The search for seven missing employees of a call center led Mexican authorities to a gruesome discovery earlier this week, when at least 45 trash bags with several human remains were recovered from the bottom of a ravine on the outskirts of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco.
“Part of the investigation and the proceedings bring us precisely to this area,” the Jalisco state 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 not in a position to establish how many victims are possibly here,” he said.
On Thursday, the state prosecutor’s office said that some of the remains preliminarily matched the physical characteristics of the missing staff members, who were last seen between May 20 and May 22. Their families have been informed, officials added, as forensic scientists work to confirm the identity of the remains.
Recent progress in the investigation has made the case “much more complex than it seemed,” Jalisco’s governor, Enrique Alfaro, tweeted this week. The evidence so far, he added, suggested that the house where the missing people worked was not a call center, “but an operations center of a different nature.”
A search of the house led authorities to find marijuana and possible traces of blood in a piece of cloth and a mop. They also found information on time shares and memberships, along with sales goals for those who worked there.
Rosa Icela Rodríguez, Mexico’s security secretary, said during a news conference on Tuesday that these leads indicated that the employees “were doing some kind of real estate fraud and some kind of, let’s say, telephone extortion.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned several Mexican companies, most of them based in Jalisco, linked to time share fraud working on behalf of the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
“This crime, which can defraud victims of their life savings, results in another significant revenue stream for the cartel and strengthens its overall criminal enterprise,” said Andrea M. Gacki, director of the department’s office of foreign assets control.
Why It Matters
The latest discovery in Jalisco is a grisly reminder of a broader epidemic of disappearances that has shaken 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 country’s highest number of disappeared: almost 15,000 people as of June 2.
The figures have become a political sore spot for Mr. López Obrador, particularly as Mexico heads toward a presidential election in 2024, when one of the president’s closest allies is likely to be on the ballot.
When Mr. López Obrador came to office in December 2018, he promised to root out the violence convulsing Mexico. But his security strategy of using “hugs, not bullets” to deal with the root causes that fuel cartels does not seem to have reduced disappearances.
According to data from the national registry of missing people, disappearances across Mexico climbed 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 by saying his government has gotten better at counting and investigating the missing.
“No government had ever taken care of the disappeared as we are doing now,” Mr. López Obrador said last year. “We assumed the responsibility of searching for them and helping their relatives. And that is what we are doing.”
But some families and activists disagree that the government’s efforts are working.
On May 28, Delia Quiroa, a human rights advocate whose brother Roberto disappeared in the state of Tamaulipas in 2014, published a letter asking the leaders of Mexico’s cartels to reach a “social pact” to put a halt to the disappearances and allow families to investigate their fates.
“All we want is to know what happened to our disappeared relatives,” Ms. Quiroa wrote. “We need your help and collaboration.”
A few days later, Mr. López Obrador said that he would agree to a deal that could end the violence.
The Jalisco state prosecutor’s office said the search for the missing call center workers would continue, and that the authorities would keep exploring the ravine until all the bags were located and extracted.