“At least 66,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since the start of the “war on drugs” in 2006. The scale of this tragedy is enormous, as is the challenge of identifying the killers, since critical details about the victims routinely vanish along with their bodies.
A Globe and Mail team resolved to tell this story of violence and corruption through the lens of a single mass grave that is believed to be the final resting place for victims of narcotraffickers, state violence, human trafficking and political conflict. Our hope was that it could provide a means of demonstrating the complicity between organized crime and the state, and how this has engendered many of the systemic issues that plague Mexico today, from poverty and social vulnerability to corrupt justice and governance.
Globe journalists, dispersed by the coronavirus pandemic, met virtually to synthesize nearly 8,000 images, dozens of hours of interviews, and thousands of pages of legal and forensic documents. They built a narrative that centred on the missing and those who search for them, and that showed the power of disappearance as a tool for social control.
Veteran foreign correspondent Stephanie Nolen, The Globe’s then-Latin America bureau chief, began by tracing the families of those who had been found and identified at Colinas de Santa Fe, near the port city of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. In Colinas, 298 skulls and thousands of bones have been exhumed from 155 shallow graves, making it the largest known clandestine grave in Latin America.
Forced disappearances have a uniquely devastating impact on families and communities. But day-to-day media coverage of violent crime can obscure the experience of the people who are victims. In this project, the circumstances of the victims’ disappearances, the grueling work their families had to do to find them, and the specific horror of how they were found are woven together into an immersive experience, in which the families tell their own stories, to show the scale of both their suffering and their resilience.
Reader response to “Gone” was immediate and sustained: our analytics showed strong time-spent and audience numbers, and that it was widely shared, discussed and consumed via multiple social platforms.
The immediacy and intimacy of the story clearly struck a powerful chord with readers. “This story is extraordinary, not just for the extensive crimes uncovered, but for the way the story is told,” said one. “These stories are beyond heartbreaking – the visual storytelling here is truly incredible, a work of art – and shows the importance of putting a face and a voice to realities that seem so far away from us,” said another.”