Migration is on the rise on the border partially due to the economic toll of the pandemic and now it’s feared migrants were caught in the crossfires of cartel violence. Mexican authorities found 19 bodies that had been shot and burned bodies in Camargo, a town across the Rio Grande from Texas. The Tamaulipas state prosecutor’s office said on Saturday that officers arrived to find two abandoned pick-up trucks on fire, with one containing four bodies and the other 15, Newsweek reported. However, an official confirmed that the killings were first discovered by residents on Friday, but the authorities were not told until earlier this week as they feared reporting them, The Independent reported.
Following the news it was feared that Guatemalan migrants were among the dead, if confirmed, the attack would be among the worst atrocities in recent years against Central Americans in Mexico, Reuters reported. All migrants crossing Northern Mexico have to pay off the cartels that control the territory they are passing through, Vice reported. If they don’t pay, they risk being kidnapped or killed as they control the area, according the outlet.
“Preliminary investigations point to the fact that the cause of death were shots from firearms, and that then the bodies were set on fire,” authorities said according to Newsweek. “One of the lines of investigation is that the events could have happened at a place other than that of the discovery.”
The area is known for “constant fights between rival criminal groups that traffic drugs, arms and migrants,” a source close to the investigation, who declined to be named, told Reuters. The Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement that Guatemala’s embassy in Mexico and consulate in Monterrey were communicating with state and federal authorities “to determine if among the victims is any person of Guatemalan nationality.”
Camargo is a major smuggling transit point for drugs and migrants and the cartel is known to make money off migrant crossings. Guatemalan Maya families provided officials with DNA samples but they had little doubt about the identities of the bodies, Vice reported. “The coyote [people smuggler] that transported them… told us that yes, it’s them that were killed,” Olga Pérez, the mother of Santa Cristina García Pérez told a local news outlet. According to the outlet she was carrying her daughter who has a cleft lip and shared that Santa wanted to find work in the U.S. to help pay for surgery for her sister.
DNA samples will be compared with samples taken from the bodies by the prosecutor’s office in Tamaulipas. The prosecutor’s office said the victims included 16 men and a woman. They were unable to determine the gender of two others, Reuters reported.
“Right now, I just ask the authorities to bring me the body of my daughter, even if it’s just ashes,” Olga said. “I want to bury my daughter.”