Gerardo, the father of Yolanda Martínez, told me that he called her cell phone every morning, to see if she would answer.
But his messages for his daughter went straight to voicemail. He did it for a month. And then the pain grew so strong that he stopped.
Yolanda, who was 26, was found dead three days after our conversation. Prosecutors in the state of Nuevo León found her body in bushes about 30 kilometers from the spot where she had disappeared on March 31. She was wearing the same clothes.
That was not the news her father was hoping for when he spoke with me. He was desperate over the slow pace of the search for his daughter, and was looking for more media coverage to help him find Yolanda. “What I am going to do is do my own search, on my own,” he told me from his home. “I believe it’s the only way we can find many of the women who have disappeared in Mexico, with a viral campaign. If that’s not done that way, it has little chance.”
Gerardo Martinez is accustomed to carrying heavy loads. He has worked 22 of his 49 years in a wholesale market in the city of Monterrey. He is a single father. And he did not rest until his daughter was found. But it was too much. The search almost cost him his life. One day before his daughter war found, he wound up in a hospital with high blood pressure and a lack of sleep.
Mexico is a country of dead and disappeared people.
More than 100,000 have been registered as missing, according to the National Search Commission. And, in a macabre example of just how bad things are in Mexico, more than 100 people disappeared during the nine-day visit by members of the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances. “The victims are people, not numbers,” said their report, which urged the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to adopt an effective policy to stop the disappearances.
Debanhi Escobar was not a number.
Her case became a symbol of what thousands of Mexican women go through. Contrary to what authorities initially suggested, the 18-year-old Debanhi did not die in an accident in the dangerous state of Nuevo León. She was raped and killed. “It’s a violent death by homicide,” read the second autopsy, requested by her family because of serious doubts about the conclusions of the first. The Spanish newspaper El País reported the body showed “evidence of violent sexual relations.”
Femicides – the murder of women because they are women – have been rising during the López Obrador government. In 2019, 973 women were murdered. The number rose to 977 in 2020 and to 1,015 in 2021, according to official reports. The real numbers are surely much higher. And the majority of these crimes go unpunished.
The López Obrador administration, like the two before it, has shown a worrisome inability to protect the lives of Mexicans. That is the biggest failure of his time in office.
As I researched the numbers for this column, journalists Yessenia Mollinedo and Sheila García were murdered in Veracruz. That brought to 11 the number of reporters murdered in Mexico so far this year. The prosecutor in Veracruz promised “there will be no impunity, and all avenues will be investigated.” So far, one person has been detained. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for independent journalists. Only the war in Ukraine has taken the lives of more journalists.
With so many journalists and so many women murdered, it’s hard to understand why this issue has not become the biggest point of attack against the AMLO presidency. The answer may be the president’s media strategy: he holds a lengthy news conference every day and usually imposes his agenda on the media and the rest of the country.
Despite the tens of thousands of homicides in Mexico, López Obrador remains a very popular president. Two out of every three Mexicans support him, according to one poll. One possible explanation is that many Mexicans have not forgotten the violence, corruption and abuse of power under the presidents that preceded him.
But that doesn’t help to solve the current violence. AMLO has given no sign that he is going to change his failed strategy against crime in Mexico. His government will soon become the most violent of the 21st Century.
I hope I am wrong. But if things don’t change radically – and soon – more women will disappear or be murdered with total impunity in Mexico. When asked, “Who killed them?” we seldom have an answer. And even less often do we have someone accused, sentenced and in prison.
That is the real tragedy in Mexico. They kill you – like Yolanda and Debanhi and Yessenia and Sheila – and nothing happens.