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Mexico's Morgues Are Overflowing As Its Murder Rate Rises

10 hours ago
Originally published on October 10, 2018 8:03 pm

Rising rates of homicides and drug violence have created an overflow at Mexico's morgues. So much so, that several cities have resorted to storing dead bodies in refrigerated trailers.

This sparked a national scandal after some residents complained about the stench coming from one of the trailers parked in their neighborhood in the western city of Guadalajara.

Authorities say there are two trailers packed with human remains, and dozens more bodies stacked up in the city's morgue. They say there are 444 in all. Some of the bodies have been in storage for more than three years.

The trailers are now back at the morgue. And María del Rosillo Limón Maldonado says the whole place reeks of death.

"The smell penetrates you, totally envelops you," Limón says, standing in front of the huge stark white building. Limón and her husband are from the state of Puebla and saw news of the trailers on TV. Their daughter, Paulina, has been missing since 2015. She was 19 at the time and 4 months pregnant. They think that maybe her body is in one of the trailers.

"We have seen so many bodies during these long three years searching for her," says Limón.

People from all over Mexico have flooded to the morgue in Guadalajara in search of their relatives. About a hundred show up every day.

Homicides are at record rates in Mexico. Nearly 30,000 people were murdered last year. This year is on track to be worse, with more than 33,000 homicides registered by the end of August.

María Ramos also waits outside the huge Guadalajara morgue. Her 34-year-old son went missing in October. She says authorities took her DNA sample back then, but according to the news reports she's seen, they haven't done anything to identify the hundreds of bodies inside.

"How am I ever going to find my son?" she sobs. "I feel so helpless and furious at the same time."

The morgue's new director, Carlos Daniel Barba Rodríguez, says he has a lot of work ahead of him. "I will have to get done as quick as possible, all the work that these people didn't get done in the last three years," he says in an interview in his office. The overwhelming stench of the trailers permeates the walls.

Five officials, including the past director, have been fired since the trailers were discovered and the scandal erupted. The governor has given Barba Rodríguez until Oct. 15 to clear the bodies out.

"We'll do everything we can to make that deadline," he says, but he adds they will take the necessary time to do it right.

Confusion over a new law prohibiting the cremation of crime victims caused the backlog, says Barba Rodríguez, along with negligence by the former director. Calls to that former director weren't returned. He has denied any wrongdoing. Barba Rodríguez says once proper identification of the bodies is done, they can legally be interred.

But officials in Guadalajara face another problem — the seemingly endless arrival of new bodies.

In a hillside neighborhood on the outskirts of Guadalajara, police officers climbed into their truck and drove out of Robles on a recent night. They just finished recovering four bodies from a clandestine shallow grave in an empty field behind the rows of houses.

"We are no longer known as Robles, now it's the Robles graveyard," says a resident who would only give me her first name, María. She says she's scared of the drug gangs that are dumping bodies here. Homicides have exploded in the state of Jalisco, home to the country's now largest and most vicious drug gang, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Last year more than 1,300 murders were reported in Jalisco. This year's figure already tops 1,400.

Meanwhile, workers at one of the city's largest cemeteries are quickly building rows of concrete crypts for the hundreds of bodies still at the morgue. Dozens of bodies have already been placed here, including those from families that can't afford a funeral, like María del Transito Zamora. Her son was one of the first identified among those in the morgue.

"I wanted to have the funeral here at my home," she says in the living room of her small residence, where a picture of her son and grandson are surrounded by white roses and votive candles. But the 68-year-old mother and grandmother says the authorities, who only paid for the crypt interment, wouldn't allow it.

It took Transito Zamora months to get her son's body out of the morgue. She's still waiting for authorities to allow her to give her grandson a proper goodbye. Both men were abducted together earlier this year, but she says officials still haven't figured out which body is her grandson's among the hundreds still at the morgue.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Stocks plunged on Wall Street today. U.S. stocks saw their biggest sell-off in six months. The Dow fell 831 points, which is a 3 percent decline. Here to talk about exactly what happened is NPR's John Ydstie. Hey, John.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what made the market plummet today?

YDSTIE: Yeah. It was a tough day, and a number of things contributed. Let's start with interest rates. Rates on government bonds have been rising rapidly over the past few weeks. That's made the market nervous. In fact, this is the fifth straight day of losses for the S&P 500. Rising interest rates make stocks less valuable, and there's concern in the market about just how high rates will go. The Federal Reserve has said it will continue to raise rates gradually, and it has suggested it will stop raising benchmark rates between 3 and 3 1/2 percent. So it still has a way to go to get there.

CHANG: So the way I understand it, the Fed usually raises rates to stave off inflation, right?

YDSTIE: Right.

CHANG: Are there fears of inflation right now?

YDSTIE: Well, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has said recently he doesn't see inflation accelerating. However, the economy is clearly very strong, and the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, so there's concern in the markets that wages will begin to rise more rapidly, and that could create inflation pressures.

CHANG: But you're saying the economy remains strong, so shouldn't that be good for the stock market?

YDSTIE: The economy is strong in the U.S. and most commentators are saying today's sell-off is not the end of the bull market and stocks here. But while the U.S. economy remains strong, Europe has cooled a bit, as have emerging markets. And the IMF gave a less-than-glowing assessment of the global economy this week - less glowing than it did just a few months ago. And, of course, there are concerns about global trade being disrupted by a trade war between the world's two biggest economies, the U.S. and China, and that hurts stocks.

CHANG: Are there any particular areas of the market that have been hurt by the sell-off?

YDSTIE: Well, virtually, all sectors of the market sold off today, wiping out all the stock gains since midsummer. But the tech sector has been hit the hardest, and it's been one of the foundations of this bull market. In fact, the tech-heavy Nasdaq index lost 4 percent of its value today, and the S&P 500, which also has a lot of tech, lost 3 1/3 percent. So it's been a very tough day for tech.

CHANG: A very tough day, but is this just the beginning of a long downward trend for the market?

YDSTIE: Well, most analysts I heard from today don't think so. Some said the selling toward the end of the day, which took the Dow down from around 500 points to 830 points down, was due to machine trading driven by algorithms that reached levels that call for selling. Given the strength of the U.S. economy and the likelihood of continued high levels of profits in American businesses, it's difficult to believe the market will continue to melt down.

But we are at a point where investors are looking out over the horizon nine months to a year from now and wondering whether the Fed will have raised rates so much that the economy gets pushed into recession. We're also getting to a point where bond yields are high enough that the interest rates they're paying is starting to compete with stocks. We'll see how foreign markets absorb this tomorrow. And then the U.S. market will have another crack at it, and we'll see what happens.

CHANG: I guess we'll see. That's NPR's John Ydstie. Thanks, John.

YDSTIE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.