Violence of U.S.-Backed War on Drug Gangs Spreads to Mexican Tourist Spots

 
By William Booth
     June 24 (Washington Post) -- TAXCO, MEXICO -- Many times,
the victims in Mexico's drug war simply disappear. Just a few
miles outside this quaint tourist town filled with silver jewelry
shops, Mexican authorities discovered where some ended up.
     For months, maybe for years, feuding drug mafias have
unloaded their bound-and-gagged victims from pickup trucks and
car trunks and thrown them down a deep, dark hole. It is one of
the most macabre spectacles in a drug war that each week brings
news of greater barbarities.
     For the past year, locals here reported rumors of strange
vehicles on the road at night. And in May, the Mexican military
arrested some gunmen who revealed under pressure the existence of
a mass grave, which is the largest ever found in Mexico.
     It does not look like much from the surface. A simple
concrete-block building, tagged with a crawl of graffiti, covers
the entrance to a ventilation shaft designed to feed air into
nearby silver mines. The mines have been closed for three years
by striking workers demanding better pay from the owner, one of
the biggest corporations in Mexico.
     State investigators rappelled down the 15-foot-wide shaft
through darkness to reach the bottom, 50 stories down, where they
found a cold, dripping-wet cavern filled with noxious gases. As
they panned their headlamps around the cave, they found a
subterranean killing field. Initially, they thought there were 25
dead, then 55. But as they struggle to reassemble the bodies at
the morgue in the capital city, they think they have found the
remains of 64 people.
     "It was like a quicksand, but filled with bodies," said Luis
Rivera, a young chief criminologist, who was one of the first to
descend into the mine.
     "We were stepping on them," Rivera said. "It was a very
challenging working environment."
     The recovery of the remains took five days, and the work of
identifying the dead has just begun, a task made more difficult
by the fact that some cadavers were mummified, others were
dismembered by the fall and at least four of the victims had been
decapitated.
     "There are headless bodies, but some of the heads don't
match the bodies," Rivera said.
     Based on examinations of wounds, investigators said it also
appears that many of the victims were alive when they were thrown
down the mine shaft.
     A few might even have survived the fall before they
succumbed to injuries.
     Medical examiners have identified only eight bodies so far.
One was Daniel Bravo Mota, a Guerrero state prison director who
had gone missing in late May.
     As Mexico fights a U.S.-backed war against the powerful
criminal mafias, the news headlines continue to numb. The media
reported on the mass grave for a few days and then moved on.
     But increasingly, the violence is reaching popular tourist
spots -- safe zones that before seemed off-limits to the killers.
     In the resort city of Cancun, authorities last week
uncovered the decomposing remains of 12 people lying in nearby
sinkholes, known as cenotes. Earlier, they had discovered six
others. Three were found with their hearts removed. Some had the
letter "Z" carved onto their abdomens, a clue perhaps left by the
paramilitary drug cartel known as Los Zetas.
     In the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit, just north of Puerto
Vallarta, the governor, Ney González Sánchez, abruptly suspended
the school year three weeks early as anxious parents, upset by
rumors and threats on social media outlets such as Twitter and
YouTube, demanded action but feared attacks on children.
     The hotel zone in Acapulco has been the scene of hours-long
gun battles between the military and cartel members, who have
used grenades in the fights. A cartel leader was found and killed
by Mexican marines in a luxe condo in colonial Cuernavaca. In
Michaocan, where tourists flock to see the annual migration of
monarch butterflies, cartel gunmen ambushed a convoy of federal
police officers, killing 15 of them two weeks ago.
     Taxco was supposed to be a safe haven. Built to mine silver
and developed in the early colonial period by the soldiers of
conquistador Hernán Cortés, Taxco today is a hill town of red
tile roofs, restaurants with sweeping views and lots of shops
selling silver jewelry to no one these days.
     A few blocks from the central square, neighbors declined to
speak much about an attack in which military forces, acting on a
tip last week, killed 15 cartel gunmen at an apartment house on a
quiet street. The street-level apartment, its windows shot out
and walls pocked with bullet holes, still smells rank with blood.
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