Mistake may have led to mass grave deaths in Mexico

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By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 10:42 PM

MEXICO CITY - Investigators finished removing 18 bodies from a mass grave near Acapulco on Thursday amid speculation that the victims may have been killed by mistake.

Prosecutors and police said forensic teams had not yet identified the bodies, but it was possible they had uncovered the remains of 20 men from the western state of Michoacan who were kidnapped a month ago in Acapulco and have not been seen since.

Authorities were led to the site by a video posted on YouTube by a drug-trafficking organization and by anonymous calls to police. The video shows two men answering questions from an off-camera interrogator and apparently being forced to confess that they killed the men from Michoacan and buried them near the village of Tunzingo south of Acapulco.

In the video, the two men on camera say the killing was over lucrative drug sales and trafficking routes in the area.

According to reporters at the scene, the bodies of two men resembling those on the video were found beside the mass grave near a sign reading: "The people they killed are buried here.''

A group calling itself CIDA, an acronym that officials say means Independent Cartel of Acapulco, claimed responsibility for the video and the information that led authorities to the grave site.

The families of the men say they were mechanics who had saved up for a weekend fling in the resort city and had nothing to do with drug trafficking. Investigations by police also suggest that the men had no criminal records or ties.

Mexican drug cartels and shadowy groups of narco-vigilantes have begun to post incriminating videos of forced confessions on the Internet, subsuming the role of the state - and sometimes judge, jury and executioner.

"This is a strategy they have learned from the Islamic terrorist organizations and brought to Mexico," said Martin Barron Cruz, a researcher at the National Institute of Criminal Science in Mexico City.

He said the Internet offers the criminal groups an anonymous tool, without rules, and a powerful medium for propaganda. It not only allows the warring groups to blame one another - rightly or wrongly - for crimes, but it also challenges the authority of the state by making the criminals the instruments of vigilante justice.

Barron suggested that the drug mafias are aping techniques used by the Mexican government, which scores public relations points by parading suspects before the cameras - even if many of those arrested are never formally charged and their cases fall apart.

In recent weeks, criminal gangs have posted videos of men being forced to say that an assassination squad is operating under the control of a prison warden - who was later fired - and posted accusations by the brother of the former attorney general in the northern state of Chihuahua. In that video, top prosecutor Patricia Gonzalez is accused, along with the governor and a military general, of working for the local cartel and orchestrating political murders.

The newspaper El Diario in Ciudad Juarez reported Thursday that Mario Gonzalez, the brother of the ex-prosecutor, was found dead and had been buried alongside three or four unidentified bodies north of Chihuahua City.

The bodies found near Acapulco were badly decomposed and in a shallow grave in a coconut grove, said Enrique Gil Mercado, a special state prosecutor. The families of the missing men are heading toward the city to help with the identifications.

Sources in the Mexican military told the Milenio news organization that evidence suggested the bodies were those of the missing men from Michoacan, though that could not be confirmed.

Researcher Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.

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