Breaking Down Breaking News: Mystery of missing people in Mexico


Credit: Alyssa Ao

Selena Liu

What you need to know:

On Monday, May 16, Mexico officially passed the mark of 100,000 missing people. Everyday, millions of mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children and grandparents continue to dig up hidden or unmarked graves in desperate attempts to find some sort of closure for their loved ones.

How it happened:

Mexico has a long history of violence, as the number of crime-groups and drug traffickers continue to increase over the years. With the expanding production and distribution of drugs, various groups have fought to gain control over different markets and access to advantageous areas. They often resort to violent and deathly methods. Conditions in Mexico worsened as the drug demand in the US increased and the power of the syndicates eventually outpowered Mexican officials.

In Dec. of 2006, the Mexican government, backed by the US, launched a war against drugs. The main goals were to dissemble the high number of cartels, capture the masterminds behind the operations and reduce the drug-related violence. Since then, the US government has donated approximately $1.5 billion to the cause, while the Mexican administration has spent an unimaginable $54 billion.

Why it matters:
The “cost” that many people don’t realize is the human one – hundreds of thousands of people have disappeared out of thin air. For example, in the early months of 2022, Mexican investigators found a human foot, which led them to a run-down, abandoned house near Nuevo Laredo that they eventually determined to be a “extermination site.” Its scarred dirt floor was littered with human remnants, wires, clothing scraps and bone fragments. Across Mexico, there are a multitude of morgues and cemeteries similar to this site, which has led to the discovery of 52,000 unidentified corpses.

Undeniably, the exponential rise of these missing people in Mexico can be largely linked with the drug-violence. However, much of it also has to do with the lack of care and response from the Mexican government. Current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised that his “government would do everything humanly possible to stop [the disappearances].” So far though, not much has changed. Homicides, disappearances and corruption continue to plague the country on a daily basis.

Unable to sit at home and accept the implied fate of their loved ones, many relatives have put themselves in danger, choosing to carry out the search themselves by digging to find graves. The bodies of victims of drug cartels are usually dumped in shallow graves, but many are also burned, leaving no trace of the body. Volunteers and various human rights groups have joined the searches, along with other organizations formed for the cause. The chances of these searches being successful are slim though.

“[My] relatives are inconsolable, devastated and exhausted. I can rattle off many more adjectives. But none are enough to relay the desperation of not knowing where your loved one is,” said Virginia Garay, whose 19-year-old son went missing in a recent NPR report.

Many Mexican families feel hopeless and trapped as they believe that there’s corruption everywhere – in the police, the government and any position that holds power. So many people, countries and governments have attempted to intervene, but they’ve rarely been successful. For example, powerful drug lord “El Chapo” and a few other high profile drug lords were captured, but still, new issues continue to arise every day. As of now, the dark, twisted web of drug abuse and violence clouds Mexico more than ever.

Where to find more information:
“A Woman’s Haunting Disappearance Sparks Outrage in Mexico Over Gender Violence” – NY TIMES
“Over 100,000 people officially missing or disappeared in Mexico” – CNN