The 2011 San Fernando Massacre

The 2011 San Fernando massacre, also known as the second massacre of San Fernando, was the mass murder of 193 people by Los Zetas drug cartel at La Joya ranch in the municipality of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico in March 2011.

Authorities investigating the massacre reported numerous hijackings of passenger buses on Mexican Federal Highway 101 in San Fernando, and the kidnapped victims were later killed and buried in 47 clandestine mass graves.

The investigations began immediately after several suitcases and other baggage went unclaimed in Reynosa and Matamoros, Tamaulipas.

On 6 April 2011, Mexican authorities exhumed 59 corpses from eight mass graves.

By 7 June 2011, after a series of multiple excavations, a total of 193 bodies were exhumed from mass graves in San Fernando.

Reports mentioned that female kidnapping victims were raped and able-bodied male kidnapping victims were forced to fight to the death with other hostages, similar to ancient Roman gladiators, where they were given knives, hammers, machetes and clubs to find recruits who were willing to kill for their lives. In the blood sport, the survivor was recruited as a hitman for Los Zetas; those who did not survive were buried in a clandestine gravesite. After the massacre, thousands of citizens from San Fernando fled to other parts of Mexico and to the US. The Mexican government responded by sending 650 soldiers to San Fernando and establishing a military base in the municipality. The troops took over the duties of the police force in the city and worked on social programs. In addition, a total of 82 Zeta members were arrested by 23 August 2011. In 2012 tranquillity slowly returned to the city, along with the inhabitants who fled because of the violence.

Mexican authorities are not certain why Los Zetas decided to abduct people from buses, and then torture, murder and bury them. They speculate that the Zetas may have forcibly recruited the passengers as foot soldiers for the organisation, intending to hold them for ransom or extort them before they crossed into the US. The killers, however, confessed that they abducted and killed the passengers because they feared their rivals, the Gulf Cartel, were getting reinforcements from other states. One of the leaders confessed that Heriberto Lazcano, the supreme leader of Los Zetas, had ordered the investigation of all buses coming in through San Fernando; those “who had nothing to do with it were freed. But those that did, they were killed.” In addition, the killers claimed to have investigated passengers’ cellphones and text messages to determine if they were involved with the Gulf Cartel or not, and that they were particularly worried about buses coming in from the states of Durango and Michoacán, two strongholds of the rival La Familia and the Sinaloa Cartels.