Mexico 'narco-graves' mark a national crisis



Even for Mexico's canons of violence, it was a killing that made the country quiver. Last March three film students from Guadalajara's University of Audiovisual Media — in the western state of Jalisco — were tortured, murdered, and their bodies dissolved in sulfuric acid.

Musicians in Mexico City express through their songs the drama of the murder of young Mexicans.Mexico's Oscar winning film director Guillermo del Toro was speechless. 'Words are not enough to describe the dimension of this madness. Three students are killed and dissolved in acid. The "why" is unthinkable, the "how" is terrifying,' he tweeted.

In April the abysmally slothful Mexican judicial system revealed that the murder of the three students — Javier Salomón Aceves, 25, Marco Francisco Ávalos and Jesús Daniel Díaz, both 20 — was the work of a Jalisco organised criminal group — the so-called Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Apparently the students were mistaken for associates of a rival drug group.

The murders occurred four years after 43 teaching students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College in Ayotzinapa, Mexico's Pacific Coast state of Guerrero, vanished. The students had been arrested by the police while remembering the 1968 student massacre of Tlaleloco (committed by the Mexican army) and handed over to a Guerrero criminal organisation. They were murdered and their bodies burnt in a rubbish tip.

In Mexico, every two hours a person vanishes. Most likely they are executed and thrown into narco-fosas — the term given to the thousands of clandestine graves used by narco-organised crime to bury their victims. Most of the victims are young. More than 46,000 young people were killed between 2007 and 2016.

'Being young in this country means that if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, the smallest mistake in your behavior may involve your torture, death and dissolution in acid,' José Merino, political science professor at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, told me. 

According to Darwin Franco, an academic at the University of Guadalajara, since the emergence in 2007 of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the state of Jalisco — where the three cinema students were murdered last March — is one of Mexico's most lethal places for young people. Franco has meticulously documented the murder of young Mexicans since 2011.


"Against the total neglect shown by the Mexican authorities in finding the bodies of the thousands of missing young people, mothers are taken the job into their own hands — literally."


The killing of young people has generated a massive movement of Mexican students who are demanding an end to violence. Mexican writer and journalist Elena Poniatowska has described Mexico as a 'lost country'. She regards the student movement as the only hope to awaken this society from a nightmare of violence, corruption and impunity.

Thousand of mothers — whose children are missing — have joined this rising student movement. The mothers search for children who never returned home. One of those mothers is Guadalupe Aguilar — coordinator of the Jalisco based Families United by Our Disappeared — whose son José Luis Arana disappeared in 2011. The visibility of young people protesting on the streets, she said, is 'a source of hope' that violence will end and their love ones will be found.

Against the total neglect shown by the Mexican authorities in finding the bodies of the thousands of missing young people, mothers are taken the job into their own hands — literally. In 2016, 50 mothers from the Collective Solecito (Little Sun Collective) dug in what was the largest clandestine grave in Mexico. It was located nearly 15km from Xalapa, capital of the port state of Veracruz. The mothers found the grave after several strangers approached them at a march and handed them papers with hand-drawn maps. Since 2016 to 2017 they have managed to exhume 253 bodies.

The wave of murders of Mexico's young, usually aged between 15 and 24 years old, is due to two fundamental factors. The first is the war against the drug cartels and the capability of organised crime to recruit young people. The second is the lack of public policies and state development addressing the high level of unemployment among young Mexicans.

Approximately seven million young Mexicans under the age of 18 are unemployed and don't study. The only way out is to join organised crime. It is estimated that 30,0000 adolescents have become the cannon fodder for organised crime. They have become part of what specialists in Mexico call 'narco-exploitation'.

The Mexican state 'has left young people to the hands of organised crime', said Gerardo Rodríguez Sánchez Lara, from the Centre for the Study of Impunity and Justice at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla. For Luciano Concheiro, the renowned young Mexican philosopher, Mexico is living in 'an obscure, terrible and catastrophic condition', and 'the murder of young people has denied Mexico its future'.



Antonio CastilloAntonio Castillo is a Latin American journalist and Director of the Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, CPC, RMIT University, Melbourne-Australia.

Main image: Musicians in Mexico City express through their songs the drama of the murder of young Mexicans.

Topic tags: Antonio Castillo, Mexico, drugs



submit a comment

Existing comments

Mexico is the second most populous Catholic country in the world after Brazil with 83 per cent of its 128 million people baptised Catholics. Together with the rest of South America's predominantly Catholic population it is scandalously corrupt and evil to its core as this article documents. We have seen Mexico in April 2016 allow the genetic manipulation which produced the world's first baby with the genetic material of two women and one man contrary to all that Catholicism understands of God's creative intent for humanity and contrary to civil law in the civilised world. We have seen Argentina dispose of homeless vagabonds, using the military to round them up and dump them alive at sea from helicopters. We have seen Chilean bishops resign en masse over child sexual abuse. We have seen the whole of South America steeped in criminal drug dealing and murder. And we have seen the South American-centric Argentinian pope pitching the future of the Catholic Church towards South America while he ignores the destruction of the Church in Europe, the seed of Western Christianity, and advises the rest of the world on its ethics, politics and obligations to the planet's weather systems. Nowhere do we hear from him or his underlings any criticism of murder, corruption, abortion, euthanasia, drug addiction or the rampant godlessness in the world. God help us.
john frawley | 31 May 2018

What the world needs is a world body that can take action in failed states like Mexico and the Philippines. Sadly the United Nations is a badly flawed body, with Russia and China being two countries led by ruthless dictators having and using the power of veto.
Grant Allen | 31 May 2018

Given that the armed forces in this democracy have been virtually let loose on the cartels for many years with no success, perhaps the medicine is de-democratisation, as seen in current moves to amend the national constitution to allow the president to declare a state of emergency with the abrogation of civil rights, a move supported in the legislature by all parties including the Greens. If one may fantasise, perhaps mixing the Scandinavian response to prostitution (criminalise the employer but leave the employee alone) and the South African truth and reconciliation commission might help: rendition the cartel heads (the Mexican and US intelligence services will know who they are) to an inhospitable foreign country for a permanent incommunicado in a cell and give the worker ants – the people who do the actual dirty work, like dissolving students – an ultimatum: register with the commission to tell your story under oath in exchange for some form of redemption and protection against vigilante retribution, or take your chances with your neighbours when they realise that, without a powerful employer, you too could be made to look like a shrivelled Muammar Gaddafi surrounded by a mob.
Roy Chen Yee | 02 June 2018

John, With respect, while South and Central America, including Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic through an accident of history, the Catholic lay people like ourselves here in Australia, have little influence in the governance of the Church, let alone who is selected to 'lead' them. . I strongly feel that the church leadership should be far more outspoken about social justice issues than they are. I get the impression that sexual matters and keeping females out of decision making roles seem higher priorities than the real issues affecting ordinary Catholics such as; exploitation of the powerless by the rich and powerful , rampant inequality in society and environmental destruction to name just a few . I certainly agree with your remarks about the silence from Francis and his 'underlings' about murder, drugs corruption etc Sadly the church has lost much credibility by its coverups and silence on issues that concern us Catholics. Homilies persist talking about Dogma and obeying the rules, which are often archaic and at variance with todays understanding of the world and society from modern scholarship. The 'Pray, Pay and Obey' mantra still persists despite the best efforts of Vatican 11 to stamp it out.
Gavin | 04 June 2018

I just read this and I just feel sick. So easy to despair for the human race. We say the answer is to turn to God/faith/religion/Catholicism, but here is a whole continent that supposedly did that and well, this human horror. But did they turn to Catholicism/God, or were they pushed? The answer will determine the outcome of such a mission. I have only seen the movie 'The Mission' once...I cannot bear to see it again - it plays in my mind constantly anyway, and now so do the images painted here.
Stephen de Weger | 04 June 2018

Sadly, John Frawley, it's the ignorant and biased/privileged misconceptions about developing worl (the majority of the world's population) that led to what I'm sure you despise - liberation theology. You could really call it "desperation theology" or "survival theology". Or perhaps simply "reality theology". For all the "evil" and corruption you point out that occurs in Latin America, the extreme good deeds and acts of community mindedness, self-giving and good will far outweigh the image of "evil" you may glean from your privileged broadsheet newspapers. And to put this corruption into perspective - there would be no narcoterrorism in poor countries (and rich) without demand for substance escapism from cashed-up citizens of rich countries like Australia. We're all in this together!
AURELIUS | 04 June 2018

Hi Roy, Given that Australia continues to detain innocent refugee adults AND children indefinitely and fails to come to an agreement to do justice after a history of illegal European settlement, perhaps the UN should take control and dispense with democracy. Are you aware of the history of the majority of Latin American countries where democracy has been dispensed of in favour of right wing despots like Pinochet (supported by US -backed military funds and resources?) Why would you suggest that Australia is on higher moral ground than Mexico? Simply because Australia is richer?
AURELIUS | 04 June 2018


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up