Mexico is accustomed to horrific cartel violence. More than 70,000 people have been killed in cartel-related bloodshed (some reports put the death toll closer to 100,000), and thousands more have gone missing since former president Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on drug gangs in 2006. However, protesters recently rocked a number of Mexican cities demanding justice for 43 students that were kidnapped on Sept. 26, 2014. On Oct. 4, 28 charred bodies believed to be those of the missing students were found buried in mass graves outside the town of Iguala, in the state of Guerrero, and 20 corrupt police officers were arrested for working in cahoots with the local cartel. The student massacre and subsequent protests have dominated national news, but it is just one of many cartel massacres that have plagued Mexico in recent years.
10. Torreon, Coahuila: 2010
“They came in, opened fire, and shot everything that moved,” an official at the state prosecutor’s office in Coahuila said. In 2010, 17 young people were killed at a private birthday party when gunmen burst onto the private grounds. The majority of victims in the drug war are rival cartel members or traffickers; however, the Torreon birthday party massacre represents a growing trend of narcoterrorism in which innocent people are targeted by spectacular displays of firepower. The first public attack at a mass gathering in Mexico came in 2008, when cartel members tossed a grenade into a plaza during independence celebrations. Today, public narcoterrorism is a common occurrence.
9. Nuevo, Laredo: 2012
The Nuevo Laredo massacre was a series of attacks between the allied Sinaloa Cartel and Gulf Cartel against Los Zetas. Nuevo Laredo is a border city. Drug cartels are continually fighting over Intestate 35, which is one of the most lucrative trafficking routes in the country; it’s estimated that 40 percent of all cargo crossing from Mexico to the United Sates comes through checkpoints in Nuevo Laredo. In 2012, 23 people were found dead -nine bodies were discovered hanging from a busy overpass, and 14 more were found decapitated and stuffed in plastic bags in a Chrysler Voyager in Nuevo Laredo. The Sinaloa Cartel was implicated in the massacre.
8. Boca del Rio, Veracruz: 2011 massacre
Two abandoned dump trucks carried 40 dead bodies. Thirty-five had been hogtied and the remaining five butchered into little pieces. This is the macabre scene that greeted authorizes during the morning rush hour in Veracruz, Mexico, in 2011. If that discovery wasn’t gruesome enough, each of the 40 bodies had the words “POR Z” written on them –a signature of Los Zetas Cartel. Among the dead were several Municipal Police Agents.
A message was tied to the back of one of the trucks. It read as follows: “NO MORE EXTORTION, NO MORE DEATHS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE! ZETAS OF THE STATE OF VERACRUZ: THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU. AND TO THE PEOPLE OF VERACRUZ, DON’T PAY ANY FEES TO THE ZETAS, ALL THEY DO IS EXTORT YOU!”
7. Cadereyta, Jimenez: 2012
In the early morning hours, gunmen dumped 49 bodies onto Mexican Highway 40 outside of Cadereyta. All 49 victims (46 men and three woman) were stuffed in plastic bags; their bodies bore signs of extensive torture and their heads, hands, and feet had been cut off, making identification impossible. There are unofficial reports, however, that the death toll was 68 people. Los Zetas Cartel was blamed for the incident, but the group denied any involvement. Some reports say the victims were Gulf Cartel members, while others suggest they were U.S. bound migrants.
6. Taxco, Guerrero: June 2010
In June 2010, Mexican police discovered at least 55 bodies in an abandoned silver mine in Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico. Officials speculate that the mass grave may have held up to 100 corpses. According to reports, some of the victims were believed to have been thrown in the mine alive and to have died of starvation. Members of the Beltran Leyva cartel allegedly carried out the killings.
5. Monterrey, Nuevo Leon: 2011
On August 25, 2011, members of Los Zetas Cartel stormed the Casino Royal, killing 61 people and injuring dozens more. According to media reports, most of the people who were killed were women. Surveillance of the attack shows four vehicles with well-armed gunmen. After firing into the casino, the gunmen doused the building with gasoline and started a fire, trapping people inside. The massacre is the most violent in the history of Monterrey, and it is believed to be the result of the split between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas.
4. La Barca, Jalisco: 2013
Agents of the Jalisco Prosecutor General’s Office exhumed 67 bodies in a field near the town of La Barca, close to the division between Jalisco state and Michoacan state. A few days later, another five corpses were unearthed in a mass grave in the state of Jalisco. The killings are believed to be connected to an ongoing turf war between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Knights Templar, and most of the 72 bodies are believed to be members of the Knights Templar Cartel. According to the Borderland Beat, the mass graves were discovered after 20 people, including local police, were detained as part of a kidnapping ring.
3. San Fernando, Tamaulipas: 2011
In 2011, in what is known as “the second massacre of San Fernando,” Los Zetas Cartel kidnapped and killed 193 people and buried them in 47 clandestine graves at La Joya ranch. The cartel hijacked passenger buses on Mexican Federal Highway 101, and authorities began investigating the disappearances when suitcases and baggage went unclaimed in Reynos and Matamoros, Tamaulipas. This is the second cartel-related atrocity to strike San Fernando. In 2010, gunmen killed 72 migrant workers from Central and South America. In response to the San Fernando massacres, the Mexican government sent 650 soldiers to the region and established a military base. By August 2011, 82 members of Los Zetas had been arrested in connection with the murders.
2. Allende, Coahuila: 2011
The massacre in Allende, a town in Los Cincos Manantiles named for the water springs that sprout across the plains, has been cloaked in secrecy for three years and authorities are yet to disclose what really took place. Police found 500 body parts partially dissolved inside metal barrels. The victims are connected to the disappearance of over 300 people at the hands of the Zetas cartel. The cartel also looted and destroyed dozens of homes and buildings in the area. According to VICE News, the massacre was the result of two men –Luis Garza and Hector Moreno – stealing money from the Zetas Cartel. The killings and destruction were ajuste de cuentas, or a “settling of accounts.” Unfortunately for the people of Allende, both Garza and Moreno are living in the U.S. as protected witnesses.
1. Durango, Durango: 2011
According to El Universal, security forces dug up 23 mass graves in and around Durango in 2011 and 2012. More than 350 corpses were discovered. The mass graves were the first of their kind in the state of Durango. At one of the burial sites, a vacant auto repair lot that had 89 bodies, authorities were able to identify the body of Alfonso Pena, the former mayor of the municipality of Tepehuanes, Durango. In 2013, authorities arrested Mario Nunez Mesa and charged him with orchestrating the Durango massacres on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.