It is common for embassies to publish travel alerts about Mexico for tourists. It is less common that those alerts come from Mexican authorities themselves.
But that is what happened in Nuevo León, where a wave of disappearances on the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo highway prompted the governor to call for residents to avoid traveling to the neighboring state of Tamaulipas.
“What is happening is public. I have to recommend that the public of Nuevo León avoid [traveling], if it is not urgent … that they wait until everything is calm,” said Jaime Rodríguez.
The cities of Monterrey, Nuevo León, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, are less than 240 kilometers apart, but the journey between them is becoming dangerous. According to an organization of families of kidnapping victims, Fundenl, at least 49 people have disappeared on the highway between them.
“We have sent two letters to the attorney general and governor to ask them not only to protect us but also to at least make public what is happening,” said spokeswoman Angélica Orozco.
Another collective of victims’ families said the numbers are even higher. They claim to have knowledge of 109 people who have disappeared in the area, and say 73 of those disappearances happened this year.
José de Jesús Gómez is one of those. On January 3, he called his mother from a hotel in Nuevo Laredo. He had just arrived from Irwing, Texas, where he lived and worked as a computer engineer. He told her he planned to travel to Guadalajara, where his family was, via Monterrey. It was the last his family heard of him.
The governor’s travel warning also applies to the highway from Monterrey to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, where last Saturday a group of armed men moved through the city killing at random. The death toll was 19.
State officials, including the governor, blame the disappearances on warring cartels.
According to a federal intelligence report, the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo highway is controlled by the Northeast Cartel, an offshoot of the famously violent Zetas. The Monterrey-Reynosa highway is under the control of the Metros, a faction of the Gulf Cartel, according to the same report.
The Nuevo León Attorney General’s Office has opened 41 investigations into disappearances on the former and has announced a joint operation with the neighboring state of Tamaulipas. Nuevo León officials maintain that the disappearances happened not in their state, but in Tamaulipas. Despite that claim, Nuevo León has launched a new special operation to patrol the road in conjunction with the federal government and Tamaulipas authorities.
Meanwhile, victims’ families say their search for loved ones is hindered by government inefficiency and states passing the buck.
The family of José de Jesús Gómez has experience with the problem of jurisdiction. They reported his disappearance in Jalisco the day after he stopped responding to calls, but that report was rejected. They filed another report in Nuevo León and were rejected again by authorities who said the disappearance occurred outside their jurisdiction. Finally, in Tamaulipas their report was accepted.
“That was in January, but since March they have not taken our calls or responded to emails. We don’t know anything more about the case,” said Gómez’s sister.
In Mexico there are currently more than 88,000 people missing, according to the National Search Commission. Of those, more than 11,500 are from Tamaulipas while nearly 5,500 are from Nuevo León.