Mexican police have uncovered a mass grave of 72 people on a ranch in the north of Mexico. The victims, 58 men and 14 women who are thought to come from various countries across Central and South America, are presumed to have been migrants who were killed by Mexico's brutal drug cartels as they attempted to travel to the U.S. A survivor told CNN they were shot for refusing to work on behalf of the cartels. It is still unknown whether the cartels had kidnapped the victims or whether they had been attempting to smuggle them into the U.S. Both kidnapping and human trafficking are common behavior for the Mexican cartels. The situation is still developing and the full story remains unclear, but here are lessons we can draw from the episode as we understand it so far.

  • Why Cartels Are Getting More Violent  The Washington Independent's Elise Foley explains, "It's not the first mass killing by drug cartels, but it may be the largest. Mexican authorities discovered 51 bodies in mass graves in July, and uncovered 55 bodies in a mine in May. As cartels become more desperate for money, experts say cartel leaders are more likely to kidnap and extort migrants trying to get to the U.S. Mexican President Felipe Calderon alluded to this in a statement late Wednesday condemning the killings: 'This is a result of the activity of the state against them, which has significantly weakened the operational capacity of criminal groups.'"
  • Mexican Cartels Pushing South Into New Countries   Reuters' Sarah Grainger reports a "southward push" by the notorious cartels. "Central America is struggling to contain rising violence as powerful Mexican drug cartels, facing an escalating government crackdown at home, expand southward and intensify operations in neighboring nations. For years Central America has been a transit route for cocaine trafficked north from the Andes, but analysts and officials say Mexican cartels are now buying up land, storing arms and drugs, and hiring members of local criminal networks in Central America to help them move and sell drugs. ... Over the past few years Mexican cartels have established more permanent operations and laid claim to swathes of remote areas strategic to drug smuggling."
  • Journey to America Increasingly Dangerous  The Christian Science Monitor's Sara Miller Llana writes, "With attention focused on the US tightening its borders and stepping up deportations, mostly of undocumented Mexicans, the plight of migrants crossing through Mexico is often overlooked. ... The journey through Mexico has become more and more treacherous as suspected drug traffickers branch out into other businesses, including human trafficking. They are increasingly targeting migrants in a variety of ways, say analysts, authorities, and migrants. Migrants are often victims not only because they are presumed to have cash on hand, but because many have relatives with cash in the US."
  • War Against Cartels Is Not Going Well  The U.K. Independent's Guy Adams writes, "The discovery on Tuesday afternoon marked a new low in a brutal conflict that has taken the lives of an estimated 28,000 Mexicans since the President, Felipe Calderon, declared 'war' on the nation's wealthy and extraordinarily well-armed drug cartels in 2007. ... Mass graves are becoming an increasingly common by-product of the wave of drug-related violence sweeping the country. ... Although most Mexicans support Mr Calderon for now, a growing minority believe that the drugs war will be impossible to win. Earlier this month, former president Vicente Fox, a staunch supporter of the US crackdown on drugs, said recent events had won him over to the cause of legalisation. 'It does not mean drugs are good,' he said. 'But we have to see it as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits.'"