Mexican Police Unearth Mass Graves

Photo source: VOA News

By Naveed Qazi, | Editor, Globe Upfront

An unmarked mass grave has been found in the region of Veracruz in Mexico in September 2018. It is believed that the site could possibly contain remains of around 500 victims, according to an advocacy group, Solecito.

Other investigators believe that the figure could be up to 174. It is one of the largest mass graves found in the country. According to local inputs, there have been around 32 burial pits in the site, and the bodies may have been buried at the site, two years ago, since 2018.

The site is on a narrow isthmus between the Gulf of Mexico and the Alvarado Lagoon, about an hour southeast of Veracruz. Arbolillo, a small fishing village, is the nearest inhabited point.

A criminal group had sent a map to Solecito, where they indicated that the current mass burial site contained remains of more than 500 bodies. It has marked a national crisis, as many families rushed to a morgue, for clues, that could help them find their missing children, relatives and siblings. During the investigation, around 200 identity cards and 114 pieces of clothing, were found, as well as different accessories and personal items.

According to TeleSur TV channel, another mass grave was found here, possibly containing remains of 300 victims of gang warfare. There are possibly other pits at the site, where the investigators are not working right now. Mexican Human Rights Commission believes that the existence of such burial sites shows the lack of concern of the law enforcement. As per their data, around 3,230 human remains were found in mass graves between 2007 and 2016.

According to a BBC report, drones and ground penetrating radar are helping the locals and forensic experts in the investigation at the scene. Photographs clicked by journalists showed investigators probing the thick fertile soil, wearing white protective suits and gloves, setting the remains on white sheets and then putting them in red plastic bags. Access to investigators required a 20-minute walk, through mangroves and thick tropical vegetation. The dead bodies were presumably carried by boat and were spread out under palm trees.

Although the federal government was verified about this development, the local Veracruz Governor Miguel Angel Yunes Linares had initially refused to provide necessary heavy machinery, digging utensils, or federal and forensic analysts to assist the scene.

Violent crime has long plagued Veracruz, an oil-rich state on the Gulf of Mexico. The area is notorious for extortion and kidnapping. It is home to one of the oldest ports in Mexico, and drug gangs such as Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Zetas have waged war against each other for power dominance in the territory. It’s former governor, Javier Duarte was charged for involvement in disappearances, diversion of state funds through phantom companies and embezzlement. In his tenure, the state debt had doubled and there was an increase in gang violence and kidnapping. Over the course of time, Veracruz has also become dangerous for fieldwork for journalists. Duarte was also questioned for the killing of a photojournalist.

In 2016 and 2017, around 253 skulls were discovered in Veracruz. The victims often include people who refuse to get recruited into cartels and their rivals. Relatives of people who are missing in Mexico have been campaigning to help find their loved ones, since a long period of time.

Hundreds of human remains have also been found in states including Tamaulipas, Durango and Morelos, during a decade-long war led by Mexican military to battle the cartels, that resulted in turf wars. Around, 29,000 murders happened in 2017 alone, according to a US Congressional Research Centre report. More than 35,000 people have disappeared in Mexico, including 9,000 women and 6,300 minors, according to National Registry of Data on Missing and Disappeared Persons. It is possibly the worst record in two decades.

In January 2018, earlier this year remains of at least 23 people were found, including skeletons and four without heads, an area besides a stream that was difficult to access. They were found in the community of Pantanal, in the state of Nayarit, on the Pacific coast, an area notorious for turf wars between Sinaloa and Jalisco Narco-trafficking empires. The town, Xalisco, situated in Mexico, still remains a vulnerable route for heroin trafficking supplied towards the US West Coast. United Families was formed in 2017 alone in Nayarit, in response to a surge in homicides.

With aims to battle impunity in Mexico, an innovative legal experiment has been started by a coalition of Mexican human rights organisations, known as a GIEI (the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts), granted by American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), with strong links to federal government and social movements.

Al-Jazeera’s John Holman, reporting from Mexico City, said: “the 114 identification cards were like ‘gold for families’ searching for their lost loved ones because it provides clues for their possible resting place. It comes now to the incoming administration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to show the political will that's been lacking throughout this government to try and get to grips with this problem, to try and help people to find their lost relatives and investigate this sort of mass grave."

Solecito spokesperson, Rosalia Castro Toss, believes that the state does not have enough staff to handle cases of 37,000 missing persons.

Drug rrelated violence in Mexico has escalated since the army was deployed to fight the powerful cartels. Since then, more than two hundred thousand people have been killed, in total, in the conflict.


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