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 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 during the past six years, although not every case on the list has been proven 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 1973-90 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 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 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.
A spokesman for federal prosecutors, who would not allow his name to be used under the agency’s rules, said the Attorney General’s Office had no knowledge of the document.
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 younger than 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.
“We’re worried because several of the people gone missing in the state of Coahuila, and that we have reported to authorities, don’t appear on the database,” said Blanca Martinez, of the Fray Juan de Larios human rights center in that northern border state. She’s also an adviser to the group Forces United for Our Disappeared in Coahuila, made up of relatives searching for loved ones.