VERACRUZ, Mexico – The families of people who have gone missing in recent years in the Mexican Gulf coast state of Veracruz said on Thursday they have concluded their search for bodies at a clandestine grave regarded as the largest in Latin America.
The members of Colectivo Solecito (Solecito Collective), an association of mothers and other relatives of missing persons who in 2016 located that giant mass grave on the outskirts of the port city of Veracruz, bid a teary farewell to the site with a concluding Mass.
A total of 298 skulls and 22,000 bone remains were found there over the past three years as a result of joint efforts that were spearheaded by that collective and assisted by federal and state authorities.
One member of the collective, Rosalia Castro Toss, described the years-long search at Veracruz’s Colinas de Santa Fe neighborhood as a “watershed” for the different groups trying to locate their family members.
“We’re satisfied because some mothers from our collective and other collectives had the peace of knowing where their children were,” she said.
Over the past decade, Veracruz has been beset by violence attributed to a fierce rivalry among three drug cartels: Los Zetas, Gulf and Jalisco Nueva Generacion.
Those turf wars and efforts by the security forces to battle the gangs have left behind a grisly trail of death in Veracruz over the past eight years, with the discovery of 601 clandestine graves containing 518 bodies, 560 skulls and 53,606 bone fragments of men, women and children, according to official figures.
According to data compiled since leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office last December, Veracruz is one of the seven Mexican states – along with Colima, Tabasco, Sonora, Zacatecas, Guerrero and Jalisco – with the largest concentrations of burial sites and bodies.
Roughly half of the human remains found in Veracruz have been discovered at the giant mass grave in Colinas de Santa Fe.
Colectivo Solecito, which has received international recognition for its efforts, has been among the organizations most active in the search for missing persons.
Its founder, Lucia de los Angeles Diaz Genao, told reporters that the big challenge now is to identify many more of the bodies discovered in Colinas de Santa Fe, given that only 22 of those remains have been identified thus far.
“The problem we still have is a lack of genetic profiles of the families that we can cross-check with the discoveries ... Solecito has a database with 2,000 profiles, but it’s still not enough,” she acknowledged.
The activist, who launched her struggle after the disappearance of her son, said the federal Attorney General’s Office has shown no interest in leading campaigns to gather genetic profiles and identify human remains.
With the conclusion of their work at Colinas de Santa Fe, the collective now will head up an effort to search for missing persons at three other clandestine graves discovered in recent weeks in Veracruz, a state where at least 5,000 people have been reported missing.
Officially, the Mexican government acknowledges more than 40,000 unsolved missing-persons cases, 26,000 unidentified bodies lying in morgues across the country and 1,300 clandestine graves nationwide.
Alejandro Encinas, the deputy secretary of Human Rights, Population and Migration, pledged three months ago to obtain assistance from international organizations in improving Mexico’s search for missing people and its support for victims’ families.
The government took steps in March to reorganize the approach to the problem, resurrecting one federal commission and creating a new one alongside it.
The tragedy of the disappeared “is the legacy of a wrong and failed policy to confront the violence in the country,” Lopez Obrador said on May 14, referring to the strategy of militarizing the struggle against the drug trade that then-President Felipe Calderon launched in December 2006.