Fifty dead bodies have been discovered over the past two days in western Mexico, victims of a fierce war waged between the government and the nation’s powerful drug cartels.
The bodies of 26 young men were dumped in three vehicles near a busy intersection in Guadalajara. It bore the signs of a drug vendetta and a chilling message of more to come in Mexico’s second city, set to host an international book fair this weekend.
The gruesome find came the day after 24 bodies were discovered in the city of Culiacan, in northwestern Sinaloa state.
A message found with the latest bodies said the peace enjoyed by the states of Jalisco and Sinaloa, allegedly as a result of agreements between local authorities and the Sinaloa cartel, was over.
“There were 26 corpses altogether, all male and aged from 25 to 35 years,” Fernando Guzman, a top official in Jalisco state, of which Guadalajara is capital, told a news conference Thursday.
Most of the men had been asphyxiated, some were naked and some marked with the words Milenio and Zetas — the names of drug gangs — in oil, Guzman said.
The Zetas — set up by ex-army officers turned hitmen in the 1990s — are blamed for extortion, kidnappings and murders in ever-increasing areas of Mexico.
The Milenio gang is known to operate in the region and media reports recently suggested it had joined forces with the Zetas.
“The Zetas are present in the north of Jalisco and they could have aligned with the Milenio gang … to fight for the plaza (drug trafficking area) of Guadalajara,” said Dante Haro, an investigator at the University of Guadalajara.
Jalisco state, known as a stronghold of the Sinaloa cartel of fugitive billionaire druglord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, has seen drug violence increase in recent months, including shootouts and roadblocks early in the year.
Governor Emilio Gonzalez said on his Twitter account he was “outraged” by the discovery of the bodies and called for a probe.
The spectacular act of dumping bodies on a busy highway echoed another in September in which 35 bodies were tipped out of trucks under a busy overpass in the eastern port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico.
“It looks like a copy of what happened in Veracruz,” said Jose Reveles, author of several books on drug trafficking. But he said it was necessary to wait for the results of an inquiry.
Authorities blamed the Veracruz killings on the New Generation drug gang, which has suspected ties to the Sinaloa gang and also calls itself the Zeta Killers.
The vehicles found Thursday was close to the city’s convention center, which will host the Guadalajara International Book Fair, the most important event of its kind in the Spanish-speaking world, starting this weekend.
Scores of authors, including Nobel laureates Mario Vargas Llosa and Herta Muller, were expected to attend.
Locals said that federal security forces deployed to secure the recent Pan American games in the city had only left on Wednesday.
A survey released this week found few Mexicans believe the government can defeat drug cartels as its military crackdown on organized crime enters its sixth year.
The poll, by the Mitofsky agency, showed 14 percent believed President Felipe Calderon’s strategy was succeeding, compared with 23 percent in a poll in March 2010.
The latest poll, of 1,000 people interviewed in October, showed 44 percent thought the situation would not improve during Calderon’s last year in office, which ends in December 2012.
Some 45,000 deaths have been blamed on rising drug violence since the start of the crackdown, which includes tens of thousands of security forces.
On Monday, a Mexican police commander and two other officers were found shot to death execution-style in Ciudad Acuna, in the northern border state of Coahuila.