As Mexican authorities raise the body count for a mass grave discovered last week in the northern state of Tamaulipas, InSight takes a look at the phenomenon of these "narcofosas," where victims of drug violence are disposed of.
On April 1, Mexican security forces investigating the abduction of several bus passengers in Tamaulipas stumbled on a series of mass graves located outside the small town of San Fernando, not far from the site of the massacre of 72 mostly Central American migrants in August. Although local media reported that the graves contained a total of 58 bodies in all, officials have raised the total to 72, which, in an eerie coincidence, exactly matches the number of migrants killed last summer.
Authorities have yet to identify all of the bodies, but official say that all those identified so far are Mexican citizens, not migrants. According to Mexico’s El Universal, many of the victims were forcibly taken from buses traveling on a local highway, although it is unclear whether they were taken at random or whether the kidnappings represent a kind of forced recruitment. This was reiterated by the local government (see video below). Because authorities have implicated the Zetas criminal syndicate in the killings, the abductions could potentially have been part of a targeted attack on the group’s rivals, the Gulf Cartel. Authorities said there were fourteen people captured but did not reveal if they were members of one group or another.
Whatever the motive behind the killings, the Tamaulipas "narco-grave" is the actually the third such mass burial site to be found this year, after two others were discovered in Mexico State and Guerrero. Although the other graves were much smaller, they were also linked to organized crime.
Despite the fact that the media generally portrays all such findings as the result of massacres, most of the graves serve as depositories for area drug gangs looking for a discrete place to hide the executed bodies of their rivals or victims. As such, the bodies are often not all dumped at once, but rather accumulate over a period of time.
Below is a map showing the location of the most recent narco-grave discoveries, with a short description of each one. Although it is difficult to deduce any specific pattern from this map, it is worthwhile to note that the graves are more common in states with the most disputed territory between organized criminal gangs, such as Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Guerrero.
View InSight Map: 'NarcoFosas' Mexico in a larger map