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Debanhi Escobar’s disturbing disappearance triggers outrage in Mexico

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

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

Debanhi Escobar’s body was found Thursday night in an abandoned underground water tank due to 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 changed completely.”

The case of Escobar, an 18-year-old law student who disappeared on April 9, has sparked outrage and protests over a shocking 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 richest cities in the country. Across Mexico, more than 24,000 women are missing, according to government figures, and last year, about 2,800 women were reported missing, an increase of nearly 40 percent compared to 2017.

The rising disappearance rate, according to security experts, correlates with the general increase in violence across the country in recent years, in addition to the increase in organized crime, such as sex trafficking, as well as high rates of domestic violence. 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 appropriate investigations into missing women or prosecute women murder cases, fueling a deep-seated culture of impunity.

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

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

A spokesman for the prosecution in 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 further requests for an interview.

In a report released this month, the UN Committee on Missing Disappearance called on 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 “noticeable increase” in the disappearance of women, children and young people.

“Impunity in Mexico is a structural feature that favors the reproduction and disguise of forced disappearances,” the UN committee said in a statement, noting that as of November last year, only 2 to 6 percent of the disappearances had resulted in criminal cases.

In response, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who made the fight against violence in Mexico a key campaign promise, said the committee’s recommendations were followed. At one of his press conferences last week, he promised support from the federal government to solve the assassination of Debanhi Escobar and declared that injustice in Mexico was a thing of the past.

“Apart from corruption, what has hurt Mexico the most because they go hand in hand is impunity,” López Obrador said. “That is why we are talking about zero impunity that the crimes that are committed are being punished.”

But in Nuevo León, the authorities have been less aware of the crisis. Last week, State Attorney Gustavo Adolfo Guerrero cited the “lack of communication” between families as well as the “rebellion” of young people as the cause of most women’s disappearances, adding that most of the missing population was due to “a voluntary situation”.

Prior to Escobar’s case, public outrage had been growing for weeks over the disappearance of a number of young women in Monterrey, which appeared to be evidence of negligence on the part of the authorities.

Yolanda Martínez, 26, disappeared on March 31. According to his brother Jesús, it took two weeks for the authorities to visit his house. And it has not been found yet.

“It’s starting to nurture that desperation in us,” Martinez said. “I can not tell you that they do nothing, but I can also not tell you what they do.”

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

Contreras toured the area and passed the information to the Attorney General’s Office. But he said it took three days for authorities to lock 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 could do nothing,” Contreras said. “It makes me laugh.”

Nuevo León’s law firm has denied being slow, saying Contreras was murdered the night she disappeared.

Then came the Escobar affair, which fueled the anger of the people. The uproar caused an unusual wave of public support; people offered everything from drones to sniffer dogs to help with the search.

The night he disappeared, Escobar had been to 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 at dawn on April 9, she got out of the vehicle at the side of a road where the driver apparently left her.

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

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

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

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

For almost two weeks, her family and friends were desperately looking for her, sometimes going through vacant grounds and digging in the ground for signs of buried remains.

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

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

“It’s a massive human failure,” said Aldo Fasci, Secretary of State for Security. “They were there four times and found nothing.”

In an interview with the Mexican newspaper Reforma last week, Guerrero, the state prosecutor, said the young woman was dead before her body was dumped in the cistern. Later Wednesday afternoon, Guerrero told reporters that Escobar was possibly alive when she fell into the tank.

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

But the actions of the state authorities have already been questioned.

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

The day after the young woman’s death was confirmed, hundreds of women took to the streets to protest and disrupt traffic in Monterrey. Many had the search folders with the young woman’s picture.

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 beside the road waving signs and white balloons.

After a mass celebrated in a yellow church, the coffin was carried to the outskirts of the city, 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 an ash block grave, on 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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