Mother's Day in Mexico is always celebrated on May 10th. The festivity is so popular and so highly regarded, that public offices shut down for the afternoon when it falls during a weekday so that employees can spend some of the day with their moms.
But this is also a painful celebration for thousands of Mexican mothers whose children have been kidnapped by organized crime syndicates, never to be heard from again. Some of the mothers of these missing people, known in Mexico as "desaparecidos," held a protest in Mexico City on Friday, in which they asked the government to do more to recover their lost relatives.
"This is a day in which we should be enjoying the hugs of our children, in which we should be celebrating family unity," said Maria Herrera, a woman in her sixties with a tragic story to tell. Four of her sons have gone missing since 2008. "We are hoping that through this protest society becomes aware of what is happening in this country," added Herrera, who hails from the troubled state of Michoacán.
People "disappear" in Mexico for several reasons. Some women are forced to work in clandestine whorehouses for several years before they are killed. Other victims are kidnapped and killed for their organs, which are sold in the black market. A third category of desaparecidos, which seems to be growing, is that of people who are kidnapped and forced to work for Mexican cartels, which increasingly require the services of engineers, doctors, and other sorts of professionals.
Herrera believes that her children fall in the third category. They were expert metal welders who were last seen in Veracruz and Guerrero, two states of the country were cartel activity is high. "I hope to find them alive," Herrrera said. "I hope my children have the patience and the fortitude to undergo this situation while we find them."
Put together, all of these crimes have turned Mexico into one of the countries with the most missing people in the world. And human rights groups here have long claimed that Mexico's government is doing too little to find those who have gone missing.
The previous administration of Felipe Calderón for example, was persistently accused of downplaying the problem of the disappeared as it attempted to portray itself as a government that was winning "the war" against organized crime. Officials from that administration estimated that 5,000 people had gone missing in Mexico over the past decade.
But in January, just a month after Enrique Peña Nieto became Mexico's president, the Attorney General's office disclosed a database previously held in secret, which suggests that 27,000 people had "disappeared" in the country over the past six years.
Victims' groups say that they get heard more often by the new government, whose security strategy centers on violence reduction. But most victims and their families still complain that investigations proceed at a snail's pace, with parents who are looking for their children bounced endlessly from one government agency to the next.
To fix the problem, Peña Nieto's government has promised to create a unified registry of missing people. In March, the government also created a special group of federal police officers and prosecutors that will focus solely on finding the disappeared.
But these actions have still not helped most people to find their missing relatives."Now the government receives us. And they give us coffee and nice cookies," said Manuel Ramirez, who went to the Mother's Day march with his wife, Adela. The Ramirez have been searching for their daughter, Monica, for the past eight years.
"There are 70 people in our association [of families with disappeared children] and I only know of one case that has been solved," Ramirez said, when asked if the new government's efforts had yielded any results.
Monica Ramirez went missing at age 20 and was last seen heading to her university to pick up her transcript. Through his own investigations, Manuel Ramirez has been able to give prosecutors information on three possible suspects for her disappearance, who have all been put in jail. But none has revealed any information of Monica's whereabouts.
"What's the use of that," Ramirez said. "Perhaps some justice was served. But what I want to know is where my daughter is."