Things That Matter

They Discovered Mass Graves And Now These Grieving Mothers Are Being Threatened By Drug Cartels

Latin American history is full of brutal cases of disappearances that most likely translate into the death of a loved one. From the crimes perpetuated by the military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina, to the attacks on indigenous communities in Central America, numerous citizens have been killed and then their remains disposed of illegally.

Mexico is the latest country to be hit by a wave of desaparecidos, whose desperate relatives literally get down on their knees to dig the Earth and try to find an indication, anything, that could provide a clue on the ultimate fate of their loved ones. We cannot even imagine the pain of not knowing if a family member is alive or dead. Closure is also hard to attain as the circumstances of killings are rarely, if ever, clarified. 

Since 2006, when then president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa waged a direct, and many claimed poorly planned, war against the Mexican drug cartels, the country has become a mass graveyard.

 It is now common, although never ever acceptable, to hear about rural spots in which bones, clothes and other objects indicate that people have been killed. This reminds us, sadly, of dark passages in history, such as the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, which saw people of all ages and backgrounds murdered in what is infamously known as “the killing fields”. Well, some areas of Mexico are today’s cemeteries for those who faced death in a violent way, while possibly having been tortured. 

It is not only cartel members that are being found in clandestine burial grounds: rotting infant clothes are a common, heartbreaking sight.

In the past 13 or so years, numerous sites have been dug up by desperate relatives, and some by the authorities. In states such as Coahuila they have found the remains of numerous women and children who were caught at the crossfire of the cartel wars. Some migrants coming from Central America have allegedly also been murdered and then buried in the desert. Some corpses indicate that they were burnt or dipped in acid.

This is the true, dehumanizing face of the war on drugs that has plagued Mexico for decades, product of local corruption, weapons being sold by US arms dealers and the insatiable thirst for drugs in Global North markets including the United States, Australia and Western European countries. 

Families in states like Sonora take matters into their own hands and volunteer to form search parties: they are now being threatened.

The Northern state of Sonora, which borders with Arizona and New Mexico, is at the epicenter of the cartel wars. It has a vast border area that is prime “real estate” for traffickers trying to get their product (drugs or, increasingly, victims of human trafficking), from Mexico into the United States. A group of citizens has formed voluntary search parties looking for human remains under the blistering Sonoran sun. As if the task itself wasn’t taxing enough, they are now being threatened by armed men. 

A recent discovery in Puerto Peñasco by the “Searching Mothers of Sonora” group raised a red flag.

The Sonora state prosecutor has revealed that while the mothers were waiting for the authorities to arrive and start investigations on a recently discovered burial pit, a group of sicarios arrived and, gun in hand, threatened them and ordered them to leave. Excavations produced four skeletons, which now need to be identified through a lengthy and costly process of DNA matching. The number of disappeared in Mexico is in the thousands, so even if a body is found matching it with one of the entries in the vast databases (many of which don’t “talk to each other” in the sense that there is no reliable list of desaparecidos) is a hard task. 

These mothers have lost almost everything, so they are proud and fearless.

It is likely that these mothers won’t budge. Their work has extended for years and just last month they found another burial site containing 42 skeletons near an area known as Rocky Point. As Arizona Central reported, when these volunteers found the mass grave they clearly stated their drive behind such a consuming task that basically takes over their lives: “to bring peace to other families that are going through the same pain”.

The figures are overwhelming:  an estimated 40,000 people have gone missing and more than 3,000 graves had been found across the country, according to media reports. Just trying to grasp this figures makes our heads in. It is a geopolitical crisis that needs to be addressed by all parties involved, it is not merely a local problem. 

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