Exhumation began yesterday of more than 100 bodies buried by authorities in a mass grave in Morelos so they can be identified and buried once again in proper, marked graves.
A team of investigators set up a system yesterday at a cemetery in the town of Tetelcingo, near the city of Cuautla, whereby bodies are being dug up with picks and shovels, removed from the grave and washed before a sample is taken for DNA testing. They are then re-embalmed and transferred to another cemetery for reburial.
The procedure faced an early delay in an apparent disagreement over the terms of an agreement between possible family members, federal authorities and the Autonomous University of Morelos, which is carrying out the identification by comparing genetic samples with families of missing persons.
One disputed point was the public nature of the process: it had been agreed that all should be carried out publicly and the procedure visible to those in attendance, who include families of missing people, the media and human rights observers. The intention was to make it “as transparent as possible,” said a university spokesman.
The grave came to light last year after the state prosecutor’s office was ordered to exhume a body and deliver it to family members. But it proved necessary to dig around dozens of bodies wrapped in plastic and bearing no identification or documentation linking them to case files.
How that happened is being investigated by the state prosecutor.
“It is extremely important and the highest responsibility to count the bodies, give them a dignified burial, take samples, which is the most important, to see if a relative here or in another state or beyond these borders is looking for a relative and who could be here,” Javier Pérez Durón told The Associated Press.
But Autonomous University rector Alejandro Vera accused Pérez of contempt for contravening the judicial order that allowed possible relatives to witness the process of exhumation and identification, which delayed yesterday’s start.
The prosecutor appeared to be representing other interests, said Vera, “because it is certain that [in those graves] there will be crimes, forced disappearances and unseemly burials.”
“This is a government that has no human face; the prosecutor is not on the side of the victims,” said Vera, who worked with families of missing people from around Mexico in efforts to persuade state authorities to open the grave. In the end they had to obtain a judge’s order for the exhumation to go ahead.
That process got under way yesterday afternoon at one o’clock, with members of the public in attendance. Each body takes 40 to 60 minutes of work by forensics specialists; the process is expected to take two to three weeks.
Most of the 118 people buried in the grave are believed to be victims of organized crime between 2010 and 2013. They were both men and women.