Just when it seemed that it was impossible to think up barbaric new ways to end people’s lives, a new chapter has unfolded in Mexico. This time, a home video shows two white vans purportedly going to a funeral service on Sunday in San José de Gracia, a village in the state of Michoacán. There is melodic music in the background, although it is unclear where it is coming from. Around a dozen people are lined up against the wall of a house, as though facing a firing squad.
And so it is. A group of armed men take up their positions across from the house and fire their weapons, which look like assault rifles. The footage, which was taken from a nearby home, cuts away and then focuses back on the scene of the crime. A few bodies are seen dropping to the ground in a cloud of smoke from the gunfire. There is nobody left standing, they have all fallen to the ground. Some local media outlets have reported as many as 17 victims.
After the video went viral on social media, Michoacán prosecutors admitted in a short statement that even though forensic experts found signs of the massacre when they arrived at the scene, there were no bodies anywhere in sight. Instead, what turned up was a bag containing cleaning products, another one with some human remains, as well as shell casings strewn across the area. A motorcycle and two cars had bullet holes.
Authorities have pledged to send more patrols to the area, which is near the state of Jalisco. Michoacán and Jalisco have become two of the most violence-ridden territories in Mexico due to turf wars between powerful rival drug cartels.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Monday that an investigation is underway, and that he hoped “with all my soul” that those people had not been executed. “The report we were sent by Michoacán prosecutors said that no bodies were found; there was evidence of a confrontation, there were bullet casings, I think there were some remains, but no bodies [...] let’s hope it’s not true,” he said during his news conference on Monday.
The scene of the crime is a little village street lined with trees and low-rise homes. It happened in full daylight. Not even funeral wakes, it seems, can be peaceful when organized gangs are settling their scores. Death leads to death in a bloody spiral that seems to have no end in Mexico. It is often said that the 100 or so deaths that are reported daily on average give it the characteristics of a country at war. And this latest killing is the best reflection to date of that observation, as the style was closer to a wartime execution than to a faceoff between rival gangs.
Carteles Unidos, Jalisco Nueva Generación, Caballeros Templarios and many other criminal gangs have long been terrorizing people in the state of Michoacán. The fertile earth here provides rich crops, including the popular avocado that is exclusively exported to the United States. There is no business venture around here that does not end up in the hands of criminal groups. The latest threats to US inspectors recently led to a US suspension on avocado imports and losses worth millions of dollars.
Michoacán is also a state of armed civilians who are trying to deal with the narco menace in their own way, but which is ultimately leading to more massacres. There have been several episodes of severed heads inside nightclubs and bullet-riddled bodies hanging from bridges, grisly sights that have later been experienced in other states such as Zacatecas.
Last Sunday’s episode is another chapter on this road to hell. The Mexican army seems incapable of ending this war. A lot of information is still missing on the details of the Sunday killing. For now, all one can do is keep counting the dead.