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32 more corpses found in Mexico pits; total at 177

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Like weathermen announcing the daily rainfall, authorities released another tally of corpses unearthed from pits in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas: 32 bodies discovered in the past week, bringing the monthly total to 177.

And that’s only in one region of the country.

The killing fields extend to the nearby states of Durango and Nuevo Leon and to the northwestern states of Sonora and Sinaloa, where so far this month authorities have found 68 bodies. They continue to dig for more.

The graves are discovered with such numbing regularity that “at this point nothing shocks us,” wrote Miguel Carbonell in a column for the daily El Universal newspaper published Thursday.

The drumbeat of dead has prompted scattered marches by outraged citizens and a call by Roman Catholic Cardinal Norberto Rivera to end the “demented” levels of violence in the country.

“When will this end, Lord?” Rivera cried during a Holy Thursday Mass, according to the front-page reports of several daily newspapers.

“How many innocent people murdered by cowards? How many people kidnapped and extorted, tortured and violated, stripped of their dignity and their freedom, their belongings and their lives?”

The latest bodies were found in eight pits in the town of San Fernando, Tamaulipas state prosecutors said in a statement released late Thursday.

Authorities began exhuming corpses in San Fernando on April 1 after they were led to the site by suspects who confessed to kidnapping and killing bus passengers traveling through the area. It is the same region where authorities say the Zetas drug gang killed and buried 72 Central American migrants in August.

Prosecutors said that 122 of the unearthed bodies could be those of passengers, who began disappearing in late March. The other 53 were killed before the kidnappings, they said.

The Zetas are also suspected in the latest massacre. Federal prosecutors have detained more than 60 suspects in the case, including the alleged leader of the Zetas’ San Fernando cell, Martin Estrada.

The motive for the bus abductions remains unclear, though prosecutors have suggested the gang may have been forcefully recruiting people to work for it.

Many of those who have disappeared are poor men from the Mexican countryside traveling to northern Mexico or heading to the United States in search for work. Most were never reported missing by their families out of fear.

But the widespread coverage of the clandestine graves has prompted 345 people who have missing relatives in Tamaulipas to come forward, state prosecutors say. So far, authorities have only identified one of the bodies from the pits: that of a Guatemalan migrant. They believe most of the victims are Mexican.

The harrowing discovery has also led several Mexican states to start keeping tallies of missing people.

The Zetas and rival Gulf Cartel have been locked in a vicious fight since last year in Tamaulipas and in neighboring states over lucrative drug transit routes to the U.S.

On Tuesday, federal police rescued 68 people, including 12 Central American migrants, in the border city of Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas. Some of the victims told police they were taken by members of the Gulf drug cartel from buses heading to Reynosa’s bus station or from the station itself. The route is frequently used by Central Americans seeking to enter the United States without documents.

The federal Public Safety Department said the group was rescued after federal agents went to a neighborhood in Reynosa to check on a tip and ran into two armed men, who ducked into a house where the kidnap victims were being held.

Eight Guatemalans, two Hondurans, a Salvadoran and a Panamanian were among those freed, the department said.

Cartel hit men have been increasingly using clandestine graves to dispose of their victims and their enemies as turf battles rage in several states.

Prosecutors in the state of Durango said Thursday they have recovered 37 bodies that were buried at a vacant lot in the state capital of the same name.

The grisly Holy Week discovery came just days after police found 10 complete bodies, three headless bodies and four severed heads in a pit in Durango, a state that has become a battleground between the Zetas and Sinaloa drug cartels.

Prosecutors did not say whether the bodies were found in small pits or, as in the case of the 177 bodies in Tamaulipas, in mass graves.

The steady stream of grizzly drug-related violence in Mexico has almost inoculated public opinion to every additional horrifying discovery, said Robert Pastor, director of the Center for North American Studies at American University in Washington.

“Americans have heard so many of these terrible reports, just like Mexicans, that they are not really sure what more there is to say or do,” Pastor said. “Both our countries and governments are staggered by the atrocities and everyone is looking for some path to ending them but it keeps getting worse.”

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