Grisly cartel ‘extermination site’ found in Mexico, underscoring plight of nearly 100,000 missing

*Editor’s note: This article was amended to reflect that Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, is located near the U.S. border.

In Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, mere miles from the US border, investigators have uncovered grisly evidence of a drug cartel “extermination site,” where fragments of human remains, dismembered and burnt, are scattered across 75,000 square feet of desert terrain.

In an article for Associated Press, reporter Maria Verza describes a scene of  untold horrors, at which “burnt human remains and debris were nearly two feet deep” and twisted wires “apparently used to tie the victims, lie scattered amid the scrub.”

Technicians painstakingly gather, label, and submit to a forensic lab anything they find, including “bones, buttons, earrings, scraps of clothing,” in the hopes of identifying some of the nearly 100,000 people who are currently missing in Mexico.

“The official total of the missing stands at 98,356,” Verza writes. “Even without the civil wars or military dictatorships that afflicted other Latin American countries, Mexico’s disappeared are exceeded in the region only by war-torn Colombia. Unlike other countries, Mexico’s challenge still has no end: authorities and families search for people who disappeared in the 1960s and those who went missing today.”

And still, the numbers grow.

“We take care of one case and 10 more arrive,” the head of the identification team for the Tamaulipas state attorney general, Oswaldo Salinas, said.

The overwhelming numbers mean any remains found in Nuevo Laredo will go untested for the foreseeable future, as “there are not enough resources and too many fragments, too many missing, too many dead.”

“There are 52,000 unidentified people in morgues and cemeteries, not counting places like [the site in Nuevo Laredo], where the charred remains are measured only by weight,” writes Verza.

According to Karla Quintana who heads the National Search Commission, the remains in Nuevo Laredo are likely the result of a territorial dispute between the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the Northeast cartel.

“It’s not clear if the victims were smugglers of drugs or people, if some were abducted mistakenly or if the goal was simply to generate terror,” Verza writes.

She goes on to explain that the explosion of missing people occurred in 2006 with a governmental declaration of war on Mexican drug cartels.

“For years,” writes Verza, “the government looked the other way as violence increased and families of the missing were forced to become detectives.”

While Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was the first administration to acknowledge the realities of Mexico’s missing persons problem and to promise the necessary resources to combat it, those promises have yet to be fulfilled.

“The national commission, which was supposed to have 352 employees this year, still has just 89,” explains Verza. “And Macías’ state commission has 22 positions budgeted, but has only filled a dozen slots. There the issue isn’t money; the difficulty is finding applicants who pass background checks,” she adds, referring to Jorge Macías, head of the Tamaulipas state search commission.

“No one can estimate how much money is needed or how many years it could take to see significant results in Mexico’s efforts to locate and identify the disappeared,” states Verza.

As Macías said, “This issue is a monster.”

Melissa Fine


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