Hundreds of skulls have been found in hidden graves in Mexico's Gulf coast state of Veracruz. They appear to be the victims of drug cartel violence from many years ago.
A total of 124 graves have been located with 242 skulls on the outskirts of the city of Veracruz, an unnamed senior official at the prosecutor's office said on Tuesday.
A witness to the digging saying there were "a lot of young women's clothes, credentials, shoes and garments that look like they belong to inner-city kids."
Jorge Winckler, a senior prosecutor in Mexico's Gulf eastern coastal state of Veracruz said the clandestine burial pits appeared to contain the victims of drug cartels killed many years ago.
"For many years, the drug cartels disappeared people and the authorities were complacent," Winckler said, in apparent reference to the administration of fugitive former Governor Javier Duarte and his predecessors.
"I cannot imagine how many more people are illegally buried there," Winckler said, noting the state has reports of about 2,400 people who are still missing. "Veracruz is an enormous mass grave," he added.
Veracruz is one of the most violent states in Mexico and has been the scene of disputes between "Los Zetas" and Jalisco "Nueva Generacion" drug cartels.
Six month investigation
The bodies were found over a six-month period, with the first discovered in August near Veracruz by the volunteer collective "El Solecito," which was formed by relatives of those who had disappeared.
Victims' advocacy groups have long excavated and pressed authorities to excavate such sites to find missing loved ones. After initial discoveries, these organizations then turn over the digging of the graves to forensic experts.
Elsewhere in Mexico, hidden graves have been found containing hundreds of bodies. In January, 56 bodies were found in a grave in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, where drug cartels vie for control of the routes toward the US.
Tens of thousands killed
Drug wars in Mexico claimed over 80,000 lives between 2006 and 2015, according to analyst estimates in the 2015 US Congressional Research Service report. The associated violence has killed innocent bystanders, migrants, journalists, government officials, and people who refused to join cartels.
The country's drug cartels are estimated to take in between $19 billion and $29 billion annually from US drug sales.
Many of the Los Zetas drug cartel are ex-elite members of the Mexican military. Some of the group initially worked as hit men for the Gulf Cartel before becoming independent and made their mark with an unprecedented level of savagery, suspected of targeting migrants who can't pay extortion fees.
Leaving bodies and body parts in public places has been a hallmark of the notorious cartel's work, as has torture. The group's former leader, Miguel Angel Treviño Morales - aka "El 40" or "Z-40" - had a reputation for using "guisos," the Spanish for "stew," a term used for burning someone alive. He was arrested in 2013.
jbh/kl (AP, AFP)