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Home World News Washington Post World News Matamoros victims found, but 550 Americans are still missing in Mexico

Matamoros victims found, but 550 Americans are still missing in Mexico



MEXICO CITY — Lisa Torres was glued to her phone watching news reports of last week’s kidnapping of four Americans in the Mexican city of Matamoros. She lived in the suburbs of Houston, hundreds of miles away, but knew full well how painful it was to have a family member snatched across the border. Her son, Robert, was just 21 when he disappeared in the Mexican state of Nuevo León in 2017.

As Torres scrolled through social media posts describing the Biden administration’s quick response to the kidnappings, she grew increasingly upset. Finally, after the Americans were found on Tuesday — two alive, two dead — she took to Twitter.

“I am so angry that I couldn’t sleep thinking about how my US government in Matamoros handled the kidnappings,” she said. wrote in Spanish. What happened to Americans was sad, she wrote. But at least they were found. “This just confirms that my US government can help, and they didn’t in my son’s case. WHY?”

More than 550 Americans are reported missing in Mexico, a little-known facet of a wider tragedy that crisscrosses this country with mass graves. Rising violence and government dysfunction have led to a crisis that has left at least 112,150 people missing here, according to government records.

Americans make up a small portion of that horrific toll. And they are a small percentage of the millions of US citizens who travel to Mexico each year for tourism, work, and family visits. But just as there has been uproar in Mexico over the government’s all-encompassing efforts to find the four Americans, compared to its much narrower search for its own missing citizens, relatives of the still-missing Americans are wondering why their loved ones have not. was a higher priority for Washington.

Mexico’s Gulf Cartel supplies ‘kidnappers’ – and an apology

“We see that when the U.S. government makes strong statements, there are results,” said Geovanni Barrios, a lawyer whose 17-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, was abducted in 2008 in the border town of Reynosa. “But there are In Mexico not only four Americans have disappeared. We don’t see it [the U.S. government] making these statements about the hundreds of other missing Americans.”

The March 3 abductions in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Tex., drew attention in part because a passerby saw armed, black-clad men dragging three of the victims into a truck in broad daylight a few blocks from the Rio Grand from. The video quickly went viral and the kidnappings were swept up in an exciting American political debate. Washington politicians were already concerned about Mexican cartels exporting fentanyl, which accounts for two-thirds of overdose deaths in the United States. Some Republicans have called for military strikes against the armed gangs.

The four Americans had reportedly traveled from North Carolina to undergo cosmetic surgery in Matamoros, one of several border towns that offer low-cost services to medical tourists. Authorities suspect gunmen from the powerful Gulf Cartel attacked their rented minivan after mistaking it for someone else.

As the story began to dominate US TV newscasts, the US government shifted into high gear: the White House pledged to do everything it could to find the victims and ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice; the FBI offered a $50,000 reward. US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to urge action.

The Americans were found in an abandoned house on the outskirts of Matamoros in Tamaulipas state.

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Torres said the reaction was in stark contrast to her family’s experience when her son disappeared in July 2017 while visiting his father’s family.

The 21-year-old mechanic was on his way from the Texas border crossing near Los Indios to the Mexican town of Reynosa when he and a friend disappeared, his mother said. Torres believes the young men may have encountered a cartel roadblock.

She and her husband received a phone call demanding a ransom for their son. They paid, she said, but Robert never showed up.

Torres said she reported the matter to Mexican authorities and to the US consulate in Matamoros. “There was no movement,” she said. “There was only diplomatic paperwork.” She also contacted the FBI, she said, but they made no progress on the case.

Barrios is also frustrated with the response to the disappearance of his teenage son, Geovanni Jr., in 2008. The son, who attended high school in Texas, was visiting Barrios in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, when he was dragged out of a convenience store by a group of armed men.

Barrios said he reported the kidnapping to US consular officials. “They said they couldn’t do anything at all, they don’t interfere in Mexican issues,” he said. “Now we realize that this is a terrible lie.”

Ex-leader of Mexico’s search for the missing convicted in DNA scandal

When asked for comment, the State Department said that when U.S. citizens go missing, “we work closely with local authorities in conducting their search efforts, and we share information with families wherever we can.”

If a US citizen is confirmed to be in custody, the department said in a statement: “We are working aggressively to bring them home, using all resources at our disposal – diplomatic, intelligence and military – to secure their secure release.”

The FBI said it is “relentlessly pursuing all options when it comes to protecting the American people, and this does not change when they are endangered across our border. We pursue all our business with the same vigor and commitment to process.

Yet U.S. authorities face complications when dealing with missing persons cases abroad. The FBI generally cannot conduct criminal investigations abroad; local authorities are responsible. And Mexico’s underfunded, corruption-ridden justice and law enforcement system has a poor record of solving crimes.

The US government appears to be facing a growing challenge in Mexico. According to Mexican data, the number of missing and still missing Americans has risen from 324 in 2020 to 558 today — and that is almost certainly an undercount.

Torres helps run the Facebook site Americans Missing in Mexico. It has about 500 followers. She has learned the details of many cases, often involving families like hers with cross-border ties. “We’re ordinary people,” she said. “We don’t cause problems; we have no problems with the police.”

Disappearances of people of all nationalities have skyrocketed in Mexico as a phenomenon once associated with the drug war has spread. Victims include journalists, human rights activists, abductees and extortionists, and innocent bystanders.

Graciela Pérez Rodríguez said the Mexican government has made some improvements in its search for victims since her 13-year-old daughter Milynali, a US citizen, disappeared in 2012. The girl returned to Mexico from a trip to Texas with an uncle and three cousins. when they all disappeared somewhere near Ciudad Mante, about 2½ hours away from their hometown in the state of San Luis Potosí.

“The [Mexican] The administration I dealt with in 2012 was in complete denial about the missing persons crisis, she said. López Obrador’s government has expanded a national commission to coordinate the search for the missing and funded state offices, including a respected commission in Tamaulipas.

Yet such offices have limited financial and human resources given the magnitude of the problem. And Mexico’s legal system solves few cases.

Pérez Rodríguez now leads an organization of families looking for their relatives in Tamaulipas. It was frustrating to see the rapid recovery of the four Americans in Matamoros, she said.

“You’d like them to find your own relatives the same way,” she said.

Gabriela Martínez contributed to this report.

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