GUADALAJARA, Mexico – The families of nearly 80 of Mexico’s more than 61,000 people listed as missing have come to the western state of Jalisco to join a tour of jails, homeless shelters and psychiatric hospitals in search of their lost loved ones.
This latest edition of the “caravan” launched in 2014 has been made possible by support from the National Search Commission and Jalisco’s Missing Persons Commission.
Every day, participants visit detention centers, shelters, drug treatment clinics in psychiatric hospitals, where they show photos of their missing family members to inmates, doctors, patients and administrators in hope of eliciting some scrap of information to aid them in their search.
Ruth Gumercindo traveled from Tamaulipas state, bordering Texas, to look for clues as to the whereabouts of her son Marco Antonio, kidnapped in 2008.
On Wednesday, she encountered two people at Puente Grande prison who recognized Marco Antonio and provided what could be useful information.
Having been disappointed before, Gumercindo has learned not to get her hopes up.
“I am not sure he’s alive. I need to be realistic. A criminal group took my son and my faith is yes (he is live). But I am prepared. Whatever the truth, I want to find him and I will find him,” she told EFE.
Like many family members of the missing, Gumercindo has found herself forced to become her own detective in the face of authorities’ persistent failure to fulfill their obligations.
“Authorities don’t listen. They do their part in the office. They have never treated me badly, but they don’t do the investigative work or the field work,” she said.
The coordinator of the caravan is Maria de la Luz Lopez, whose daughter, Irma Clarivel, disappeared in 2008.
Lucy, as she is known to her friends, began the search for her daughter as one of the volunteers who unearth remains from clandestine graves in the mountains of their home state of Coahuila.
“I left that work because I got angry, because there was no result,” she told EFE. “For three years, we spent practically all week in the sun, scratching and pulling out remains. I thought that my daughter was waiting for me and that she was perhaps in prison or in a psychiatric hospital and I was wasting time giving bones to the authorities and they just mollify us with empty promises.”
Lopez views the current expedition in Jalisco as already a success, noting that in just the first three days, the group encountered information regarding her daughter and 16 other missing people.
Each night, the families gather to discuss the events of the day: the “possible positives” and the leads they can bring to police and prosecutors as grounds for new lines of investigation.
More importantly, the families console one another, sharing the sorrow that has made them stronger to push ahead with their sad and frustrating quest.
Beatriz Torres came all the way from Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico, to seek traces of her son Manuel, who was last seen in 2016 in Autlan, Jalisco.
She told EFE, however, that she is looking not only for her son but for the missing loved ones of all the people in the caravan.
“If it’s not Manolo it’s some other treasure that another family is missing. Looking for them is how we unite. For me, the caravans are learning experiences that help us and strengthen us. I feel very protected and we identify with each other because the pain is the same,” Torres said.
“These new lines of investigation that arise are what keep you alive,” Lucy Lopez said. “Imagine what it means for someone to tell you that he or she saw your son. If we have not managed to bring them home, at least this has kept us alive and hopeful.”