Mexican authorities discovered at least 166 bodies at a mass grave site in Veracruz state, prosecutors said Thursday, the latest horrifying find in a region hit by bloody drug cartel turf wars.
Home to the city of Veracruz, one of Mexico’s largest ports, the eastern state has a history of corrupt politics and grisly power struggles between rival cartels — a toxic mix that has caused an explosion of violence.
“The remains of at least 166 people have been found” in the latest mass grave site discovered in Veracruz, state prosecutor Jorge Winckler told journalists, making it one of the largest such sites so far.
The grave is located in central Veracruz, but authorities are not releasing the exact location for security reasons, he said. Forensic specialists are still working at the scene.
Winckler said investigators had also found 200 articles of clothing, 144 ID cards and other personal belongings at the site since exhumations began on August 8.
An informer told authorities that hundreds of people in all were buried at the site, the state prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
“Based on forensic analysis of the discoveries, it had been determined that these are clandestine burial sites which are at least two years old,” it said.
Authorities have used drones and ground-penetrating radar to help them locate the bodies.
They released photographs of investigators combing through the thick vegetation at the site, wearing white protective suits and gloves.
There are at least 32 separate grave sites, they said.
Hit squads, corruption
Activists accuse the state’s jailed ex-governor, Javier Duarte, of presiding over a rash of human rights abuses in Veracruz.
Two former state police chiefs and a string of ex-officials have been charged with running hit squads that abducted and presumably killed unwanted individuals during Duarte’s administration, from 2010 to 2016.
Duarte himself is in jail awaiting trial for corruption, and prosecutors recently added charges of ordering the hit squads to “disappear” his enemies.
“These forced disappearances were not only carried out with his knowledge, but under his orders,” they said in June.
Investigators also accuse the ex-governor of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds to buy luxury properties, Miami vacation homes and thoroughbred horses, leaving the once-wealthy state on the verge of bankruptcy.
Some 3,600 people have gone missing in Veracruz since 2006, according to the new government.
Families of some of Veracruz’s legions of missing persons are still digging at another mass grave found in 2016, where 280 bodies have been discovered so far.
They recently announced they had received a tip-off from drug traffickers about another mass grave near that site containing as many as 500 bodies.
It was unclear whether the grave described by prosecutors was the same site.
Mexico has been hit by a wave of violence since deploying the army to fight the country’s powerful drug cartels in 2006.
Since then, more than 200,000 people have been murdered, including a record 28,702 last year.
Another 37,000 people are reported as missing.