Mexican families carry out their own investigations to find the disappeared / The Guardian

Friday 30 November 2012 16.22 GMT

Leaked document estimates 25,000 people have gone missing since Calderón launched his offensive on drug cartels

Anti-violence protest in Mexico City

 Demonstrator at an anti-violence protest in Mexico City holds a flag that reads ‘100,000 lives: assassinated, disappeared and displaced. Have you not been touched in the last six years? What are you made of?’ Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/AP

 in Mexico City

Since her teenage daughter went missing eight years ago, Silvia Ortiz has known that any progress in the case depends on her alone. “I still don’t know if Fanny is alive or not. Maybe she is in a mass grave and I will never find her, but I have to keep looking,” Ortiz says. “If I don’t, who will?”

This was true even in the hours immediately after Fanny’s disappearance on her way home from a basketball match in the city of Torreón in northern Mexico. With the police dragging their feet, the family brought in sniffer dogs that followed the 16-year-old’s trail until it stopped abruptly at a roadside. Then they found clues linking the abduction to criminals associated with the Zetas drug cartel. When the authorities still did nothing, they discovered that the official heading the investigation was the lover of one of their prime suspects.

In the following years, the pattern was repeated: Ortiz turned up fresh leads, only for the authorities to ignore them. Meanwhile, Mexico’s drug war spiralled out of control: tens of thousands were killed – more than 100,000 by some counts – and many others simply vanished. There is no reliable data on the number of people forcibly disappeared during the drug violence, but a document from the Mexican attorney general’s office leaked to the Washington Post lists 25,000 adults and children who have gone missing since the start of the Calderón offensive. The documents were reportedly leaked by bureaucrats frustrated with the outgoing government’s failure to openly recognise the size of the problem.

For Ortiz, the trauma of her loss was revived in October, when the Zetas’ leader, Heriberto Lazcano – known as “El Lazca” – was shot dead by the Mexican navy in an episode shrouded in confusion. Lazcano’s body was apparently snatched from a funeral parlour a few hours after his death, but reports soon emerged that a photograph found among his belongings showed the capositting beside a young woman who resembled Fanny.

“Of course my heart jumped,” Ortiz says. “I would be lying if I said that I didn’t believe it was her at first, but my son kept saying: ‘No way, forget it, it isn’t her, look at the nose.'”

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