A group of women has been turning up soil in Sinaloa, a state in northwestern Mexico, in a desperate hunt for the bodies of missing loved ones. It’s dangerous work, but these women say it’s necessary, as Mexican authorities are doing little to find the tens of thousands of people who have gone missing in the country.
The women call themselves “Las Rastreadoras del Fuerte” (“The trackers of El Fuerte”). El Fuerte, a town in the north of Sinaloa state, is where they carry out most of their searches for the bodies of missing people.
On November 19, these women found six bodies in hidden mass graves on the outskirts of Los Mochis, a town located 80 kilometres south of El Fuerte. And these are far from the first bodies that these women have found. In the past three years, they’ve uncovered 113 bodies, 88 of which were later returned to families.
(The women found six bodies on November 19, the day that this Facebook Live was filmed)
The women have undertaken most of their work in this state, which has the third largest number of missing people in the country (only the states of Tamaulipas and Mexico have higher numbers). According to the National Registry of Missing or Disappeared Persons, an estimated 2,852 people have gone missing in Sinaloa alone. Across the country, the number of missing persons rises to a frightening 32,000.
The perpetrators of these disappearances include both state actors (public servants, police officers or members of the army) and members of organised criminal groups, according to human rights organisations like Amnesty International. The victims include everyone from students to journalists, drug dealers and migrants from Central America, to young women.
Mirna Nereida Medina Quiñónez, 47, lives in Los Mochis. She founded the group “Las Rastreadoras del Fuerte” after her son disappeared on July 14, 2014.
When my son disappeared, I went to the office of the Federal Ministerial Police [Editor’s note: A Mexican federal agency tasked with fighting corruption and organised crime]. But they said that they didn’t look for missing people. So, I decided to look for my son myself.
(Mirna Nereida Medina Quiñónez looks for human remains -Medina Quiñónez provided the Observers team with this photo)
At first, it was just me and my family searching for my son. Then, through social media, I connected with other families in the same situation. In this way, I met 14 other women from El Fuerte who all had missing relatives and I founded the “Rastreadoras” group. The group has grown, little by little. We offer each other immense psychological support.
Currently, there are 60 women from four different towns – El Fuerte, Los Mochis, Guasave and Choix – who take part in our search parties. There is a core group of 25 of us who take part in all of the searches. Most of the other members only take part in the searches near to their homes. Usually, there are about 40 of us each time we go out.
(The women look in a six-metre deep hole. Video posted on August 31 on the Facebook page “Las Rastreadoras del Fuerte”)
“We are currently looking for 594 missing persons”
Our group is mostly made up of women, most of whom are missing a husband, son or brother. Of the 594 missing people who we are currently looking for, 570 are men. [Editor’s note: Nationally, 74 percent of missing people are men.]