Mexico confirms at least 2 Guatemalan migrants among 19 dead

Natalia Tomas keeps vigil next to an altar adorned with photos of her son Ivan Gudiel, in her home in Comitancillo, Guatemala, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. She believes that her son is one of the charred corpses found in a northern Mexico border state on Saturday. The country's Foreign Ministry said it was collecting DNA samples from a dozen relatives to see if there was a match with any of the bodies. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros)
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Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Prosecutors in northern Mexico confirmed Saturday that at least two of the 19 people found shot to death and burned near the U.S. border were Guatemalan migrants. Two other victims among the four identified so far were Mexicans, they said.

The forensic results confirmed the fears of families in a rural Indigenous farming community in Guatemala who have said they lost contact with 13 migrants last week as they travelled toward the United States. The bodies were found Jan. 22 piled in a burned-out truck on a dirt road in the northern border state of Tamaulipas. The truck had 113 bullet impacts.

A burned-out SUV found nearby had previously been seen in the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon, at a spot where 66 migrants were caught by police and immigration agents.

The Tamaulipas state prosecutors’ office did not release the names of the four victims identified so far.

Of the 19 bodies examined by experts, 16 were found to be males, one was confirmed as female and two others were so badly burned their gender had not yet been determined.

The killings revived memories of the 2010 massacre of 72 migrants near the town of San Fernando in the same gang-ridden state. A repeat of the 2010 massacre has long been one of the Mexican government’s worst nightmares.

In 2019, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, “We do not want a repeat of horrendous, regrettable acts like San Fernando.”

Relatives of migrants from Guatemala’s province of San Marcos are so convinced that 13 of the 19 charred corpses were their loved ones that some of the families already erected traditional altars to the dead, with flowers and photographs.

Some of the relatives in Guatemala told of receiving calls from the migrant smuggler who took the group of 10 males and three female north, telling them their family members were dead. Relatives said they lost contact with the ground around Jan. 21.

It is unclear why the 19 people were slain. There have been instances in which drug cartels charge migrant smugglers for crossing their territory, and kidnap or kill migrants whose smugglers have not paid.

Camargo, the area where the bodies were found, has long been the scene of turf battles between rival drug gangs as a major smuggling transit point for drugs and migrants. Organized crime groups covet control of stretches of the border because they make money off everything that crosses the border.

The town is near the edge of territory historically controlled by factions of the Gulf cartel and in recent years a remnant of the Zetas known as the Northeast cartel has tried to take over.

In August 2010, Zetas cartel members stopped two tractor-trailers carrying dozens of mostly Central American migrants and took them to a ranch in San Fernando. After the migrants refused to work for the cartel, they were blindfolded, tied up on the floor and shot dead.