Bodies Of 72 Massacred Migrants Found In Mexico

Authorities have found the bodies of 72 people at a ranch near Mexico's border with Texas, apparently all killed in recent days. The Mexican government says that the 58 men and 14 women found murdered could be migrants from Ecuador, Brazil and Central America who were heading to the United States.

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Mexican authorities are reporting the latest horror in a war already known for its extreme brutality. On a ranch about a hundred miles south of Brownsville, Texas, 72 people have been murdered. The Mexican government says that the 58 men and 14 women found dead could be migrants from Ecuador, Brazil and Central America who are heading to the United States.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Mexican marines discovered the bodies after a wounded migrant from Ecuador stumbled up to a military checkpoint and asked for medical help. The man pointed the soldiers to a nearby ranch. After a shootout with heavily armed gunmen, the Mexican troops found six dozen corpses scattered around the property. The shootout left one soldier and three of the gunmen dead.

The Mexican navy says it also seized 21 assault rifles, almost 7,000 rounds of ammunition, several flak jackets and camouflage uniforms. Local media interviewed the Ecuadoran who said the dead were migrants who had been kidnapped by organized criminals.

There's been a huge increase over the last few years of kidnapping and extortion of migrants by gangs affiliated with Mexico's drug cartels. Father Jean Antonio Baggiot(ph) runs a shelter for migrants in Nuevo Laredo. Father Jean is in the same state of Tamaulipas as where the 72 corpses were found. He says the criminals completely control the Mexican side of the border.

Mr. JEAN ANTONIO BAGGIOT (Priest): They really control the river and they stop anybody who tries to cross by themselves without their permission. They have to pay. If they don't pay they get beaten up or killed.

BEAUBIEN: Father Jean says the number of migrants trying to get across the border right now is low, in part because of the violence. Tamaulipas is in the midst of a bloody turf battle between the zetas and their former bosses, the Gulf Cartel, for control of the border between Laredo and Brownsville.

Rupert Knox was the lead researcher earlier this year on a report for Amnesty International about the escalating dangers facing migrants as they try to cross Mexico. He found that there's an elaborate network of criminals who grab migrants off trains or near the border. The gangs then force the migrants to provide them with a phone number of either relatives in the United States or back home.

Knox says the kidnappers call the relatives and demand between $500 and $5,000 for the migrants' release.

Mr. RUPERT KNOX (Amnesty International): And in many instances, anybody who can't pay or doesn't have relatives or haven't got a number, they will kill on the spot as a warning to others to produce the information.

BEAUBIEN: Mexican officials say they're still investigating the mass killing in Tamaulipas. A local paper says the migrants appeared to all have been murdered over the last few days. Even by the standards of Mexico's incredibly bloody drug war, this is one of the largest massacres in the country since violence started to rise sharply several years ago.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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