03/27/14 (written by callison) — The number of mass graves found in Mexico over the past few months continues to rise, with several new graves discovered in February and March in Jalisco, Guerrero, and Michoacán. The recent discoveries come on the heels of 11 mass graves found in Coahuila in early-February, containing between 300 and 500 skeletal remains; multiple graves found in Jalisco and Guerrero in November 2013 that held 18 and 13 bodies, respectively; and the August 2013 discovery of 13 youth in a mass grave outside of Mexico City, which was connected to the Heaven’s nightclub case, among others.
Just weeks after reports broke on the Coahuila graves in early-February, a clandestine grave containing between 17 and 19 bodies was found on February 21 outside the town of Tlajomulco de Zúñiga in the state of Jalisco, which adds to the ongoing tally of mass graves with “dozens of bodies of presumed victims of drug cartels” in recent months. Authorities believe that the mass graves in Jalisco and the surrounding region may be attributed to the continued turf battles between organized crime groups (OCGs), specifically the New Generation Jalisco Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) and the Knights Templar organization (Caballeros Templarios) in the neighboring state of Michoacán, as they jockey for territory and control of the region.
A few days later, authorities excavated the remains of six bodies from another mass grave in Jalisco, this time in the municipality of Tonalá near the state’s capital, Guadalajara. The victims have yet to be identified. Although local authorities have no direct proof linking any specific organization to the graves, it has been suggested that the New Generation Jalisco Cartel is responsible. In total, media outlet Sipse reports that 42 bodies have been found in mass graves in and around Guadalajara since the latter months of 2013.
Civilian police groups in the Valle del Ocotito, Guerrero, then reported the discovery in early March of two charred bodies found in mass graves, bringing the total number of victims discovered in graves in the area since January 2014 to ten. More than 100 individuals from the rural valley have been reported missing, leading authorities and the civilian police, known as the Citizens’ Security System (Sistema de Seguridad Ciudadano, SSC), to continue their search for more bodies possibly connected to the disappeared. The SSC alleges that the Valle del Ocotito had likely been a dumping ground for OCGs to discard their victims. According to El Universal, the SSC leader, known as “Escudo,” added that the more than 100 disappeared persons exemplifies the impunity with which OCGs used to operate in the area, and that he expects to find more graves as the search continues.
Around the same time as the Guerrero story was breaking, an anonymous tip led authorities to a mass grave in early March containing at least 13 bodies in the municipality of Apatzingán, in the western region of Michoacán. According to La Jornada, the bodies are thought to be the victims of a family that was disappeared (levantada) in August 2013, though the State’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la Justicia del Estado, PGJE) is still investigating the links. Some sources also report on the possibility of the grave’s connection to the Knights Templar. Just one month before the Apatzingán discovery, authorities found a mass grave containing at least 20 bodies, several of which were decapitated, in Tinguindin, another municipality in western Michoacán. The decapitated heads were found nearby a local church and included a narco-message (narcomensaje) indicating cartel violence. As BBC News reported, a spokesman for one of the self-defense groups operating in the area “said the killings were probably a revenge attack carried out by [the Knights Templar].”
Although unconfirmed, the majority of the recent mass graves discovered in the past six few months are believed to be a result of the ongoing struggle between rival drug cartels vying for territory, and between drug cartels and the region’s self-defense groups. Read more about the Michoacán security situation here.