Mexico has yet to ID any of the 49 bodies found 2 months ago
2012-07-25 0:00

By Olga R. Rodriguez |

After police found 49 dismembered bodies strewn on a Mexican highway leading to the Texas border, it took the army just a week to parade an alleged drug trafficker before journalists as the man who purportedly oversaw the body dump.

Yet two months after the grisly discovery in Nuevo Leon state, authorities have not identified a single victim.

May 13, 2012 file photo, forensic experts examine the area where dozens of bodies, some of them mutilated, were found on a highway connecting the northern Mexican metropolis of Monterrey, Mexico, to the U.S. border.

The 49 bodies now appear headed for an increasingly common fate in this drug war-wracked country: They could join the growing ranks of the unidentified dead.

That group has become legion as nearly 16,000 bodies remain unidentified, says the National Human Rights Commission, an independent government agency. In total, 24,000 people have been reported missing. Many say the country’s police are simply overwhelmed by the number of drug war casualties as they struggle with poor forensic capabilities and the reluctance of some witnesses and victims’ relatives to help.

That apparent futility is drawing increasing criticism from Mexicans weary of the government-led offensive against drug cartels, who are also fighting among themselves. The violence in total has claimed at least 47,000 victims since President Felipe Calderon launched his anti-cartel campaign in late 2006.

"The level of violence we’re living with reflects
the critical condition our institutions are in, and it reveals a corrupt government," said Blanca Martinez of the Fray Juan de Larios human rights center in the northern border state of Coahuila. Hundreds of people have gone missing in Coahuila since 2009, when violence started to erupt in northeastern Mexico.

The most recent discovery of corpses shows just how hard it is to put names to often heavily mutilated bodies.

Although the 49 corpses all lacked heads, hands and feet, police performed DNA tests on them and compared the results, without luck, to hundreds of Mexicans reported missing.

The authorities captured Daniel Elizondo, the alleged cell leader for the hyper-violent Zetas drug cartel, and pinned the atrocity on him. But he and two other suspects arrested in the case apparently haven’t offered any information that could help investigators. The army has said Elizondo claims he was given the bodies by someone else.

The bodies of the 43 men and six women remain at a morgue in the industrial city of Monterrey where they’re marked "N.N." - the Spanish initials for "No Nombre," or No Name. They’ve also been given numbers as IDs, a state police spokeswoman said. Authorities believe the bodies were signs of yet another battle between the Zetas and their rival Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.

Now it’s up to the lead investigator to decide how long the bodies will remain at the morgue before they’re wrapped in blankets and buried side by side in common graves in cemeteries throughout Monterrey’s metropolitan area, said the police spokeswoman, who would not allow her name to be used under official policy.The bodies can stay in the morgue for a maximum of four months. By custom, Mexicans usually bury their dead within 48 hours.

Anguished relatives of the missing said they suffer in limbo awaiting any information about their loved ones.

"When they took my son, they destroyed me," said Maximina Hernandez, a 44-year-old maid from the Monterrey suburb of Santa Catarina whose police officer son was taken by gunmen minutes after ending a work shift in 2007. "The only thing I ask God is for some news, to know where he is. But there is no progress; there is nothing."

Hernandez has joined other people with missing relatives to push authorities to investigate the cases but said she’s been disappointed by the results so far.

She said police took DNA samples from her and her son’s father but never followed up on her suspicion that her 23-year-old son’s commander was involved in his disappearance. Last year, authorities detained the police commander along with more than 40 Santa Catarina police officers for allegedly working for the Zetas.


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