Authorities in Mexico have reported 19 shot and burned bodies were discovered near a rural town right across the Rio Grande close to Texas. The location has been a battlefield for a violent turf war between organized crime gangs in past years.
Late on Saturday, the Tamaulipas state prosecutor’s office stated that the bodies were found alongside a dirt road on the outskirts of Camargo after locals in the area reported to the police they’d seen a vehicle set ablaze. Authorities then stumbled upon two vehicles still in flames, one of which loaded with four bodies and the other contained the remaining 15. Three rifles were said to be also discovered at the scene.
All the victims had fatal gunshot wounds, but no shells were present on the scene, which caused investigators to conclude that the victims were killed at another location and moved.
“Preliminary investigations point to the fact that the cause of death were shots from firearms, and that then the bodies were set on fire,” the statement read.
“One of the lines of investigation is that the events could have happened at a place other than that of the discovery.”
Autopsies are in the process of being performed; however, authorities caution that because of the condition of the bodies, identifying the victims may be difficult or impossible.
An official from Camargo, who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, confirmed that the murders happened sometime on Friday, but the residents in the area had been too afraid to report them. He said the location is known for “constant fights between rival criminal groups that traffic drugs, arms, and migrants.”
Rumors surfaced in Guatemala on Sunday that Guatemalan migrants were among some of the bodies found.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed in a statement to the press that Guatemala’s embassy in Mexico and consulate in Monterrey were working alongside state and federal officials “to determine if among the victims is any person of Guatemalan nationality.” The statement said that the authorities had mobilized consular aid protocols.
Camargo is known as a massive smuggling route for drugs as well as illegal migrants. Organized crime gangs fight over control of territory near the border because they stand to make significant money from everything that crosses into the United States.
Camargo sits on the edge of territory typically dominated by the Gulf cartel and in recent years a remaining band of the Zetas, now known as the Northeast cartel, has been trying to expand their territory.
Both criminal enterprises are sending convoys of armed men to have a street war over 43 miles of unprotected border between Tamaulipas and Texas known as la Riberena. In their many conflicts, assailants from both sides implement armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and explosives.
A year earlier, in January 2020, another 21 mostly charred bodies were discovered in assorted vehicles near the outlying town of Ciudad Mier. Only days later, it was reported that the Mexican army shot down 11 supposed gunmen in the same area.
Carmago is a town with a population of about 15,000 people. It sits right on the borders of the state of Texas and is close to the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.
Mexico has listed 34,523 assassinations in 2020, a slightly less deadly year than the record of 34,608 which was set in 2019.
Cartel-related violence has skyrocketed in Mexico since 2006, with the country seeing over 300,000 killings since that time.
The U.S. Department of State has an ongoing “do not travel” warning for the state of Tamaulipas attributed to crime and kidnapping. U.S. officials warn travelers that organized crime activity, including gun battles, murder, extortion, and sexual assault, is frequent near the northern border and in Ciudad Victoria.
In 2015, soon-to-be president Donald Trump warned:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. […] They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”