Mapping Mexico’s hidden graves

More than 30.000 people have disappeared without a trace in Mexico, most since violence raised when minister started to fight against drugs cartels in 2006. Police’s investigations rarely solved such crime, so that many families are left to search on their own for hidden graves that may hold their relatives. Last week, a group of data scientists and human rights researchers published a new tool for finder: a map forecast which urban in Mexico are most likely to house hidden graves.

The team built its model by using the data from cities where reported in the media from 2013 to 2016. They classified each according to 35 geographic and social-economic  variables including murder rate, average level of education and the distance to the U.S border. Their model then found the cities with similar characteristics and determined the possibility that they could house hidden graves.

The team unveiled its findings at the meeting last Thursday. Besides 43 urbans with hidden graves were publicly reported in 2016, mainly in states of Varacruz and Guerrero, the model determined 45 other cities have 70% likelihood to contain unreported graves. In the top of the list is Coyca de Benitez in Guerrrero, with 86% possibility. 5 of 10 with highest chances – including Nogales, Sonora, and Juaez, Chihuahua – located in the states along the U.S border. Places least likely to contain  hidden graves include the southern states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan.

The researchers forecast which cities in Mexico were most likely to contain hidden graves in 2016, using a new statistical model. Cities in Guerroro, Michoacan and along the southern border are most likely to house undiscovered hidden graves.

However, Teresa Vera Alvarado, a Mexico City resident has joined bridges after her sister disappeared, think that because this model based on newspaper’s reports, they could leave out the majorities of hidden graves. Mexico newspapers must deal with the censorship and threats from both organized crime and government. According to The New York Times, more than 100 Mexico journalists have been killed since 2000, and 25 others has disappeared. Families of the disappeared – who are carrying out most of the searches – are the best information source, she says. To take their knowledge into account, Gonzalez and her team will begin to meet with searchers in September.

Monica Meltis, director of Data Civica, agrees that many graves may not be found by model, because they could follow many different patterns rather than those reported on press. But each discovery feeds the model new information and makes it more powerful, she says. We can use scientific tools to uncover what we are not able to observe.

Jorge Ruiz, a human rights researcher in Ibero, hopes that the stark results of model will push government to finally act. The state, not the families, should search for hidden graves, he says. He agrees that:” If government really want to find, like it says it does; well, find it”, Meltis says. “We want force government take more responsibility of the disappeared in Mexico. This is the guide of where to look.”


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