Mexican drug lords, having diversified into human smuggling, have committed a monstrous atrocity:
Gunmen from a drug cartel appear to have massacred 72 migrants from Central and South America who were on their way to the U.S., a grisly event that marks the single biggest killing in Mexico’s war on organized crime.
Mexican marines discovered the 72 bodies—58 men and 14 women —on Tuesday after the lone survivor of the massacre, a wounded migrant from Ecuador, stumbled into a Navy checkpoint the previous day and told of being shot on Monday at a nearby ranch, Mexican officials said on Wednesday.
When the marines went to investigate, they were met with a hail of gunfire from cartel gunmen holed up at the ranch, which sits 90 miles from the U.S. border. One marine and three alleged gunmen died during a two-hour battle, which ended when the gunmen fled in a fleet of SUVs, leaving behind a cache of weapons.
The Ecuadorean migrant told investigators that his captors identified themselves as members of the Zetas drug gang, said Vice Adm. Jose Luis Vergara, a spokesman for the Mexican navy.
An Ecuadorean citizen escaped from a remote ranch in eastern Mexico and stumbled wounded to a highway checkpoint, where he alerted Mexican Navy marines. One marine was killed in a firefight after marines went to investigate the ranch.
“This illustrates that organized crime has no limits or moral qualms about what they are prepared to do,” Alejandro Poire, head of the government’s national-security council, told a news conference.
The incident highlights the extent to which Mexican drug gangs, which used to focus exclusively on ferrying narcotics such as cocaine to the U.S., have diversified into other lucrative criminal activities such as human smuggling and extortion.
At the going rate of $5,000 to $7,000 charged by smugglers to cross the U.S. border, the 72 people represented about $500,000 to the drug gang, said Alberto Islas, a Mexico City-based security consultant. The gang may have simply killed the migrants after they refused to give them more money than they had already given them, he said.
Mexican officials said they didn’t know why the migrants—believed to be from El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador and Brazil—were killed. Mexican newspapers, citing an unnamed federal official, speculated that the migrants were killed for either refusing to give the drug gang more money to cross the border, or for declining to join the gang’s criminal activities as drug couriers, gunmen or prostitutes.