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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mexico: Drug Violence Escalating

Bodies stacked in the morgues of Mexico's border cities tell the story of an escalating drug war. Drug violence claimed 6,290 people last year, double the previous year, and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of 2009.

Each bullet wound or broken bone details the viciousness with which the cartels battle a government crackdown and each other. Slain policemen lie next to hit men in the rows of zipped white bags.

Workers toil up to 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, to examine the remains. When Tijuana coffin makers fell behind during the December holidays, the morgue there crammed 200 bodies into two refrigerators made to hold 80.

"There are times here when there are so many people, so many cadavers, that we can't keep up," says the Tijuana morgue director, Federico Ortiz.

In Ciudad Juarez, the border city with the most killings, Molina prepares to make a dead man talk. Investigators press each finger of the headless body on a pad for fingerprints.

Molina guesses from his face he was probably in his 30s.

She carefully lays out his bloodied clothing on a red plastic sheet. She pieces together his knife-shredded T-shirt picturing a wanted poster for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. She lays the tags showing the brands of his jeans and boxers flat before snapping photographs of each.

"Sometimes we show family these photos, and they'll say it's his clothing but it's not him," says Molina, a 41-year-old mother of five. "It's a defense mechanism."

Read it all here.

Related stories are here and here.

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