02/12/14 — At least 11 mass graves linked to criminal organizations have been discovered in northern Coahuila, which lies on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Undersecretary for Locating Disappeared Persons (Subprocuraduría Especializada en Localización de Personas Desaparecidas) reported that between 300 and 500 skeletal remains were found, although state officials have not confirmed that count. According to Juan José Yáñez Arreola, a state attorney for the Search and Investigation of Missing Persons (Investigación y Búsqueda de Personas no Localizadas), “The majority of the remains are almost fully intact bones, though some of them were found charred due to someone’s attempt to disintegrate them through incineration.” Some reports add that a full skull was also found, along with clothing and materials that should be helpful in identifying the victims. The graves are located in public and private land in the municipalities of Acuña, Allende, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jiménez, Monclavo, Morelos, Nava, Piedras Negras, Villa Unión, and Zaragoza.
The month-long effort to uncover the graves came after Mexican authorities received an anonymous tip through email. The tip led initially to the questioning of more than 30 municipality officials, including former police and police chiefs, and the 11 previous mayors of the municipalities in which the remains were found. The on-the-ground operation included the use of 250 military and police, trained dogs, specialized equipment, and a helicopter, along with assistance from various government agencies. Officials have since arrested ten suspects in connection with the graves, including four former policemen from the municipality of Nava. Authorities also seized two vehicles and two firearms thought to have been used by organized crime groups in connection with the killings and graves.
Despite the progress made in the discoveries and arrests, the organization Coahuila’s United Efforts for Our Disappeared (Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila, FUNDEC) has leveled critiques at the government’s efforts. According to Radio Fórmula, FUNDEC suspended communication with government officials after determining the operation to discover the graves was merely a political move. It argued that officials were failing to follow protocols to protect evidence, and the graves and remains, calling the investigations into both the graves and those responsible for the crimes “a pure fallacy.” FUNDEC urged officials and media sources covering the topic to respect the victims and their families throughout the continued investigations. It is believed that it will take up to four months to identify the remains.
The Coahuila findings add to the list of mass graves discovered in Mexico in recent years, including the 2011 discovery of 193 migrants in Tamaulipas, the 2012 finding of 49 victims in Nuevo León, the August 2013 discovery of 13 youth connected to the Heaven’s nightclub case in a grave outside of Mexico City, and the November 2013 graves in Jalisco and Guerrero, among others.