PAPANTLA, Mexico – Relatives of missing people have been forced to dig in search of their graves in Veracruz, a Mexican community mired by drug trafficking violence.
Search groups, members of the National Guard and the Attorney General’s Office combed the undergrowth and litter in Paso de Coyutla for human remains and illegal cemeteries.
Around 300 relatives from 27 states braved scorching heat to take part in the largest search of its kind.
There are 61,637 missing people in Mexico, according to the Mexican Secretariat for Home Affairs.
Families have concentrated their work in northern Veracruz, a community plunged into drug trafficking violence and where the highest number of clandestine graves in the country are located.
They started in the early hours and worked until late in the evening, wearing hats and scarfs to protect themselves from the sun.
Maricel Torres, a member of the Maria Herrera collective in Poza Rica, said they came to the area after an anonymous report about the possible presence of the remains of a young woman.
The majority of the 601 clandestine graves discovered in Veracruz in recent years have been located thanks to anonymous messages.
One of them was a mass grave in Colinas de Santa Fe, in the port of Veracruz, where 298 skulls and 22,900 bone remains were found.
A total of 518 bodies, 560 skulls and 53,606 remains of men, women and children have been found illegally buried in the past eight years in the Veracruz area, which is disputed by Los Zetas, Gulf and Jalisco New Generation cartels.
The group of volunteers made a sweep on the site, accompanied by police dogs, with the hope of finding their missing loved ones.
Mario Vergara, a member of the search team, said: “We discovered that the authorities were doing a bad job, it can’t be that the families are now the experts and find what they can’t find.”
Vergara has been looking for his brother Tomas who disappeared on 5 July 2012 in the state of Guerrero.
He said that after years of searching families stopped looking for the culprits and have focused on finding their missing relatives.
A team of forensic experts has also been added along with trained members of state public security services.
During the search an announcement went out that human remains had been found on a mountainside.
The area was cleared and forensic teams began analyzing the remains and the location.
As the search continued families shared horrifying stories about people who had disappeared.
One said that in Guerrero, on the Pacific coast, they found human remains that had been thrown into latrines in an abandoned village.
Another said that in Sonora, in northern Mexico, bodies were found doubled over, blindfolded and handcuffed in small holes.
Relatives remained stoic, despite the intense heat, fatigue and emotional pain they were suffering.
They still had days ahead, because the search will continue until February 22.