MEXICO CITY (AP) — Search dogs led authorities to the grisly discovery of four clandestine graves containing at least 33 bodies in a sugarcane field in Mexico's Pacific coast state of Nayarit and officials said Wednesday the killings were likely linked to the drug trade.
The graves were found in the township of Xalisco, which has long been the home base of a black-tar heroin trafficking ring that supplied the U.S. West Coast. The discovery comes amid a dispute between drug gangs in Nayarit following the March arrest of the former state attorney general, Edgar Veytia, on U.S. charges of drug smuggling.
Current state Attorney General Petronilo Diaz said local gangs have been engaged in power struggles since Veytia's arrest.
"The assumption is that these were people who were involved with one of the various criminal groups, but I can't say which one," Diaz said, referring to the bodies in the graves. He said some of the bodies had apparently been dismembered before burial.
"This breakdown among the drug gangs we are seeing now in Nayarit comes as a result of the arrest ... of an official (Veytia) from the previous administration," Diaz said. "That is when these criminal groups start fighting, and that's when this mess we're seeing started."
Corrupt officials in Mexico have sometimes enforced a sort of rough peace by favoring one drug gang over the others or dividing territories.
The burial pits came to light when some families searching for missing loved ones found remains on Saturday after receiving a telephone tip from local residents. The first pit contained nine bodies and was located near a stream in a sugar cane field. Trained dogs then led searchers to three other pits nearby.
The bodies were so badly decomposed that neither their gender nor identity could be immediately established. The remains had been buried for about an average of six months, investigators believe.
Only one body still had a legible tattoo that might help identify it; the others are being subjected to DNA testing, officials said.