In a war where
less than one in 20 crimes is investigated, the conflict's most
fundamental questions -- who is doing the killing? whom is being killed?
why? -- remain unanswered
Morgue workers prepare a coffin with the words "Unknown 49, Colony San Vicente" to be buried along with other unidentified bodies found recently in mass burials / Reuters
MEXICO CITY, Mexico -- On any given day in Mexico, tens of people will die in the violent conflict between government forces and criminal cartels. Some of them will be decapitated, others left with graphic messages on their corpses. Bodies will hang from bridges or turn up in mass graves. Still other casualties will be exacted on the streets in gun battle. As best anyone can count, between 35,000 and 40,000 people have died in Mexico over the last five years. And nearly all of those deaths have been violent. They're also becoming more common: The number of deaths in the conflict increased by 60 percent between 2009 and 2010.
The death toll is shocking, but the story gets worse from here. No one knows much about who these tens of thousands of people were -- whether the dead were criminals, soldiers, policemen, or just plain civilians. Nor is it clear why they are being killed; the vast majority of deaths are never investigated. Mass graves are dug up with back hoes rather than archaeological brushes. Decapitated corpses are attributed to the cartels, often without evidence, and quickly buried. All of this means that no one knows exactly why Mexico, which has been home to drug cartels for decades, has suddenly descended into brutal war. No one knows how many people are dying, or why. And no one knows why it is getting worse.