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Grim reminder of cartel violence: Mass grave with 168 skulls found in Mexico

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A mass grave with 168 human skulls has been discovered in the state of Veracruz in Mexico, authorities said, according to the New York Times. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/ Getty Images)

Authorities found a mass grave with 168 human skulls in the state of Veracruz in Mexico, The New York Times reported. It's a grim reminder of the tens of thousands of people who have gone missing in that country.

The condition of the remains and personal items suggest the victims may have been killed two years ago, Jorge Winckler Ortiz, the Veracruz attorney general, said in various media reports. In addition to the remains, more than 200 articles of clothing were found at the site.

What's the background?

The site is one of the biggest clandestine graves found in Mexico in recent years.

Federal officials have said that more than 30,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. Human rights groups, however, estimate that figure to be much higher.

Drug gangs are using Veracruz as a giant "dumping grounds" to dispose of their victims, the Times reported.

Winckler Ortiz indicated that a team of investigators found the cemetery on Aug. 8 by using drones and ground-penetrating radar. The human remains, along with “hundreds” of personal items, were buried in 30 spots, according to the reports.

Why was the site kept secret?

A witness alerted investigators about the grave site. The discovery was kept secret for a month because of safety concerns. Drug gangs have a strong presence in the area and have battled over control of the territory in Veracruz “for years,” the Times reported.

Veracruz has become one of the most violent states in Mexico. One of the gangs operating in the area, the Zetas, is among the most brutal in Mexico. The U.S. government lists them as a top organized crime priority.

In areas overrun by drug cartels, many missing people are not reported. Families are often fearful that police are secretly working with the cartels, according to reports. Or they believe police will not thoroughly investigate a missing person's report.

What else?

Last year, a mass grave with 250 human skulls was discovered on the outskirts of the port city of Veracruz. Winckler Ortiz said at the time they were most likely drug cartel victims. A group of mothers looking for their missing children discovered that grave, according to the Times.

Winckler Ortiz has described Veracruz as a “giant grave.” He also admits that authorities lack the capacity to identify all of the remains located in the various dumping grounds.

The state plans to ask Mexico’s federal police to conduct genetic tests of the remains and compare them to DNA samples in databases of missing people, Winckler Ortiz told the media.

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz is a major port city and municipality in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

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