COVID-19 has reinstated the sovereign enclosures of corpse management that mothers of the disappeared had so successfully challenged in the past decade. To explore how moral duties toward the dead are being renegotiated due to COVID-19, this article puts forward the notion of biorecuperation, understood as an individualised form of forensic care for the dead made possible by the recovery of biological material. Public health imperatives that forbid direct contact with corpses due to the pandemic, interrupt the logics of biorecuperation. Our analysis is based on ten years of experience working with families of the disappeared in Mexico, ethnographic research within Mexico’s forensic science system and online interviews conducted with medics and forensic scientists working at the forefront of Mexico City’s pandemic. In the face of increasing risks of viral contagion and death, this article analyses old and new techniques designed to bypass the prohibitions imposed by the state and its monopoly over corpse management and identification.
Dangerous corpses in Mexico’s drug war
On 16 December 2009, 400 heavily armed soldiers from the
Mexican marine forces entered an enclosed residential zone in the
city of Cuernavaca to arrest the drug baron Beltrán Leyva, leader
of the Mexican drug cartel of the same name. He was classified as
the most violent drug cartel leader on the planet by the American
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and as an extremely dangerous
enemy of the fatherland by the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón.
For several hours, the marines were engaged in heavy
The article will present the findings of ethnographic research into the Colombian and
Mexican forensic systems, introducing the first citizen-led exhumation project made
possible through the cooperation of scholars, forensic specialists and interested citizens
in Mexico. The coupling evolution and mutual re-constitution of forensic science will be
explored, including new forms of citizenship and nation building projects – all approached
as lived experience – in two of Latin America‘s most complex contexts: organised crime and
5 Vaccine production, national security anxieties and the
unstable state in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Mexico
Since pre-Columbian times, Mexico has
experienced notable periods of progress in science and technology. Political,
economic and social problems have, however, often interrupted these
developments, thus the country has been forced to rebuild
Difficulties and challenges for the forensic medical system in
Isabel Beltrán-Gil, María Alexandra Lopez-Cerquera, Linda Guadalupe Reyes Muñoz, Sandra Ivette Sedano Rios, Nuvia Montserrat Maestro Martínez, and Diana Newberry Franco
As a result of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic, in 2020 forensic institutions
in Mexico began using extreme measures in the treatment of bodies of confirmed
or suspected cases, due to possible infection. A series of national protocols on
how to deal with the virus were announced, yet forensic personnel have struggled
to apply these, demonstrating the country’s forensics crisis. This
article aims to reflect on two points: (1) the impact that COVID-19 protocols
have had on how bodies confirmed as or suspected of being infected with the
virus are handled in the forensic medical system; and (2) the particular
treatment in cases where the body of the victim is unidentified, and the
different effects the pandemic has had in terms of the relationship between the
institutional environment and the family members of those who have died as a
result of infection, or suspected infection, from COVID-19.
This article presents an account of the involvement of forensic anthropology in the
investigation of human rights abuses in the modern era, and the difficulties it faces with
respect to lack of adequate funding, volatile settings, the presence of unexploded
ordnance, corruption in governmental agencies and a lack of good will, absence of support
for NGOs and the curtailment of formal judicial proceedings to effect transitional
justice. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Spain, Mexico and the Northern Triangle are provided as
regional examples of the problems encountered when attempting to conduct forensic
anthropological investigations to locate mass graves, retrieve victims and obtain proper
identifications. Interventions by various organisations are highlighted to illustrate
their assistance to forensic and non-forensic individuals through technical support,
training and mentoring in the areas of crime-scene management and identification
techniques. Interventions in mass-grave processing when state agencies have failed, the
importance of DNA banks and information from family members and witnesses are also
: The Ndhiwa project was being devised at a key moment
in HIV research. In 2008, the Swiss health authorities claimed – in what
would come to be known as the Swiss Statement – that
patients who were taking their medications correctly were no longer contagious. That
claim, which was especially crucial to serodiscordant couples, 6 was the subject of debates at that year’s
IAS [International AIDS Society] conference in Mexico: Has this really been
proven? and Can we
most clearly expressed in the work of Samuel Huntington, it is also central to liberal notions of universality. For an excellent critique of the latter see Gray (2007) .
I have explored this question of ontological difference (notably borrowed from the ideas of Gilles Deleuze) in relation to the Zapatistas of Mexico. See Evans (2008) and Evans (2010) .
On this, see Forti (2014) .
For an excellent mediation on the concept of nihilism see Brassier (2007) .
Accounting for the changing nature of sacred violence is the focus
Architecture, Building and Humanitarian Innovation
( Albuquerque, NM : University
of New Mexico Press ).
B. ( 1969 ), Streets for People: A Primer for
Americans ( Garden City, NY :
J. ( 1871 ), Selections from the Writings of
John Ruskin ( London
Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda ( Madison : University of Wisconsin Press ).
Thomson , S. M. and Nagy , R. ( 2010 ), ‘Law, Power and Justice: What Legalism Fails to Address in the Functioning of Rwanda’s gacaca Courts’ , International Journal of Transitional Justice , 5 : 1 , 11 – 30 .
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa ( 1998 ), Report. Volume I ( London : Macmillan ).
Villarreal , M. ( 1994 ), ‘Wielding and Yielding: Power, Subordination and Gender Identity in the Context of a Mexican Development Project’ ( PhD dissertation