We don't have to go halfway around the world to be horrified by killing fields and innocent people being slaughtered. We just have to look south a few miles. First, Tracy Wilkinson from Matamoros in tomorrow's L.A. Times.
Suitcases started piling up, unclaimed, at the depot where buses crossing northern Tamaulipas state ended their route. That should have been an early clue.
Then the bodies started piling up, pulled by forensic workers from two dozen hidden graves in the scruffy brush-covered ravines around the town of San Fernando, 80 miles south of this city that borders Brownsville, Texas.
At least 177 corpses have been recovered in the last few weeks, most of them, officials now say, passengers snatched from interstate buses, tortured and slaughtered. Women were raped before being killed, and some victims were burned alive, according to accounts from survivors who eventually overcame their fears and came forward.
It gets worse. Nick Miroff and William Booth filed Sunday from San Fernando for the Washington Post on a "new level of barbarity" in the drug lords' war on the people of Mexico.
At the largest mass grave site ever found in Mexico, where 177 bodies have been pulled from deep pits, authorities say they have recovered few bullet casings and little evidence that the dead were killed with a gun.
Instead, most died of blunt force trauma to the head, and a sledgehammer found at the crime scene this month is believed to have been used in the executions...As many as 122 of the victims were passengers dragged off buses at drug cartel roadblocks on the major highway to the United States.
On Thursday, cartel gunmen sacked the city of Miguel Aleman, across the river from Roma, Texas, tossing grenades and burning down three car dealerships, an auto parts outlet, a furniture store and a gas station. Three buses were strafed with gunfire Saturday in separate attacks, wounding three people.
The U.S. State Department issued new warnings Friday advising Americans to defer nonessential travel to the entire border state of Tamaulipas and large swaths of Mexico because of the threat of armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping and murder by organized crime.
In the red dirt tombs of San Fernando, almost all the bodies were stripped of identification, meaning no licenses, bus ticket stubs or photographs of loved ones, according to interviews with local and state officials, making the job of notifying next of kin especially difficult.
Booth is the Post's former Los Angeles bureau chief. He pegs the toll at more than 35,000 dead — "thousands more have simply disappeared" — in the four years since the government of President Felipe Calderon went to war with the drug cartels.