72 bodies have been found dumped at a ranch in northern Mexico after a shootout with gunmen from a suspected drugs cartel in a state that Lindsey Hilsum argues is under threat from the drugs barons.
The bodies, said to be 58 men and 14 women, were found near the border city of Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state. It is an area that has been at the centre of a bloody turf war between rival drug gangs.
Marines at a nearby checkpoint were alerted by a wounded man who said he had been attacked by gunmen at the ranch. Navy aircraft were deployed – and as the marines approached, they were fired on by the gunmen who then tried to flee in a convoy of vehicles.
When troops searched the area they discovered the bodies – although they have not revealed when the victims were killed.
The Mexican government condemned what it called “the barbarous acts committed by criminal organisations.”
In a statement, the Navy said “Society as a whole should condemn these type of acts, which illustrate the absolute necessity to continue fighting crime with all rigour”.
It appears to be the biggest mass grave linked to drugs violence since President Felipe Calderon launched his assault on drug trafficking almost four years ago. In July, 51 bodies were discovered buried in a field outside the northern city of Monterrey, many of them were thought to be rival traffickers.
Six weeks earlier, 55 bodies were found in an abandoned mine in Guerrerro state, which had until now been the largest discovery of its kind.
The politician tipped to win the gubernatorial election in Tamaulipas was shot dead days before the poll in another attack blamed on the cartels.
Five mayors have been killed by suspected traffickers this year, after they had stood up against organised crime.
Recently four decapitated and mutilated bodies were discovered hanging from a bridge in a popular resort outside Mexico City, while another two bodies were found dumped on Tuesday.
More than 28,000 people have lost their lives since the drugs offensive began in 2006.
Journalists have been kidnapped, even executed, hampering efforts to report events. The violence has also spilled over the border into American border states. In Texas, buildings were hit by bullets from drug-gang related gun battles.
The Mexican government sent in tens of thousands of troops and federal police, backed by millions of dollars of US aid, in an effort to curb the gangs smuggling narcotics over the border into the United States.
Several high-ranking drugs lords have been killed, and tens of thousands of gang members arrested. But the ongoing violence has hit Mexico hard, damaging businesses and scaring off tourists and foreign investors.
Analysts said the battle against the gangs is being hampered by corruption among the police and justice system.
President Calderon warned yesterday that yet more bloodshed was likely in future. But he remained optimistic, telling a local radio station the increasing bloodshed showed the gangs were on the run.
“I don’t rule out that there might be more bouts of the violence we’re witnessing”, he said.
“And what’s more, the victory we are seeking and will gain is unthinkable without more violence. This is a process of self-destruction for the criminals.”
The struggle to report an increasingly violent drug war
Thirty journalists have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon started his war on the drug cartels in 2006, making Mexico the most deadly country in Latin America for the media, writes International Editor Lindsey Hilsum.
Most are victims of the drug cartels, not caught in crossfire but targeted for reporting what is going on. Last month, four reporters from the central Mexican state of Durango were kidnapped after reporting a prison riot, which followed the revelation that the prison governor was allowing inmates to go out at night and commit murders.
The journalists were freed only after their TV station agreed to broadcast a video, produced by one of the drug cartels, which showed corrupt policemen who were apparently working for a rival cartel.
Today, attention has turned to Tamaulipas state where police have found 72 unburied bodies dumped on a ranch. They are presumably victims of the ever more vicious drug war, which in this part of Mexico pits Los Zetas against the Gulf Cartel. In recent weeks, the industrial city of Monterrey, Mexico's wealthiest, has been almost brought to a standstill by cartel road blocks, kidnaps and gunbattles, following the murder of a local mayor. Police chiefs, political candidates and senior state officials are frequently targeted for assassination.
The drug gangs are trying to seize the Mexican state, and closing down the media is just one part of their plan.
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