackling impunity in the crime-ravaged nation, yet he has achieved as little as his predecessor in resolving the cases of missing people.
Rising crime figures and little thought for civilians caught in the crossfire has resulted in those left behind by the tragedy of disappearance embittered by what they perceive as empty promises.
“This government has shown it prefers to deal with crime through violence, without taking its public caught up in the fallout into consideration,” said José Rosario Marroquín, the director of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Center for Human Rights NGO. “The government has not even recognized that disappearance is a problem that this country faces.”
“Some have been found, but 40,000 people don’t simply disappear without anyone noticing,” said Leticia Chica, who attended Saturday’s march. “Where are they?”
Salvador Amores, an overseer for the Governmental Human Rights Secretariat, claims the government is not deaf to the women’s cries for help.
“These people are protesting because they claim the government gives them no solutions," Amores told VICE News. “But we are working every day in both resolving past cases and preventing future ones.”
“We are present at every demonstration to gather information and ensure such tragedies don’t reoccur,” he added.
The iron will of the Mothers of the Missing organization and many others like it, is their last hope of prompting any change within a system that has been deaf to their cries. Their third march on the capital delivered a petition for governmental meetings, denouncing any claims that their needs are being met.
The northern states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila have been the first local governments to give audience to these collectives, with legislative change as a first step towards resolution. The victims hope their Mother’s Day demonstration will spread the message more widely.
The march culminated at the Angel of Independence monument, where parents without a reason to celebrate Mother’s Day stood on the steps and spoke in turn, calling the names of their sons; after every name the whole group of mothers screaming “Present!”
As each new tragedy was broadcast onto the Mexican capital’s main artery, spectators stopped to hear the stories.
Taking the microphone from a fellow sufferer, Gregoria Ortiz cleared her tear-choked throat and spoke out to her unseen son.
“Wherever you are, however you are, I won’t rest until we get justice,” she said.
From the back of the crowd, a fellow victim shouted out of turn: “Child, hear us.”
Hundreds of voices returned: “Your mother is fighting for you.”