MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's top security official said Friday that far fewer people disappeared during Mexico's drug war than were feared when the government released a list of about 26,000 cases.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said federal and state governments are working to weed out people who have been located. He noted that many of those included on the original list of 26,121 released earlier this year had left home for personal reasons or emigrated.
He says a new list will be released with a few months and "it will be much lower."
The list was compiled by the administration of former President Felipe Calderon, and largely covers disappearance reports from his 2006-2102 term. Osorio Chong said some of the people on the list had returned to their families, but relatives never bothered to cancel the original missing person report.
The issue has become a sensitive one in Mexico, where kidnappings are rife and thousands of people say their relatives have been abducted by drug gangs.
Osorio Chong also claimed that the number of deaths related to the drug war has been steadily dropping, and he expects that by the end of the month, figures would be about 20 percent lower than the same period of 2012. He said figures show about 34 drug-related killings per day so far in May, down from 41 in the same period in 2012.
However, experts have questioned what they say is atypical behavior in the statistics.
The Interior Department reported in April that drug-related deaths fell 14 percent from December to March, as compared to the same period a year earlier. But non-drug-related deaths rose by 6.8 percent during the same period, raising the question of whether some deaths were reclassified to improve the country's image and to help President Enrique Pena Nieto appear to meet a key campaign pledge: to reduce drug-related violence.
Osorio Chong responded to those doubts by saying "we don't make up statistics," and offered to arrange a meeting between reporters and experts who compiled the death tolls, to discuss the methodology used.
He also said Mexico had requested changes both in the way it shares intelligence with the United States, and the way the U.S. deports migrants. Mexico has requested the United States no longer just dump migrants at the border, but rather advise Mexico about who is being deported, and in some cases arrange for "interior deportation," flying deportees to their home cities rather than releasing them in border towns where they could be targets for recruitment by drug gangs.
"If you send people back, at least give me minimal information to know who you're deporting, and send them where I ask you to," said Osorio Chong. He said that if they're simply dumped at the border, "the drug cartels are going to grab them. They (the migrants) are going to try to cross again, or they're going to join organized crime."
The interior minister also defended Mexico's new policy of channeling all cross-border intelligence sharing through a single office, rather than allowing each Mexican agency to communicate with its U.S. counterpart, as in the past.
Osorio Chong said the previous policy had encouraged organizational infighting in the Mexican government. "It looked like a big dispute, with agencies fighting among themselves."
"Now, we are being more effective than ever, the United States has more information than it did before," he said. "Ask them. Ask them if we're not being faster, more agile in information sharing."
The U.S. embassy had no immediate response to the interior minister's statements.