Return to the Valley of Death

Julian Cardona

Among the scrub brush and rolling sand dunes where townspeople once rode horses, Mexican officials made a grisly discovery in the Juarez Valley in November. They uncovered 15 shallow graves near an unfinished house on “La Colorada” ranch in Ejido Jesus Carranza. In those desert graves lay 20 bodies, which officials estimate may have been there since 2010—the height of the bloody war between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels (see “The Deadliest Place in Mexico”).

“They say those graves belong to El Diego,” said Gustavo de la Rosa, the Chihuahua human-rights ombudsman. De la Rosa lived just two miles from the ranch but fled to Juarez in 2009 because of threats from the military, which was patrolling the Juarez Valley at the time.

“El Diego” is Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, a notorious leader of La Linea, enforcers for the Juarez Cartel. A former cop, El Diego was arrested in July and extradited to the United States. Mexican officials say he ordered the deaths of at least 1,500 people, including two U.S. citizens linked to the U.S. consulate in Juarez. El Diego also allegedly gave the order to massacre students at a birthday party in Juarez’s Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood.

It was U.S. authorities who tipped off Mexican officials to the location of the clandestine cemetery just three miles from the Rio Grande and Texas. An examination of the remains found that the victims were shot, strangled or beaten. Their ages ranged from 18 to 40. Most appeared to be male, said Jorge Enrique Gonzalez Nicolas, regional state prosecutor, in a press conference afterward. “The next step is to begin the process of identifying their bodies,” he said, according to the El Paso Times.

There will undoubtedly be more gravesites, said de la Rosa. “We have so many missing and so many dead, there must be graves all over the valley.”

There was a military checkpoint on the road leading to La Colorada. “Many of those dead probably came from Juarez, so they had to pass through that checkpoint,” de la Rosa said. “I never heard of anyone being detained for transporting a body.”

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

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Published at 1:32 pm CST