La inquietante desaparición de Debanhi Escobar desata la indignación en México

MONTERREY, Mexico — On day 13 of the search for his missing daughter, Mario Escobar stood outside a gas station in sweltering heat, holding up flyers with the girl’s photo and trying to preserve a stubborn and urgent hope.

Hours later, and under red and blue police lights, that hope was dashed.

Debanhi Escobar’s body was found overnight last Thursday in an abandoned underground water tank on the grounds of a motel in northern Mexico, which authorities had already searched four other times.

“I’m devastated,” Escobar said of his daughter’s disappearance. “My life completely changed.”

The case of Escobar, an 18-year-old law student who disappeared on April 9, has sparked outrage and protests over a chilling phenomenon now common in Mexico: the disappearance of women and girls across the country.

In the last month alone, at least nine other women and girls have disappeared in the metropolitan area of ​​Monterrey, one of the wealthiest cities in the country. Across Mexico, more than 24,000 women are missing, according to government figures, and last year some 2,800 women were reported missing, an increase of nearly 40 percent compared to 2017.

The rising rate of disappearances, according to security experts, correlates with the general increase in violence across the country in recent years, in addition to the rise in organized crime, such as sex trafficking, as well as high rates of domestic violence. that cause many women to flee their homes.

But security analysts and human rights groups also point to a more widespread failure on the part of state authorities to conduct adequate investigations of disappeared women or prosecute cases of femicide, fueling a deep-seated culture of impunity.

As a result, desperate families are forced to undertake the search and investigation efforts themselves, seeking justice for their missing loved ones in an increasingly lawless nation.

“The state I just think has completely turned its back on its responsibility to investigate cases of disappearances,” said Angélica Durán-Martínez, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “It is an environment that makes it easier for these practices to continue reproducing because there is no punishment and there is no justice.”

A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office of the state of Nuevo León, where Monterrey is located and was in charge of the search and investigation of Escobar’s disappearance, did not respond to several requests for an interview.

In a report released this month, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances urged Mexico to confront the crisis, noting that more than 95,000 people are registered as missing. In the last five years, 8,000 people a year have disappeared. Although the majority are men, the committee highlighted a “notable increase” in the disappearances of women, children and adolescents.

“Impunity in Mexico is a structural feature that favors the reproduction and cover-up of enforced disappearances,” the UN committee said in a statement, noting that as of last November only 2 to 6 percent of disappearances had resulted in criminal proceedings.

In response, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who made fighting violence in Mexico a central campaign promise, said the committee’s recommendations were being heeded. In one of his press conferences last week, he pledged the support of the federal government to solve the murder of Debanhi Escobar and said that injustice in Mexico was a thing of the past.

“In addition to corruption, what has hurt Mexico the most, because they go hand in hand, is impunity,” López Obrador said. “That is why we speak of zero impunity, that the crimes that are committed be punished.”

But in Nuevo León, authorities have been less emphatic about the crisis. Last week, the state attorney general, Gustavo Adolfo Guerrero, cited the “lack of communication” between families, as well as the “rebelliousness” of young people as the cause of most of the disappearances of women, adding that the Most of the people who were disappeared were due to “a voluntary situation”.

Prior to Escobar’s case, public outrage had been building for weeks over a series of disappearances of young women in Monterrey, which seemed evidence of negligence by authorities.

Yolanda Martínez, 26, disappeared on March 31. According to her brother Jesús de ella, the authorities took two weeks to visit her house. And she still hasn’t been found.

“It starts to feed that desperation in us,” Martinez said. “I can’t tell you they’re not doing anything, but I can’t tell you what they’re doing, either.”

Three days after Martínez’s disappearance, María Fernanda Contreras, 27, disappeared. Through a family contact, Contreras’ father, Luis Carlos, obtained cell tower data showing the approximate location of her phone the last time it was turned on.

Contreras toured the area and passed the information on to the state attorney’s office. But he said it took authorities three days to lock down and search the neighborhood. When they found her, María Fernanda Contreras had been dead for several days.

“With all the information I had, I almost found my daughter and they couldn’t do anything,” said Contreras. “It makes me ridiculous.”

The Nuevo León attorney general’s office has denied being slow, saying Contreras was murdered the night she disappeared.

Then the Escobar case happened, which fueled people’s anger. The commotion caused an unusual surge of public support; people offered everything from drones to sniffer dogs to help with the search.

The night he disappeared, Escobar had been at a party on the outskirts of town. According to the state prosecutor’s office, the young woman left the meeting in a private car, but in the early hours of April 9 she got out of the vehicle on the side of a road where, apparently, the driver left her.

The driver had been interviewed twice by investigators, according to a prosecutor’s official who was not authorized to testify officially.

Despite the huge numbers, cases of missing women are often downplayed or ignored by the media and local authorities, according to security experts, with officials often implicating women in their own disappearances or treating them as isolated incidents. , and not as a systemic problem.

But due to the media attention for the cases of the disappeared women in Monterrey, the authorities opened an investigation into Escobar almost immediately.

A photo of Escobar that was taken by the driver who left her on the road also went viral, thanks in part to the family’s efforts to bring attention to the case. In the image, the young woman is seen alone, on the side of a road, with her arms crossed and looking into the darkness.

For nearly two weeks, her family and friends desperately searched for her, sometimes walking through vacant lots, and digging in the dirt for any sign of buried remains.

In the end, it was the motel workers’ complaints about a bad smell that alerted the authorities to check the water tank.

Last week, Nuevo León’s top security official acknowledged while speaking to reporters that the search for Escobar had been a failed operation.

“It’s a massive human failure,” said Aldo Fasci, state security secretary. “They were there four times and found nothing.”

In an interview with the Mexican newspaper Reforma, Guerrero, the state prosecutor, said the cause of death was a head injury. And he specified that the young woman was dead before her body was thrown into the cistern.

“We will put all the resources in our hands to determine the facts that have happened,” Guerrero said in a video message posted on Facebook. “If these indicate a crime, they will be prosecuted with the full force of the law.”

But the actions of state authorities have already been questioned.

On Monday, Karla Quintana, head of the National Commission for the Search for Disappeared Persons, pointed out several errors by the prosecution, including not informing Escobar’s parents of the discovery of a body, information they learned from the news. They were then denied access to Escobar’s remains and only provided photographs, Quintana said.

The day after the young woman’s death was confirmed, hundreds of women took to the streets to protest, disrupting traffic in Monterrey. Many had the search flyers with the young woman’s photo.

On Saturday, Escobar’s body was moved about three hours south of Monterrey to Galeana, where his mother grew up. When the procession of cars reached the city, there were dozens of residents on the side of the road waving signs and white balloons.

After a mass celebrated in a yellow church, the coffin was carried to the outskirts of the town, followed by a procession of dozens of people who went to the local cemetery, located on a hill overlooking the mountains.

“We are broken inside, our hearts are broken,” said Mario Escobar. “We are tired of everything that is happening in Mexico.”

Escobar’s coffin was placed in a cinder-block tomb onto which fresh cement was poured, followed by dozens of flowers. Then the women in the crowd began to sing an evocative hymn, their words whipping in the wind.

Chantal Flores collaborated in this report.


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