MEXICO CITY (CN) — On the morning of April 17, the Twitter account of the Madres Buscadoras de Sonora — a collective of mothers searching for their loved ones who have disappeared amid the violence of Mexico's so-called drug war — alerted that its founder Ceci Flores had been reported missing since the day before.
Fortunately for those who know her and her mission to find her son Marco Antonio, who disappeared in the northern state of Sonora in May 2019, their worst fears had not come true. Flores returned safe and sound later that day.
But she, the other searchers and the security personnel with them had indeed been in danger. Their truck got stuck in the mud in a remote area without cell service. A couple of state police officers had to walk through the night to find bars and call for help.
Other such stories often have tragic endings.
As the phenomenon of disappearances intensifies and spreads throughout Mexico, more and more families searching for their missing loved ones find themselves in the crosshairs of what searcher Yadira González called “the two-headed monster that is a narco-government.”
Disappearances in Mexico began to rise after former President Felipe Calderón declared war on the cartels in 2006. But the situation has mushroomed in the first four years of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s six-year term.
Over 112,000 people are currently disappeared or missing in Mexico (the distinction being that the former is thought to be the result of a crime), according to the National Registry of Missing and Disappeared Persons, which keeps records dating back to 1921.
More than 42,000 of those disappeared under the current administration, and activists do not doubt that the hidden figure is much higher.
In a testament to the efficacy of López Obrador’s streamlined propaganda outfit, despite experiencing the highest levels of violence in the country’s history, Mexicans’ perception of public safety is the highest it has been in a decade, according to government data analyzed by the watchdog National Citizens Observatory.
González knows how broad the divide between perception and reality truly is, especially for those seeking a disappeared loved one. About a year into her search for her brother Juan, who disappeared in the state of Querétaro in 2006, she was kidnapped, interrogated and tortured for three days by men who had staked out her house for close to a week.
“I remember so well the sound of his boots; that’s still right here with me,” she said of the man she deduced to be the leader. They covered her head, so she never saw his face. “When he arrived, everything picked up, lots of movement. There would be noise, then silence.”
The man enigmatically demanded she tell him where her brother was. She pointed out she would not be in that house with them if she had that information.
Grasping the dire reality of the situation, González pleaded for mercy.
“If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with. Why waste your time?” she told her captors. “I only ask that you don’t disappear me. Do not put that pain on my mother. Surely you have a mother too, no?”
To this day, González does not know if that appeal saved her life. But the nightmare merely caps off a long list of harassment and threats to her safety. She has had her tires slashed and windows broken, been followed and caught in a shootout between criminals and the security forces accompanying a search in Morelos.
“There’s always an underlying threat,” she said. “You have to behave responsibly and carefully in order to not get in over your head. The love we feel for those who are gone can make us commit acts out of love, rather than our own needs that we end up neglecting.”