The news of Mexico's mass grave was bad enough when it first broke: At the end of May, Mexican authorities said they found about two dozen decomposing bodies in an abandoned silver mine outside the pretty town of Taxco in western Mexico.
But it's gotten worse. Guerrero State Attorney General Albertico Guinto said yesterday that the grisly tally has grown, with 55 bodies found deep in the shaft of the Concha mine, presumably the victims of drug traffickers.
Mr. Guinto said in a statement that the bodies are in various states of decay, indicating that the victims were killed at different times. (See statement here.) Only four have been identified, including the warden of a local jail.
This type of horror has increasingly found its way to tourist areas and quaint towns far away from the US-Mexico border, where most of the violence is played out between drug traffickers vying for control of drug routes serving the US market.
Tourism is down in Silver Town
Taxco, with its steep cobblestone streets and whitewashed homes, has long drawn tourists on the hunt for silver jewelry.
Silver has been the backbone of the economy in Taxco for centuries, first as it poured out of the local mines and today in the form of platerias, ("silver-stores") which compete for American and European customers.
Elsa Ramirez, who works at Los Arcos hotel in Taxco, says that tourism numbers are already down, presumably because of the economic crisis. The latest news could be another blow after H1N1 ("swine flu") scared off tourists across Mexico last year.
According to the Guerrero government website, hotel occupancy was at only 16.5 percent in Taxco as of Monday, half the statewide average of 33.9 percent.
Ms. Ramirez says she hopes the mass grave found outside Taxco does not taint the image of the town.
“People generalize the problem,” she says. “This is an alarming situation, but it is very local … between people involved.”
Gruesome drug war
Over 22,000 have been killed in drug-related violence since Dec. 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderón dispatched the military to clamp down on organized crime. The government says the majority of victims are drug traffickers themselves.
But news such as mass graves, beheadings, and public threats to authorities do little to improve Mexico´s image as a safe place to visit.
In Guerrero, which has also been dealing with violence between rival traffickers and federal officials including in the Pacific resort of Acapulco, authorities spent the past week rappelling down the 500-foot shaft of the Concha mine.
The grave was found in late May, after a man arrested on organized crime charges in the nearby town of Iguala tipped off authorities.
Guinto said authorities will continue their search to determine whether additional bodies are down there. The Associated Press reports that 15 have been arrested so far in the case.