Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jun 2010
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: William Booth, Washington Post


Many times, the victims in Mexico's drug war simply disappear. Just a
few miles outside this quaint tourist town filled with silver jewelry
shops, Mexican authorities discovered where some ended up.

For months, maybe for years, feuding drug mafias have unloaded their
bound-and-gagged victims from pickup trucks and car trunks and thrown
them down a deep, dark hole.

For the past year, locals reported rumors of strange vehicles at
night. And in May, the Mexican military arrested some gunmen who
revealed the existence of a mass grave, the largest ever found in Mexico.

It does not look like much from the surface. A simple concrete-block
building, tagged with graffiti, covers the entrance to a ventilation
shaft designed to feed air into nearby silver mines. The mines have
been closed for three years by striking workers demanding better pay.

State investigators rappelled down the 15-foot-wide shaft through
darkness to reach the bottom, 50 stories down, where they found a
cold, dripping-wet cavern filled with noxious gases. As they panned
their headlamps around the cave, they found what they think are the
remains of 64 people.

"It was like a quicksand, but filled with bodies," said Luis Rivera, a
young criminologist.

Some cadavers were mummified, others were dismembered by the fall and
at least four victims had been decapitated.

Investigators said it also appears that many victims were alive when
they were thrown down the shaft. Medical examiners have identified
only eight bodies so far.

As Mexico fights a U.S.-backed war against the powerful criminal
mafias, the news headlines continue to numb. The media reported on the
mass grave for a few days and then moved on.

But increasingly, the violence is reaching popular tourist spots -
safe zones that before seemed off-limits to the killers.

In the resort city of Cancun, authorities last week uncovered the
remains of 12 people in nearby sinkholes, known as cenotes.

The hotel zone in Acapulco has been the scene of hours-long gun
battles between military and assassins, who have used grenades in the
fights. In Michaocan, where tourists flock to see the annual migration
of monarch butterflies, cartel gunmen ambushed a convoy of federal
police, killing 15 two weeks ago.

Taxco was supposed to be a safe haven. Built to mine silver, Taxco
today is a hill town of red tile roofs, restaurants with sweeping
views and shops selling silver jewelry to no one these days.

A few blocks from the central square, neighbors declined to speak much
about an attack in which military forces, acting on a tip last week,
killed 15 cartel gunmen at an apartment house on a quiet street. The
street-level apartment, its windows shot out, still smells rank with
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