We notice all kinds of things in our daily lives that we don’t think twice about: a car driving by, a mother pushing a stroller, the ice-cream truck jingling its way through the neighborhood and the children that follow, bright smiles on their faces. But what we don’t see is that sometimes an otherwise normal occurrence is actually something else…
In the case of this grim story, it happens to be a little bit of both. It was not unusual for 18-wheeler trucks to pass through Guadalajara, Mexico. Indeed, in the somewhat dilapidated neighborhood of Paseos del Valle, a freight truck is hardly a remarkable sight to behold. Then again, most trucks don’t have police escorts…
It was a white tractor unit pulling what was clearly a refrigerated trailer. This was of course indicated by the polar bear logo emblazoned on the side of it. Refrigerated trucks weren’t exactly unusual to behold in Mexico and most assumed the vehicle was likely transporting groceries or other such perishable goods.
Running For Weeks
What was unusual about the truck was the fact that it was being tailed by a number of police trucks as it drove, and that it had been casually drifting around the suburbs of Paseos del Valle for about two weeks. If it was delivering refrigerated goods, then they were sure to be spoiled by now.
Stuck In The Mud
One day, the mysterious truck got caught in a morass of mud between a cornfield and a row of houses. Before the police and drivers could extricate the vehicle, a crowd of people and dogs had gathered around it. They wanted to know what the truck was all about and why it had been there for so many weeks.
A few young people pushed past the scant officers and ran to the trailer doors, throwing them open. A pungent odor spread out from the open doors. The gathered dogs barked irritably at the smell. Alejandro Espinosa, a hospital worker who lived nearby knew that odor all too well; he knew it as the unmistakable stench of death.
Truck Load Of Evidence
Peering inside the horrible smelling, though slightly chilly trailer, the town residents saw what was giving off the pungent smell. There, piled unceremoniously, were scores and scores of dead bodies. They were strewn about the truck haphazardly, wrapped in garbage bags and duct tape.
The townsfolk demanded that the police tell them what this gruesome scene was about. After some cajoling, the local authorities eventually came clean. They confirmed that the 273 corpses within the trailer had been dumped there on purpose by the government. But why had these bodies been driven around for weeks, and who did they belong to?
The police couldn’t hide the truth any longer, so they came clean. The bodies had been the victims of the seemingly relentless spread of violent crime that had affected the region in recent months. The local morgue simply hadn’t had enough space for the new arrivals and they had used the normally stationary trailers to store bodies for over two years.
The discovery became a scandal in due course, and it didn’t help matters that the macabre revelation came about on Mexican Independence Day, a national holiday. It was a damning comment on the state of the nation and as more information became released to the press, it revealed much about Mexico’s current troubles in regards to crime and violence.
Since the 1980s, Central and South America have found themselves on the front lines when it came to drugs and violent crime. The death of Colombian Kingpin Pablo Escobar did little more than creating a power vacuum for more brutal, cunning criminals to come after. If Escobar was Vlad the Impaler, El Chapo and the new breed of criminal he represents would be the Devil.
In the past 12 years alone, more than 200,000 have died as a result of Mexico’s militarized war on drugs. That’s not even counting the additional 35,000 people who have gone missing. Guadalajara isn’t the first morgue to become overwhelmed and inundated, but it is the largest and most prominent.
Perhaps, the most jarring aspect about the crime wave is the jarring indignity with which the government has treated its victims. It is a poignant symbol of the crisis as a whole and the indifference of the spectators and the law keepers is quite telling. In other parts of the world, such a thing would be viewed as abominable, here, it’s just another crime story.
El Chapo’s infamous Sinaloa cartel isn’t the only criminal organization working in Guadalajara today. The violent wave of crime has swept other cartels, like the up-and-coming Jalisco New Generation cartel into the equation as well. Nevertheless, there are at least 20 other Mexican states facing the same problem.
Local officials had something of a weak answer when asked why they didn’t just send the bodies to another morgue to be identified and processed. They explained that as of even a week before the truck was found, 444 bodies were still waiting for identification. People and work were literally piling up past the point of processing.
It wasn’t until 2016 that the Mexican government tried to get a handle on the gobs of bodies being left in the wake of the clashing cartels. Their stopgap measure was to start storing bodies in refrigerated trailers until a new, larger cemetery could be constructed. Unfortunately, the complaints of local residents halted that process.
The first trailer was growing closer to capacity every day and authorities had to move the once-stationary storehouse to make space for a second. They tried hiding it in a local warehouse at Tlaquepaque, but the building had no permits and the trailer was found by municipal inspectors. They promised to keep it secret, but it was only a matter of time.
Guadalajara has a pretty conservative reputation amidst other Mexican cities, but it has also been the site of many drug-motivated crimes, including murdered Cardinals and DEA agents. They have tried to tout themselves as the Silicon Valley of Mexico, but even that is being attributed to criminal intervention and a surge in money laundering.
In the end, the trailer full of corpses is just the tip of the iceberg. There are an estimated five state investigators currently assigned to handle missing person cases and each one has about 400 cases on their desk. The problem goes past the bodies themselves, to the victims, and the culprits, most of whom will never be caught or held accountable.
The Nail In The Coffin Truck
The “trailer of death” has been spoken of in the tabloids quite a bit since its “discovery” and it’s appearance in the public eye has dealt a death blow to the career of outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto. When he was first elected in December of 2012, Nieto promised to modernize Mexico and yet, he seemed somewhat indifferent to the rising violence.
Diego Petersen Farah, a columnist with the Guadalajara newspaper El Informador has spoken out on this issue several times. “There was always an effort by the government to downplay the security problem. They always wanted to hide the problems of security – but it became visible with these trailers.”
If it appears as though the Mexican government has been doing everything in its power to downplay the rampant criminality, that’s because they basically have. By the simple act of obfuscating the evidence of these criminal clashes, they are disavowing any responsibility for the continued problem.