The search for seven missing call center employees led Mexican authorities to a gruesome discovery earlier this week, when at least 45 garbage bags containing multiple human remains were found at the bottom of a ravine on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Jalisco state. .
“Part of the investigation and proceedings are taking us precisely to this area,” said Jalisco’s prosecutor, Luis Joaquín Méndez Ruiz, told reporters on Wednesday, adding that both male and female body parts had been found in the bags.
“We are unable to determine how many casualties may be here,” he said.
On Thursday, the public prosecutor’s office announced that part of the remains will remain for the time being matched the physical characteristics of the missing members of staff, who were last seen between May 20 and May 22. Their families have been notified, officials added, while forensic scientists work to confirm the identities of the remains.
Recent advances in the investigation have made the case “much more complex than it seemed,” Jalisco Governor Enrique Alfaro said. tweeted this week. The evidence so far, he added, suggested that the home where the missing people worked was not a call center, “but an operations center of a different nature.”
A search of his home led authorities to find marijuana and possible traces of blood in a piece of cloth and a mop. They also found information on timeshares and memberships, along with sales targets for those who worked there.
Rosa Icela Rodríguez, Mexico’s security secretary, said at a news conference Tuesday that these clues indicated that the employees were “doing some kind of real estate fraud and some kind of, say, telephone extortion.”
Earlier this year, the US Treasury Department sanctioned several Mexican companies, most of them based in Jalisco, linked to timeshare fraud that operated on behalf of the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
“This crime, which can defraud victims of their savings, results in another significant revenue stream for the cartel and strengthens the overall criminal enterprise,” said Andrea M. Gacki, director of the department’s foreign asset audit office.
Why it matters
The latest discovery in Jalisco is a gruesome reminder of a wider epidemic of disappearances that has shook the country for decades and tarnished the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. More than 110,000 people are missing in Mexico, their fate uncertain. Jalisco has recorded the highest number of missing people in the country: nearly 15,000 people on June 2.
The numbers have become a political sore spot for Mr López Obrador, especially as Mexico heads towards presidential elections in 2024, when one of the president’s closest allies is likely to be on the ballot.
When Mr López Obrador took office in December 2018, he pledged to stamp out violence in Mexico. But his security strategy of using “hugs, not bullets” to tackle the root causes of fuel cartels doesn’t seem to have reduced the number of disappearances.
According to data from the National Register of Missing Persons, the number of disappearances across Mexico increased by more than 20 percent in the first three months of this year, compared to the same period in 2022.
The president has defended himself against the alarming numbers, saying his administration has gotten better at counting and investigating missing persons.
“No government has ever cared for the disappeared as we do now,” López Obrador said last year. “We took on the responsibility of looking for them and helping their relatives. And that is what we do.”
But some families and activists disagree that the government’s efforts are working.
On May 28, Delia Quiroa, a human rights lawyer whose brother Roberto disappeared in Tamaulipas state in 2014, published a letter to ask the leaders of the Mexican cartels to form a “social pact” to halt the disappearances and allow families to investigate their fate.
“All we want is to know what happened to our missing relatives,” Ms Quiroa wrote. “We need your help and cooperation.”
A few days later, Mr López Obrador said he would agree to a deal that could end the violence.
The Jalisco state attorney general’s office said the search for the missing call center workers would continue and authorities would continue exploring the ravine until all the bags were located and removed.