The Mexican “freeway of demise” leaves traces of lacking family members

Diana Garcia
| The voice

Read in Spanish

Editor’s Note: The names of the victims and their loved ones have been changed for their safety.

They call it “the road of death” or “carretera de la muerte”.

It is a 136 mile long highway that connects the cities of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and Monterrey, Nuevo León in México.

In September, the National Search Commission of Mexico reported that at least 71 people have disappeared on the freeway since October 2020 – about half a dozen are Americans, according to the data.

However, relatives of the missing say the number of victims is over 150.

The case of Pedro, who disappeared on April 23, is just one of them.

That day, Pedro drove on this highway in the company of a friend. They operated a private taxi service that day and transported two families from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey. Pedro’s wife, Juana María, said he contacted her when they were on their way back to Monterrey.

She hasn’t heard from him since.

Four families lost contact with their loved ones that day. Loved ones have chosen to travel on this “highway of death” and join the more than 11,000 people who have been missing in Tamaulipas state since 1964. According to the Home Office, Tamaulipas is one of the states with the highest number of disappearances.

The relentless search that Juana María has undertaken since that day in April is one that hundreds of families in the states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas go through each year in search of loved ones. They meet online with others who are suffering the same loss, form their own search parties, and join efforts across the country to find loved ones.

This is how the collective “We Are All One, Collective Searching for Disappeared from Nuevo León in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas” was born.

A uniform front

After hearing nothing from her husband for hours in April, Juana María went to the Nuevo León authorities to file a missing person report. However, since her husband was missing on a stretch of the highway within the border of Tamaulipas state, she was ordered to file the complaint there.

She did what she asked and has not received any information about her husband’s case to this day. The experience of Juana María is just one example of the lack of support from the authorities to the families of those missing on this highway.

“Where are we going? Where do we ask? At some point I said: ‘If I were here (in Nuevo León), I think the police would have found him dead by now with all the data I gave them or alive, ‘”Juana María told La Voz / The Arizona Republic. “But it’s difficult over there because it’s already Tamaulipas – another state.”

The attorneys general of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León states did not respond to a request for comment.

Desperate, Juana María started searching social media for a clue. What she discovered was something that terrified her: her husband wasn’t the only one missing on this street. There have been many cases. And worst of all, months and even years later, her relatives were still looking.

“On Facebook, I started to see that there were more missing people … that there were too many people going through the same thing and they started contacting me,” she said.

The result is the group “We Are All One, Collective Looking for Disappeared from Nuevo León in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas”, which unites hundreds of indirect victims in their struggle to find their loved ones.

Sebastian is a member of the collective. He has been looking for his brother Jorge since his disappearance on May 25th.

According to Sebastián, his brother is one of two engineers from Monterrey who disappeared on the highway. He said that Jorge and his friend Ricardo were traveling to Nuevo Laredo from Monterrey on business.

“On May 24th we ate at home as a family … Ricardo, who had been his friend for years, picked him up the next morning and they drove to Nuevo Laredo. And we haven’t heard from them, “said Sebastián.” We got the locations (of their cell phones) where they were and it shows that they were in the state of Tamaulipas, in the same place where they all disappear ” , he called.

Like Juana María, Sebastián and his family filed a missing person report in both states. “From then on, we started investigating disseminating information through social media … that’s how we found out that they weren’t the only ones missing, that there was a very long list of those who went missing,” he said. Then they decided to join the collective.

As more and more people joined, a list of the names of the missing was drawn up. Some are minors, others are foreigners, and some come from communities outside of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, according to the collective’s list.

By the end of September, the names of about 150 people comprised the list. “There are three or four women (disappeared). There are at least five minors (ages 3 to 16) … and the rest are men (30 to 35 years old), ”said Juana María. “Most of them are truck drivers.”

On the group’s Facebook page, users post photos of missing loved ones, often showing the vehicle they were in. They also post the names of people who have been found – dead and alive.

“There are many people who have lost their livelihoods, their husbands. They left their children behind, some of whom are only a few months old, “said Juana María.

An increase in organized crime since 2006

In September, an extermination site, or “campo de exterminio” in Spanish, was built on the outskirts of the city of Nuevo Laredo near the motorway. In the area, “charred human remains were recovered from the surface,” said Karla Quintana, head of the National Search Commission. She described the scene as “a possible secret crematorium and the existence of possible secret graves”.

According to Quintana, local cartels – in the case of Nuevo Laredo, Cártel del Noreste, a faction of the former Los Zetas cartel – are using extermination sites like the ones found to dispose of people who have been kidnapped and killed by them.

The United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) paid its first visit to Mexico on Monday, officially starting its 11-day period of work in the country handling the thousands of missing persons cases. Nuevo León and Tamaulipas are among the 12 states the Commission plans to visit to meet with authorities, victims, civil rights organizations and other human rights institutions.

Alejandro Encinas, Undersecretary of State for Human Rights, Population and Migration at the Ministry of the Interior, said Monday during the commission’s first meeting that the enforced disappearances across the country are linked to “corruption of the police force linked to organized crime” ”which started at the outset the so-called war on drug trafficking or in Spanish “guerra contra el narco” in 2006 throughout the country.

According to Encinas, it was this war on drugs that left an “open wound” inherited from future presidents “and remains central to the search for the disappeared to ensure truth and justice”.

Since 2006, when former President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa started the war on drugs, 94,000 people have been forcibly disappeared across Mexico.

“Unresponsive” local state police

Through the collective, families have not only come together to share their grief, but to help each other, especially when it comes to contacting local authorities for updated information on their cases.

Most reports of missing persons along the highway have to be filed in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, where the majority of the disappearances take place.

But according to members, every time they contact local and state officials, they either cannot speak to anyone or are told that there are no updates in their cases.

In search of answers and the lack of updates from the Tamaulipas authorities, the group asked to meet with the governors of both states, federal officials and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. You have not yet received an answer.


They ask for help from AMLO, relatives of the disappeared in Tamaulipas

Relatives of those who disappeared on the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo motorway want to be heard from López Obrador.

The voice

However, on July 1, according to a statement from the Tamaulipas Prosecutor General, the following terms were agreed to better assist families in finding their loved ones.

  • All investigations into the disappearance on the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo highway are being relocated and investigated in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas.
  • Working groups are organized to explain case files to indirect victims. You will be placed in Nuevo León state, when most of the cases are in that state.
  • People who cannot travel to Ciudad Victoria receive virtual help.
  • Meetings are held in person or virtually with the Tamaulipas State Search Commission.
  • Relatives should be given new information.
  • The following people are supported: Prosecutors who specialize in investigating disappearance crimes, both in Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, and the respective search commissions, the Prosecutor General, the Public Security Secretaries of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, and assistance from the Mexican Army and the National Guard.

Despite the agreement, Juana María said four months later that the officers were still unresponsive.

“Fortunately we’re looking further”

The Tamaulipas Office for Victims of the Disappeared has provided members of the collective with legal advice, grants, and groceries for their families. Representatives of the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico have also offered free therapy sessions to members.

But beyond that, the group wants to win back their loved ones. Instead, they are waiting for responses from local officials who have been saying “we are investigating” and nothing more for months, said Juana María.

Every time the collective learns of a new site of extermination it causes great concern among all members. Despite months of zero communication with loved ones, they remain confident that they will be brought back alive.

Juana María has heard of people released after paying sums of over 100,000 Mexican pesos – relatives who complied with the demands of their abductors. In most cases, the freedmen do not speak about what happened to them or where they have been taken, said Juana María.

“I’ve had contact with men who have been returned to their families, but they don’t want to say anything more. They just tell us that there were more people (kidnapped) that we shouldn’t lose our faith, ”said Juana María. So they keep looking in the hope that they are still alive.

Sebastián and his family had DNA tests done to see if they matched skeletal remains found at these extermination sites. No one has outdone themselves, which gives them hope that Jorge is still alive and will soon be found.

“Luckily we keep looking for him,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Diana García is México City correspondent for La Voz. Follow her on Twitter @DianaGaav.

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