The discovery of scores of clandestine graves in Veracruz in recent years, high levels of violent crime and the closure of several morgues have overwhelmed the state’s forensic services, forcing authorities to acquire another refrigerated container to store unidentified bodies.
From Poza Rica, a municipality in the central north region of the state, to Coatzacoalcos in the south, morgues have been shut down and abandoned, according to a report in the newspaper Milenio.
Among the morgues closed by state authorities between 2014 and 2016 despite rising levels of violence were those in Ciudad Isla, Acayucan, Oluta, Las Choapas, Agua Dulce, Nanchital, Minatitlán and Tierra Blanca.
Since the latter year, high numbers of hidden graves have been found in the Gulf coast state including 76 in the first five and a half months of the new federal government.
The remains of at least 350 bodies have been exhumed, according to collectives made up of family members of missing persons.
Edna López, a former morgue employee, said that before the facility in Ciudad Isla shut down in 2016 – the final year of the six-year administration of now-imprisoned former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte – the situation she and other workers endured was appalling.
“Things started to get bad because we filled up with bodies and they [the state government] didn’t send us resources, not even for soap. There was no money to repair the refrigeration room . . . At times, we had to buy, out of our own pockets, cloths and scourers to clean the tables, and even lab coats and aprons,” she said.
The morgue received so many bodies that it ran out of space to store them, López added.
“We didn’t have anywhere to store the bodies . . . sometimes they were on the floor and they stayed there for days . . .” she said.
López and other employees who lost their jobs at the shuttered morgues are still owed up to three months of unpaid wages, Milenio said.
Even though they were formally closed years ago, some of the morgues are still used intermittently by funeral parlors and regional prosecutor’s offices that are unable to transport bodies to the state capital, Xalapa, or the port city of Veracruz due to a lack of resources.
In a video report, Milenio showed shocking images of decomposing bodies in abandoned morgues that don’t have refrigeration facilities and are not equipped with the materials and instruments needed to examine and identify corpses.
At the end of Duarte’s administration, the Veracruz government purchased a refrigerated container with space for 300 bodies and in September last year another with double that capacity was acquired following the discovery of a mass grave in the fishing village of Arbolillo.
In February this year, the new state government rented or purchased another refrigerated trailer, which is currently located at the Xalapa morgue. However, authorities haven’t provided any information about the number of bodies stored in it or whether they were found in clandestine graves.
Lenit Enríquez, a member of a Coatzacoalcos collective of family members of missing persons, criticized authorities for not disclosing such information.
“They have the information but they don’t want to reveal it,” she said. “Nor have they told us the number of missing persons [in the state].”
Enríquez, whose sister disappeared in 2015 – allegedly after she was abducted by police and marines – added:
“When we make a discovery [of a hidden grave] they tell us that there are no reagents to identify the bodies or that they have to send them somewhere else, or that they’re in a poor state, or that there are no people to process them. It’s torture.”
The lack of morgue capacity is not a problem unique to Veracruz.
At least two trailers were used in Guadalajara, Jalisco, last year to store unclaimed bodies including one that was shuffled around the city’s metropolitan area, drawing the ire of residents who complained of fetid odors.
Authorities in Guerrero and Baja California, among other states, have also resorted to the use of refrigerated trailers as high levels of violent crime caused unidentified bodies to pile up.
Oaxaca Attorney General Rubén Vasconcelos said yesterday that forensic services across the nation are in crisis due to the large number of unidentified bodies that have either been exhumed from clandestine graves or are victims of the record homicide rates currently plaguing the country.
“There is a serious problem, there is a crisis on this issue in Mexico. The [nation’s] attorney general’s offices have to confront it by strengthening our technical capacities,” he said.