Violence, impunity and fear in the Mexican state of Veracruz

Mexico has been shaken by the grim discovery of a mass graveyard site with at least 174 bodies buried inside.

    Violence, impunity and fear in the Mexican state of Veracruz
    Mothers with disappeared children, from the "Solecito Collective," walk around the perimeter where at least 170 human skulls were exhumed from dozens of mass graves in Veracruz [AP Photo/Felix Marquez]

    A tattered pair of grey shorts, a child's bright pink shoes and a football are some of the items that have been recovered from a mass grave in the eastern state of Veracruz.

    Mexican authorities announced the discovery of the huge burial site in early September, after they counted 166 skulls across 32 burial pits. The body count has since risen to 174 and excavations at the site are ongoing.

    The bodies of both children and adults discovered at the site in recent weeks had been buried for around two years, according to officials.

    Photographs of clothing items and various objects found at the site were made available online this week by the National Commission of Missing Persons, in the hope that it will allow people to identify missing loved ones. 

    The Interior Ministry said the picture catalogue will be updated with additional garments and items as they are found.

    Both the scale of the mass grave and the discovery of children's remains and belongings have shaken Mexican society.

    "There has always been crime and violence in Mexico, but the cruelty that the organised crime is displaying is unseen," Carlos Vilalta, a criminologist from the Center for Research in Geospatial Information Sciences (CentroGeo) in Mexico city told Al Jazeera.

    "What's the rationality or the need of killing a baby? This shows the dehumanization of the gangs" he added.

    Currently, Veracruz has more mass graveyards than municipalities. In total, there are around 300 graveyards in only 212 localities, according to police reports.

    The region has witnessed a bloody rivalry between drug cartels in recent years, as well as government corruption, leading to an explosive cocktail of violence and uncertainty in the state.

    The discovery of the mass grave has only heightened fear and tension among local communities.

    "I feel a lot of impotence" Doctor Denis Traconis, a citizen from Veracruz told Al Jazeera.

    "You can't even know if the government is doing something about it, when you leave your house in the morning, you don't know if you are coming back."

    "I have seen friends, colleagues, close people that one day went out to work, and never came back, weeks later, we learned they were dead," she said.

    In this undated photo provided by the Veracruz State Prosecutor's Office shows a clothing item found at the site of a clandestine burial pit in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz [Veracruz State Prosecutor's Office via AP

    Corrupted system

    Activists and citizens accuse the state's former governor, Javier Duarte, of being one of the main culprits of human rights abuses in the state.

    The former governor is awaiting trial on money laundering charges at a prison in Mexico City.

    During his tenure as governor of Veracruz from 2010 to 2016, the state became one of the most violent places in Mexico and two former state police chiefs have been charged with running squads that allegedly killed opponents during Duarte's administration.

    "We don't trust our authorities any more," Rogelio Monterde, a marketer and citizen from Veracruz told Al Jazeera. "The less contact we have with them, the better."

    Last year alone, Veracruz registered a total of 1,641 homicides, a rate of 20.7 murdered for every 100,000 inhabitants, and in January, a pile of nine dismembered bodies was found in a truck.

    Relatives of missing people are still digging at another mass grave found in 2016, where 280 bodies have been discovered so far.

    "People are afraid," Monterde said.

    "We are even cautious with whom we talk about these things, you never know who's in front of you, corruption is so great, that anyone can be connected to the gangs," he added.

    Photos of clothing items and various objects were posted online and made available this week by the National Commission of Missing Persons [Veracruz State Prosecutor's Office via AP]

    Deadliest year in two decades

    In 2006, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a nationwide war on drugs.

    Since then, the government has fought violent drug cartels, deploying military forces and thousands of police officers and soldiers to the streets.

    This caused a huge rise in violence that has continued, with 2017 being the deadliest year in two decades. More than 23,000 homicides were registered, an increase of 10.7 percent compared with 2016.

    The figures for 2018 show that there have been 18,994 murders in seven months, a 20 percent jump compared with the same period in the previous year, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

    "There are different scenarios taking place," Vilalta, the criminologist, explained.

    "The first one starts with former President Felipe Calderon. I believe that when he took the decision to combat the drug gangs, he didn't anticipate the massacre that would take place. He announced this was going to be a long war, but I don't think he foresaw the extent to which it would drag on."

    "The second one is with the current president, Enrique Pena Nieto. He used the media; there was a beastly decline in the publication of notes related to crime, [but] the underlying problems were not solved.

    "The third scenario starts with the newly elected president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. We will have to see what he comes up with, but I believe it will be very difficult to reduce the number of homicides. There is a lot of money within organised crime, and institutions are in a delicate state," he said.

    Obrador has recently declared he will not order the military off the country's streets, despite pledging to do so during his presidential campaign.

    "Without the aid of the army and the navy, we would not be able to solve the security problem," Lopez Obrador said in August, outlining his plan for when he assumes office in December.

    "We are not in a position to pull out the armed forces, because that would leave the populace unprotected."

    He admitted that the federal police was not ready to replace the armed forces.

    The rise of violence linked to drug trafficking has left almost 200,000 dead since the government ordered the military onto the streets in 2006.

    Silencing journalists in Mexico

    The Listening Post

    Silencing journalists in Mexico

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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