By MEREL HAENEN
After a 13-day nationwide manhunt, the lifeless body of missing Mexican teenager Debanhi Escobar was finally discovered on Thursday, April 21, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, inside an abandoned cistern just a few hundred meters from where she was last seen on the morning of her disappearance, in the early hours of Saturday, April 9.
That much is known.
But what is not known is how and why the 18-year-old was killed, and why so many young women continue to go missing in Mexico, especially in Nuevo León.
In fact, in the last three years and five months — the time that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has been in power — the number of missing and unaccounted for women has nearly doubled, compared to the same period of his two immediate predecessors.
According to information from the National Commission for the Search for Persons, which is part of the Interior Secretariat, between Dec. 1, 2006 and April 24, 2010, under former President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, 987 women were reported missing, and between Dec. 1, 2012 and April 24, 2016, under Enrique Peña Nieto, 3,713 women.
The 200-kilometer highway where Debanhi disappeared is popularly known in Nuevo León as the “Road of Death,” a strip of asphalt relinquished by locals to the volatilities of organized crime and the grounds from which over 100 people have gone missing last year.
Meanwhile, according to figures figures from the National Registry of Missing and Not Located Persons (RNPDNL), so far under the current administration, 7,911 women have gone missing or are not located.
Debanhi’s disappearance has outraged a society affected by waves of missing women and has become a rallying point for women in both Nuevo León and nationwide.
In the last month alone, at least eight other women have been unaccounted for in or near the city of Monterrey.
On April 9, the very same day that Debanhi went missing, the brutally mutilated remains of 27-year-old María Fernanda Contreras were found in Monterrey, leading to two days of protests in the Nuevo León capital, and, of course, no resolution of the case.
Angélica Orozco, a member of the Nuevo León united Forces for Our Disappeared (Fundenl), the state’s leading organization in the search for missing individuals, told Spanish newspaper El País that “although the authorities treat each of these cases as isolated events, they are not.”
“The victims are all very young girls who have disappeared across the very same, demarcated territory,” she said, adding that this is not a coincidence.
The youngest missing victim in the state, Allison Campos, was only 12 years of age; the oldest, Yolanda Campos, was 26 years old.
According to the RNPDNL, the last 50 years have seen 1,793 unaccounted disappearances of girls and women in the northeastern state.
Cases have surged since 2010, encompassing 90 percent of all missing Nuevo León women. This year alone, 55 women have disappeared so far.
State Governor Samuel García Sepúlveda addressed the loose ends of Dibhani’s disappearance in a video posted on his Twitter account the morning of Friday, April 22.
After calling for a full autopsy of the girl’s remains and a thorough investigation by the prosecutor’s office, García Sepúlveda said that there was an urgent need to understand the underlying complexities of the case and “to act accordingly to prevent future incidents.”
But Fundenl, which has documented disappearances in Nuevo León over the past 10 years, pointed out that the government’s muted and indifferent institutional response to the missing remains unchanged.
That response, a Fundenl spokesperson said, is essentially the “criminalization of the victims and the turning a blind eye.”
“If you don’t recognize what is happening, you can’t fix it,” she said.
In the meantime, the death toll of young girls and women in Nuevo León continues to grow unabaited.