Mexico mass graves add fuel to public's anger over drug war

Nearly 60 bodies were discovered by authorities this week about 80 miles from Brownsville, Texas. Officials say the suspects are members of the Zetas, one of Mexico’s most violent drug gangs.

Margarito Perez/Reuters
People walk past chalk outlines drawn to represent people killed during a march in Cuernavaca called out by poet Javier Sicilia after the death of his son whose body was found along with six others inside a car a week ago in Cuernavaca, on April 6.

The US-Mexico border is at the center of another gruesome scene in Mexico's drug war.

Nearly 60 bodies were discovered by authorities this week about 80 miles from Brownsville, Texas – not far from where 72 US-bound migrants were found dead in a massacre last August.

Authorities have arrested eight people in connection with the killings and officials say the suspects are members of the Zetas, one of Mexico’s most violent drug gangs.

This week's discovery comes in the wake of criticism from the United Nations of Mexican President Felipe Calderón's military approach to the country's battle with organized crime. It was also made public the same day Mexicans gathered in marches across the country demanding solutions to rising insecurity, highlighting the concerns of an increasingly weary public.

“[Authorities] have not done enough to end corruption within the system. There is a lack of investigation and impunity," says Alberto Xicotencatl, the director of a migrant shelter in Saltillo in northern Mexico who works to help kidnapped migrants. “If there are not people held responsible, [criminals] know they can continue to operate.”

It is unclear who the victims are in the most recent mass graves discovered: migrants or drug rivals or others. According to the Associated Press, Mexican authorities found the bodies in the state of Tamaulipas while searching for passengers missing from buses along the route frequented by migrants heading to the US.

There are also no arrests so far. But President Calderón issued a statement condemning the attack and blaming it on drug traffickers. It "underlines the cowardliness and total lack of scruples of the criminal organizations that cause violence in our country," he said in a statement.

UN report criticizes Calderón's government

His strategy came under fire in a recent UN report, which apart from recommending that the military be removed from the fight also pointed to human rights abuses, including 11,333 migrants kidnapped in a six-month period between April and September of last year, according to Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH). CNDH also issued a statement on April 2 stating that since 2006 the organization has registered 5,397 missing persons.

The latest incident has renewed calls from human rights groups to pay more attention to insecurity and abuses by authorities.

“The mass graves found yesterday once again show the Mexican government’s failure to deal with the country’s public security crisis and reduce criminal violence which has left many populations vulnerable to attacks, abductions and killings,” Rupert Knox, researcher on Mexico at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

The discovery of the mass graves was made as thousands gathered in 20 Mexican cities, summoned by prominent poet Javier Sicilia after his son and six others were found murdered in the city of Cuernavaca.

At the march in Mexico City, most expressed exasperation of Calderón's strategy, perhaps taking a cue from Mr. Sicilia, who wrote an open letter to the government and to drug gangs lamenting “this badly planned, badly carried out, and badly led war" and suggesting a cease-fire be arranged with drug cartels.

“You cannot stop the violence with more violence,” says Mario Hernandez, an administrator in the federal government’s Agriculture Ministry who was at the march yesterday.

There were calls to remove the Army from the streets, and even the occasional shout to remove the president from office.

Some say the president is being unfairly blamed for the situation.

“This [march] is totally politicized and far from the reason why we came here, to stop the violence in our country,” says Silvia Amaranta Guerrero, a Mexico City lawyer, who dropped out of the demonstration. “They make it sound like [Calderón] is the only one responsible for the fact there is violence and drug trafficking in our country. I think the whole society is responsible and the option to do something is in all of our hands.”

José Rosario Maroquin, communications and analysis coordinator at the Mexico City-based Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, says that the timing of the march with more gruesome news is telling. “It is ironic that yesterday, as sectors of society were demonstrating against violence, suddenly we get more news that this violence has not ended.”

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