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A protester in Mexico carries as sign saying "Not one more of our young men!"
Alexandre Meneghini  /  AP
A protester carries as sign saying "Not one more of our young men!" as people march in a protest against violence in Mexico City, Wednesday.
By
updated 4/7/2011 2:07:18 AM ET 2011-04-07T06:07:18

Fifty-nine bodies were found buried Wednesday in a series of pits in the northern Mexico state of Tamaulipas, as people marched in protest against on going drug cartel violence.

The bodies were discovered near the site where suspected drug gang members massacred 72 migrants last summer, officials said.

Security forces stumbled on the site as they were investigating reports that passengers had been pulled off several buses by gunmen in the area in what may have been an attempt at forced recruitment by a drug gang.

State and federal authorities conducted a raid that netted several suspected kidnappers and freed five kidnap victims.

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Then they made a grisly discovery — a total of eight pits, containing a total of 59 corpses. One of the pits held 43 dead.

The wave of drug-related killings — which has claimed more than 34,000 lives in the four years since the government launched an offensive against drug cartels — drew thousands of protesters into the streets of Mexico's capital and several other cities Wednesday in marches against violence.

Slideshow: Narco culture permeates Mexico, leaks across border (on this page)

Many of the protesters said the government offensive has stirred up the violence.

"We need to end this war, because it is a senseless war that the government started," said protester Alma Lilia Roura, 60, an art historian.

'No more blood'
Several thousand people joined the demonstration in downtown Mexico City, chanting "No More Blood!" and "Not One More!" A similar number marched through the southern city of Cuernavaca.

Parents marched with toddlers, and protesters held up signs highlighting the disproportionate toll among the nation's youth. "Today a student, tomorrow a corpse," read one sign carried by demonstrators.

The marches were spurred in part by the March 28 killing of Juan Francisco Sicilia, the son of Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, and six other people in Cuernavaca.

Story: 2 Americans killed at Tijuana border crossing

"We are putting pressure on the government, because this can't go on," said the elder Sicilia. "It seems that we are like animals that can be murdered with impunity."

In relation to the discovery of the mass grave, the Tamaulipas state government said it happened Wednesday and that 11 suspects were detained. But the federal Interior department said the first pit was found Saturday and five suspects were detained by soldiers.

Tamaulipas state interior secretary Morelos Canseco said two of the dead were women. Many of the victims found in the pits appeared to have died between 10 and 15 days ago, dates that would roughly match the bus abductions, he said.

Image: Residents light candles during a protest in Monterrey
Tomas Bravo  /  Reuters
Residents light up candles during a protest in Monterrey called out by poet Javier Sicilia after the death of his son.

Canseco said state officials began getting reports that gunmen had been stopping buses, starting around March 25.

At least two more cases were reported in the following days. The buses were allowed to continue on with their remaining passengers in each case.

Story: Mexican cartels corrupting more US border officials?

The bodies were being examined to determine their identifies and the causes of death, the Tamaulipas state government said in statement in which it "energetically condemned" the crimes.

Cowards
The statement did not identify what drug gang, if any, that the arrested suspects belonged to, or why they might have hijacked the bus.

President Felipe Calderon's office issued a statement saying the find "underlines the cowardliness and total lack of scruples of the criminal organizations that cause violence in our country."

While there was no immediate confirmation that a drug cartel was involved, officials refer to the cartels as "criminal organizations."

The statement said Calderon had ordered federal officials to help in the investigation, and particularly in the work of identifying the victims.

The pits were found in the farm hamlet of La Joya in the township of San Fernando, in the same area where the bodies of 72 migrants, most from Central America, were found shot to death Aug. 24 at a ranch.

The area is about 80 miles from the border at Brownsville, Texas.

Authorities blamed that massacre on the Zetas drug gang, which is fighting its one-time allies in the Gulf cartel for control of the region.

The victims in the August massacre were illegal immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador and Brazil. An Ecuadorean and Honduran survived the attack, which Mexican authorities say occurred after the migrants refused to work for the cartel.

Mexican drug cartels have taken to recruiting migrants, common criminals and youths, Mexican authorities say.

It was unclear if the victims found Wednesday were migrants. Migrants frequently travel by bus in Mexico.

But drug gunmen also operate kidnapping rings, and erect roadblocks on highways in Tamaulipas and other northern states, where they hijack vehicles and rob and sometimes kill passengers.

San Fernando is on a major highway that leads to the U.S. border.

Drug gangs across Mexico also sometimes use mass graves to dispose of the bodies of executed rivals.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Mexican drug corruption crosses the border

  1. Closed captioning of: Mexican drug corruption crosses the border

    >>> while much has been reported about the widespread corruption in mexican law enforcement , we have found there is also a serious problem on the american side of the border. with that story tonight, here is mark potter .

    >> reporter: in el paso , texas, a major embarrassment for american law enforcement. margarita chrispen is sentenced to 20 years in prison for selling out to mexican drug travellers.

    >> it was amazing to us that she received $5 million for her services to allow loads of marijuana to come through her checkpoint along the border.

    >> in the mexican drug war , u.s. authorities report a disturbing trend, an increase in american law enforcement officials corrupted by wealthy mexican criminals who pay them to look the other way as illegal drugs and immigrants flow north into the united states .

    >> it's the single most debilitating factor in successful law enforcement along the border, and we do a horrible job of weeding that corruption out.

    >>> in the last five years, nearly 8y u.s. border patrol agents and customs and border patrol officers have been arrested along the border, and federal authorities say hundreds more officials are undercretion.

    >> once they cross the line, they are criminals. criminals that are in our uniform.

    >> and the corruption runs deep.

    >> the cartels have begun to infiltrate u.s. law enforcement .

    >> it was begun during a hiring push five years ago to add officers to the mexican border . only 10% of the initial applicants were given polygraph tests. of those, 60 persz failed, raising the question of the integrity of those who weren't tested.

    >> they run into trouble, problems within a year or two or being hired.

    >> and for federal authorities aren't the only ones facing problems. local ofls have also succumb to the allure of drug money. these two men were jailed for helping mexican smugglers. in a nearby county, this man said corruption is rampant.

    >> it's greed. that's what i said all the time. it's greed. one of the extra $10,000, $15,000, $50,000.

    >> president obama signed a law requiring a polygraph test for all border control applicants, and they keep an eye on the 2000 -mile-long border, policing the police.

    >> there is no grating problem we're looking at in the organization. we cannot fail.

    >> they insist a majority of the border officers are ontstz, and they also say the better they become at stopping the smugglers, the more the mexican cartels rely on corruption, even slipping somef otheir own people into u.s. law enforcement academies. mark potter , nbc news.

Photos: Narco culture permeates Mexico, leaks across border

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  1. Tijuana, June 2009: Mexico's drug culture is defined by guns and money, to be sure, but it includes sex, movies, music and even a heavy dose of religion. It also extends across the border into the U.S.

    Since 2008, photojournalist Shaul Schwarz has been documenting that culture. Presented here are snapshots of that coverage, starting with what makes it all happen: cash. This stash was confiscated and the alleged courier, seen at center, was detained by Mexican soldiers.

    "Since the beginning of President Felipe Calderon's drug war in 2006, Mexican officials have held press conferences to show detained suspects," Schwarz notes. "At the same time the violence persists" -- with nearly 35,000 people killed through 2010. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Ciudad Juarez, August 2009: Three young men died in this shootout in the parking lot of a shopping mall. In the first half of that year, more than 1,000 drug war deaths were counted in Juarez alone. The city of 1.3 million has been the center of a drug turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Ciudad Juarez, August 2009: Residents of a neighborhood survey the site where a body was found, presumably another victim of drug turf clashes. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Mexico City, July 2009: Mexico's drug and gang culture has a strong religious streak. Thousands of devotees seen here attend a mass for Santa Muerte -- Saint Death -- a mythical figure condemned by the Catholic Church but embraced by many poor and criminal elements. This gathering is outside a shrine in Tepito, a gritty neighborhood famous for its street markets brimming with pirated and stolen merchandise.

    "Its violent and dangerous streets serve as a sort of mecca for Santa Muerte followers," Schwarz says. "Tepito is also home to the most popular Santa Muerte shrine, which sits outside a modest home. On the first day of every month, the shrine fills with followers who come bearing statuettes of the saint. Some pilgrims make their way from the subway on their knees; many smoke weed or cigars with their saints." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mexico City, October 2009: Devotees of Saint Judas Thaddaeus inhale glue out of plastic bags to get high as they gather outside San Hipolito church during the annual pilgrimage honoring the saint.

    Judas Thaddaeus is the Catholic Church's patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes, but in Mexico he is also known as "the saint of both cops and robbers (and prostitutes), as well as one of the biggest spiritual figures for young people in Mexico City," Schwarz says. "He has become the generic patron saint of disreputable activities. His biggest – and most important shrine – is at Hipolito, one of the best preserved colonial churches." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mexico City, October 2009: This shrine in the Colonia Doctores neighborhood pays homage to both Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde, reputedly a bandit killed by officials in 1909.

    Jesus Malverde is revered by many as a Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor. Several dozen such shrines exist in this neighborhood and in Tepito, where the cults thrive. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Tijuana, June 2009: A shrine to Santa Muerte sits above a home in the notorious Colonia Libertad neighborhood. The shrine is walled in by the old border fence separating Tijuana from San Diego. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Tijuana, March 2009: A man peeks through a fence toward the U.S., studying Border Patrol movements before crossing. New fences are constantly being built to deter illegal immigrants and drug traffickers.

    In 2010, President Barack Obama ordered some 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border and also signed a $600 million bill to fund 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and law enforcement officials. But the U.S. has also had to pull the plug on a troubled $1 billion "virtual fence" project meant to better guard stretches of the border. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Tijuana, June 2009: Federal police pat down a stripper during the raid of a large dance club. Several nightclubs in the notorious downtown red-light district were raided that night. Other parts of the strip continued as normal, with foreigners approaching young prostitutes as families with small children walked by with little notice and mariachis played on. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Ciudad Juarez, December 2008: A woman's body lies on the autopsy table where it was discovered that she was raped and then murdered in what was made to look like a suicide.

    "Violence against women has also surged in correlation to the daily multiple uninvestigated and unpunished homicides," Schwarz says. "The coroner's office is open 24/7 and employs more than 100 doctors, technicians and investigative specialists, who cover Ciudad Juarez and northern Chihuahua state." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tijuana, June 2009: The drug culture is often portrayed by Mexican cinema. Here director Antonio Herrera films a scene for "Vida Mafiosa" -- Mafia Life -- a low budget film glorifying the culture. "This is the only thing selling at the moment for me," Herrera said at the time as he worked to complete his seventh narco film. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Tijuana, November 2010: A scene from "El Baleado" -- The Shooting Victim -- shows young men being executed shortly after smuggling drugs in from a beach. The film was produced by Baja Films Productions, a family-owned company that almost went out of business until family member Oscar Lopez, a San Diego resident, convinced his father to make a narco film. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Tijuana, April 2010: Los Angeles gangsters hang out at the production of a narco film. One of the gang members (not pictured) was an extra in the film. "That was a good excuse for them to come down to TJ and party where the drugs and women are cheap," Schwarz says. "It's common for gangsters/narcos to want to appear in these films." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Mexico City, October 2009: Devotees of Saint Judas Thaddaeus gather outside San Hipolito church. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Tijuana, June 2009: Young Mexicans in the Colonia Libertad neighborhood smoke pot and hang out at a spot overlooking the border with the U.S. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Burbank, Calif., April 2010: Alfredo Rios, better known by his stage name "El Komander", walks down a street just outside the studio of his agent and music producer. From Sinaloa, El Komander is one of the hottest singers/composers of "Narcocorrido" songs, which glorify the drug culture.

    "He regularly performs at private parties for Sinaloa's cartel members as well as composes songs for/about them, at times even commissioned by the drug lords," Schwarz says. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Tijuana, April 2010: Narcocorrido performer "The Scorpion" (whose real name is Amador Granados) shows off his belt while on the set of a Baja Films Productions movie that translated into English means: Seagulls Don't Fly Alone. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Culiacan, March 2009: A man and his two sons visit Culiacan's main Jesus Malverde shrine, located across from a McDonald's and near the state legislature.

    "The narco culture is becoming more and more mainstream and the shrine draws people of all walks of life," Schwarz says. "Many visitors leave Polaroid photos with pithy notes giving thanks to Malverde."

    "The image of his mustachioed face, bedecked with a neckerchief, a gold chain with a pistol charm around his neck, and a large belt-buckle with a pistol around his waist can now be found all over the U.S.," Schwarz adds. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. El Monte, Calif., April 2010: The Bukanas De Culiacan band gets ready to perform during the launch event of "Movimiento Alterado," a new form of Narcocorrido gaining popularity. "Narco music clubs are mushrooming all over L.A., and up and down the West Coast," Schwarz says.
    "It's a social movement of people who came from nothing and dream of a chance out," said Joel Vazquez, the band's manager. "It's a lot like hip hop or gangsta rap, except it's Mexican culture, not black." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Pico Rivera, Calif., April 2010: Partyers use the bathroom at El Rodeo Night Club, one of the many big Narcocorrido clubs in the Los Angeles area. "The cross-over music scene and culture is generating hybrid fashion trends and lifestyle ties between the Sinaloa mainstream, in Mexico and the Mexican-American mainstream culture in L.A.," Schwarz says. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Ciudad Juarez, August 2009: Police protect a crime scene where two bodies were found in the desert near the border with the U.S. Much of Mexico's drug violence is due to turf wars for control of the border routes. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Culiacan, July 2009: The Jardines del Humaya Cemetery hosts many grave sites dedicated to drug traffickers. Some are two- and three-stories tall; many have bulletproof glass, Italian marble and spiral iron staircases.

    "Inside the mausoleums are pictures of the deceased, often men in their 20s and 30s, and signs of Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde," says Schwarz. "And, as in many of the cemeteries found in the drug-war inflicted Mexico, rows of freshly dug graves await their new tenants." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Apatzingan, April 2010: This home hadn't been touched in the two years after it was shot at and burned down by soldiers in a deadly attack on members of the La Familia drug cartel. Many of its leaders were born in this town, and in December 2010 one of its founders was killed by soldiers there. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. The religion

    Culiacan, July 2009: A young man makes his way to the shrine of Jesus Malverde. Culiacan is the capital of the northwestern state of Sinaloa, long a hot bed of drug cultivation. For decades traffickers have worshipped at the shrine, helping to spread Malverde's fame. "Followers call Malverde the Robin Hood of Mexico," Schwarz says. "Critics say he has become a symbol of crime. Drug traffickers claim him as their own." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Tultitlan, November 2009: Santa Muerte devotees attend a service in the courtyard of a church with a 65-foot-tall statue of the mythical figure. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Angeles National Forest, Calif., August 2009: Santa Muerte worshipers gather in a creek just outside Los Angeles. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Ciudad Juarez, August 2009: This bridge to El Paso, Texas, is one of the legal border crossings into the U.S. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Tijuana, March 2009: Mexico's military shows off the results of a raid on a party: assault weapons and the arrests of 58 people. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Culiacan, July 2009: A new inmate kisses his wife goodbye as their daughter cries.

    The Culiacan prison is notorious for violence and riots. "Security forces most often stay outside just along the perimeter of the prison and do not go in to the living quarters themselves," Schwarz says. "Weed, other drugs and cell phones along with statues of saints are common inside this typical Mexican jail." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Tijuana, March 2009: A drug addict sits in a tent where he lives along the border canal with the U.S. "The border canal has become a regular spot for junkies to use heroin," Schwarz says. "While the Mexican police do nothing, the U.S Border Patrol are just out of jurisdiction." (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Mexico City, October 2009: Jose Garcia Pichardo prays and smokes a cigar at the Santa Muerte altar in his bedroom. Pichardo said he once was a drug dealer and that two years earlier the Santa saved him from the police. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Ciudad Juarez, August 2009: Women spread flour to soak up blood where a young man was murdered. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the border city that year, and another 3,000 in 2010.

    "As a photojournalist I have covered conflicts and wars since 1996, but Mexico’s present situation haunts me like no other," Schwarz says. "While death statistics have been documented ad nauseum, far less has been said about the broader social reality created by the drug trade. As I continue to cover this story that seems to have no end in sight, I plan to focus not only on the harsh existence in border towns, but on the culture created for millions of Mexicans and Americans inevitably involved in or affected by the drug trade and a desire for “narco luxury.” (Shaul Schwarz/ Reportage By Gett / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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