Mexican authorities from the southwestern state of Veracruz discovered thousands of human remains they believe belong to up to 400 people who were forcibly disappeared in the past few years, Veracruzan officials confirmed Wednesday.
“The forensic scientists have been working for three days at the El Limon ranch in order to pick up the remains and process them as they were being discovered,” a government source told Mexican news outlet Animal Politico.
Two of the bodies found at the ranch have been identified as belonging to the two students who were disappeared Jan. 11 by police, according to official sources.
Animal Politico, however, said the ranch was being used by an organized crime group, which they believe is working for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, an offshoot of the Sinaloa Cartel of world infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
The police sources who spoke with Animal Politico said they arrived at the ranch due to various citizen complaints, who among other things, told police that huge amounts of dirt and sand had been removed from inside the property.
“The police teams arrived to El Limon with dogs trained in locating human remains and once they detected the key areas where body fragments were, forensic experts began their work,” the news outlet added.
However, forensic scientists are facing problems with the blood, human parts and bones that are being found because the vast majority are in an advanced state of decomposition.
The Veracruzan state attorney general and federal authorities participating in the investigations have said they believe the victims were taken to the ranch and there their bodies were incinerated, crushed and then buried.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of the Interior’s head of human rights, Roberto Campa, confirmed that the ranch was used for mass disappearances.
Authorities already know who one of the owners of the ranch is, but have refused to publicly identify him, saying it would hinder the ongoing investigations.
“The name has not been revealed, but authorities said that one person purchased the ranch about three years ago and that the person lives in Veracruz, although in a different area,” Animal Politico said. “The owner is not from Tierra Blanca.”
On Jan. 11, five students from the community of Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, were abducted by municipal police officers. Only two of them have been found dead among the remains in the El Limon ranch.
The Veracruzan attorney general has issued warrants for the location and detention of the alleged owner of the ranch. He will be asked whether he knew of the illegal activities taking place on his property.
One line of investigation, according to Animal Politico, is that the ranch was being used by a gang working for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and that the local leader of this cartel, Francisco Navarrete, was the true owner of the property. Navarrete was arrested Jan. 24.
But Navarrete’s detention is plagued with irregularities, according to his relatives, who told Mexican daily Reforma that authorities “lied.”
Navarrete is from Tierra Blanca and according to his family he is an engineer who was working for the governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte.
The family showed photos and videos to Reforma proving that Navarrete was not detained where nor how authorities later claimed.
“To begin with, he and his son were not armed and they were detained in a routine police roadblock,” the relatives told Reforma, adding that since he had some kind of conflict with Duarte, the government decided to accuse him of the disappearance of the five students and of being the head of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in Tierra Blanca.
The El Limon ranch is about 40 miles away from where the five students were arrested by state police, which means they could have been taken to the property within an hour and 15 minutes.
When the ranch was first raided by police last week, two stolen vehicles were found as well as tools and equipment used for the illegal extraction of fuel. Also found was a workshop used to make hidden compartments in vehicles which had clear signs that people were being held there.
The zone where the ranch is located used to be controlled by Los Zetas, but as of 2013 the CJNG took over and has since increased their presence across the whole region.