Authorities called it “the swimming pool” because the bodies in this mass grave were buried so close together — more than 250 skulls were found. This is one of more than 120 unmarked graves unearthed since August of last year over a large area in Santa Fe, a town in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
But Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his administration have acted as if this gruesome discovery has nothing to do with them — as if this mass grave is located in some faraway country.
Last year the first bodies were found with the help of the Colectivo Solecito, or the “Little Sun Collective” in Spanish — a group of 150 mothers who refuse to give up looking for their loved ones.
“We haven’t heard of any declaration by President Peña Nieto,” Lucia de los Angeles Díaz, the founder of Colectivo Solecito, told me recently. “The authorities charged with acknowledging the severity of the problem have failed to act.”
Along with the administration’s silence has come no funding to help identify the remains.
In Mexico, it seems that every day is Day of the Dead.
Last year, a person unknown to Lucia handed her a map labeled with crosses. Following a hunch, she took the map up a hill near Santa Fe where she came across some of the hidden graves.
Lucia hasn’t seen her son, Luis Guillermo, in almost four years. Luis, nicknamed “DJ Patas,” used to perform at the best parties in Veracruz. On June 28, 2013, as Luis was leaving an event in the early morning hours, armed men kidnapped him, Lucia says.
At first she had hoped it was an “express kidnapping” — where a victim is forced to withdraw money from several ATMs but is left alive to later share the frightening tale. Sadly, it wasn’t that kind of kidnapping.
Lucia refuses to believe that her son might be in one of those pits in Veracruz. Even though she has found no clues to his whereabouts, she reminded me about several cases of missing persons in Mexico who were found years later.
She didn’t cry during our discussion — for Lucia, this isn’t the time to cry. “We don’t question what we’re doing,” she told me. “We do it because we’re mothers. We fight, and keep looking until we find them.”
For tens of thousands of families in Mexico, the tragedy is redoubled: They can count on the authorities neither to find the lost ones nor to bring to justice the people who are responsible.
“It’s very unfortunate to have a government that doesn’t represent us, to have a government that isn’t accountable,” Lucia says, dressed in impeccable white, with a picture of her son on her lapel.
Mexico is a nation of graves. Peña Nieto’s administration has overseen one of the most violent periods in the country’s modern history. Since he took office in December 2012, more than 77,000 Mexicans have been killed, and more than 5,500 Mexicans have been kidnapped, according to official data.
Such staggering numbers seem to have numbed the Mexican people. As the shocking details about the grave in Veracruz started to trickle out this month, I expected to see mass protests on the streets of Mexico. I thought that the Mexican Congress would surely launch an independent investigation, and that the president would go on national television to announce his plans to identify the bodies and punish the culprits. But none of that has happened.
Perhaps it’s understandable. Two and a half years ago, 43 students from Ayotzinapa went missing. To this day nobody knows where they are or what happened to them. What can we expect, then, for Lucia’s son? In what sort of country does the discovery of 253 bodies in a pit not warrant action by the government? Such an atrocity can’t simply be accepted.
“It would seem we live in the worst of all worlds,” Peña Nieto said recently, “but we really don’t.”
Don’t we? Ask Lucia and the other mothers from Colectivo Solecito.