The Missing Americans Project

Looking for People and Answers

Asking The Right Questions (Part 1): How Many Missing?

A reporter recently asked me two questions about the material I've been posting, and they were exactly the right questions:

* What do you find suspicious about these disappearances?
* You talk about 8 men missing in the region in 10 months -- how many disappeared in the prior 10 months?

Here is an excellent example of a journalist doing his job correctly -- holding me accountable for my assertions and seeking hard facts and data.

I'll begin with the second question: How many men have disappeared in the region during the prior 10-month period? Simple answer - we don't know and have no way of knowing. If any government agency or news organization has these numbers, they are not sharing them with us, despite our best efforts to obtain them. I can, however, share a telling anecdote from one country -- Honduras -- that will give some sense of the problems we face with regard to obtaining data.

My brother Joe was missing for about a week and a half when a family member called my wife and asked why Joe's picture wasn't on the U.S. embassy's Missing American Citizens webpage. Now, just as a little experiment - go to the embassy's homepage and see how long it takes you to find the Missing American Citizens page. To say that it's not obvious would be the mother of all understatements.

If you don't want to play the game, here it is: 2 clicks in, by way of "Other Services", more than halfway down the lefthand navigation bar, beneath "Translators and Interpreters" and, sadly, two items above "Parental/Child Abductions". This rotten bit of navigation design gives you a good idea of how much priority the embassy and the federal agency it reports into -- the State Department -- gives to the issue of missing U.S. citizens.

To further illustrate the point, when I contacted American Citizens Services (the department in the embassy responsible for -- well, presumably for service to American citizens, and for maintaining that webpage) our contact (second from the top of the Honduras ACS) did not know it existed.

So, nearly two weeks into my brother's disappearance from Roatan, as far as anyone at the embassy was concerned, a total of 5 Americans were missing in Honduras since the beginning of this century. Joe made 6. Several months later, Omar Yovany Banegas (who disappeared 4 months BEFORE Joe) finally made the page. It is a sign of some progress that Leo Finley made it to the page almost immediately, but let's be honest -- the real measure of how much the State Department cares about our missing people is the speed with which they respond and get assets into action and the diligence of their follow-up.

This is just one country in the region. How many Americans have disappeared in Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, etc., and under what circumstances? It would be wonderful if our media took enough of an interest to ask questions like these of the government agencies responsible for knowing such things. Because those agencies don't answer to mere citizens.

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