Gang violence in Mexico: 19 bodies discovered in latest grisly find

11 June 2024, Mexico, Yajalon: Soldiers are deployed at an emergency shelter for evacuated villagers. Due to a violent conflict in a community in southern Mexico, more than 4,000 villagers have been evacuated by soldiers and taken to two emergency shelters. This was announced by President Obrador on Monday after local media reported on violence between drug cartels in the village of Tila in the state of Chiapas at the weekend. Photo: Isaac Guzman/dpa (Photo by Isaac Guzman/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Soldiers are deployed this month at an emergency shelter in Yajalón in Chiapas state, after violence between drug cartels led to the evacuation of thousands from around another village. A brutal drug war has convulsed Mexico's poorest and southernmost state. (Isaac Guzman/Getty Images)

Social media users in Mexico have been circulating a video featuring especially grisly images: a tangle of bloodied bodies, some in tactical gear, lying in a dump truck.

A narrator on the video speaks of the remains as trophies and boasts that the carnage in Chiapas state was the handiwork of the Sinaloa Cartel, once the fiefdom of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, whose successors are moving to expand the imprisoned kingpin’s former drug-smuggling empire.

This week, Mexican authorities said they discovered 19 bodies on an isolated dirt road, the latest deaths in a brutal trafficking war that has convulsed Mexico’s poorest and southernmost state.

The men had been shot dead, according to Mexico’s Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection, their bodies found in and around the abandoned truck. At least six carried Guatemalan identification.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday called the loss of life "lamentable” and blamed a confrontation between two armed groups.

“What motivates this?” López Obrador asked at his morning news conference. “The traffic of drugs and also the traffic of migrants, of people.”

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The president, whose six-year term ends Oct. 1, has disputed estimates from U.S. officials and others that up to one-third of Mexican territory — including much of Chiapas state — is under the effective control of criminal groups.

The Sinaloa Cartel and its major rival, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, are said to be battling to control lucrative smuggling routes in Chiapas, which shares a long and largely remote border with Guatemala. It was not clear whether the dead were affiliated with the Jalisco cartel; nor did authorities clarify if they were executed or killed in a shootout.

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The area is a prime trafficking corridor for cocaine from South America as well as migrants from across the world who enter Mexico from Central America en route to the United States. The lure of illicit profits has drawn criminal mobs to the scenic zone of jungles, mountains and rivers, where much of the population is Indigenous.

“Unfortunately, Chiapas has been caught in the middle of this trafficking war for both drugs and migrants,” said Mike Vigil, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's overseas operations. “Smuggling migrants has now become a multibillion dollar business for the cartels.”

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The Chiapas turf war has wreaked havoc in the once-peaceful state, leaving scores dead, forcing thousands to leave their homes and cratering a once-thriving tourist industry.

"Violence has spread like a cancer in our state," the Chiapas-based Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center of Human Rights reported in April. "This situation is characterized not only by the armed confrontation among criminal groups, but also the intent to control, with strategies of terror, the social, economic and political life of the communities."

While the mayhem in Chiapas is often described as a battle between the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, dozens of armed criminal gangs operate in the state, experts say, some allied with larger groups and others semi-autonomous.

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The Chiapas municipality of La Concordia, where the bodies were found, has seen waves of violence in recent months.

A spate of attacks on mayoral candidates and their entourages in Chiapas in the run-up to last month's elections left at least 16 dead, including Lucero Esmeralda López Maza, a 28-year-old woman running for mayor in La Concordia.

A series of gun battles there in April killed at least 10, according to police, though a human rights group put the death toll at 25.

Times special correspondent Cecilia Sánchez Vidal contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.