The Mexican government has derailed an international panel of forensic experts assigned to investigate the 26 September 2014 disappearances of 43 young students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College [previously], an action only now receiving attention north of the border.
It took until this morning for the story to make the front page of this country’s de facto paper of record.
From the New York Times:
An international panel of experts brought to Mexico to investigate the haunting disappearance of 43 students that ignited a global outcry say they cannot solve the case because of a sustained campaign of harassment, stonewalling and intimidation against them.
The investigators say they have endured carefully orchestrated attacks in the Mexican news media, a refusal by the government to turn over documents or grant interviews with essential figures, and even a retaliatory criminal investigation into one of the officials who appointed them.
For some, the inevitable conclusion is that the government simply does not want the experts to solve the case.
“The conditions to conduct our work don’t exist,” said Claudia Paz y Paz, a panel member who earned international recognition for prosecuting a former Guatemalan dictator on charges of genocide. “And in Mexico, the proof is that the government opposed the extension of our mandate, isn’t it?”
More from Univision, including the sordid details on the Mexican government’s deplorable efforts to derail the panel before today’s final action:
Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office allegedly used sexual torture and offered millions of dollars in bribes to manipulate the investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 from a rural teachers’ college in the state of Guerrero, according to legal documents and letters by some of those accused of involvement in the atrocity that remains shrouded in mystery.
The accusers identified the highest ranking abusers as former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam; the head of the organized crime section of the prosecutor’s office (SEIDO, Gustavo Salas Chávez, and Tomás Zeron de Lucio, director of the office’s Criminal Investigation Agency.
They were directly involved in alleged irregularities designed to prop up the official results of the investigation, known as the “historic truth,” in order to close the notorious case of the missing Ayotzinapa students, according to the documents obtained by Univision.
The allegations have surfaced at a crucial juncture in the case, days before a group of independent experts are due to release on Sunday the findings of a year-long investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States (OAS). The investigation by the group of experts, which was agreed to by the Mexican government in November 2014, highlighted irregularities in the official investigation in a preliminary report last September.
And as the New Yorker’s Francisco Goldman reported Saturday, the decision will be greeted with despair by the families of the disappeared:
The Ayotzinapa family members and many others, especially in the human-rights community, pleaded for GIEI’s six-month mandate to be extended until the mystery of the whereabouts of the forty-three students could finally be solved. But government spokesmen made it clear that GIEI’s stay in Mexico would end on April 30th. In an interview on April 18th with the powerful television journalist Joaquín López-Dóriga, Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong repeated his puzzling declarations that “GIEI and the P.G.R. coincided” in their conclusions, and that there were no “new elements that lead us to a different circumstance about what occurred in that place. We only have the evidence that the more than one hundred people detained in the case have provided due to the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic.”
It is not likely that GIEI will agree with that opinion when it releases its final report, at a press conference in Mexico City, on Sunday. It has been publishing a steady stream of tweets in advance of that conference: “It was a massive attack. There were more than 180 direct victims, the majority youths and minors”; “The dimensions of the attack haven’t been taken into account in order to form a deep analysis of what occurred”; “The attack against the normalistas raised huge questions: How was such a massive attack possible? Why did it happen?”; “Because the truth hurts but helps heal wounds, this April 24, #InformeGIEI.”
In late February, in Mexico City, one of the five GIEI experts, the Spanish social psychologist Carlos Beristain, told me how he understood the group’s mission. “We’re like a vaccination against impunity,” he said. “We stimulate investigations, antibodies, against impunity. An institutional or social reaction to cover up or isolate or reject us keeps up from having an impact in the organism.” There seems little doubt that, in its report, GIEI will accuse the Mexican government of having obstructed or rejected its investigation. But what it has to say on Sunday about the fate of the forty-three Ayotzinapa normalistas, and about their experience in Mexico, will enter the bloodstream of the country in a way that will not easily be isolated, ignored, or rejected.
Six days earlier, Latin Times reported on a new break in the case, one certain to have heightened the government’s anxieties:
Now, after over 18 months of speculation and pieced information from Mexican officials, a new witness has come forward offering his version of the incident. Identified as G.J.R. he was the driver of one of the buses the students were on, and narrated the series of events that confirm the government’s involvement in the young men’s disappearance. “With teary, blurred eyes from the pepper spray, I was able to see from the police car how they were bringing down each student, when one of the policemen said, ‘we can fit any more of them in the car,’ and another said, ‘that’s fine, here come the ones from Huitzuco.’ At that moment I could perceive more police cars pulling in; they were white and blue and they I saw them drive directed to Huitzuco,” he declared.
In addition, the driver also stated that afterwards, the police also turned the students over to a criminal leader they were referring to as “El Patrón.”
This comes as a big twist in the investigation, as the driver’s initial testimony didn’t mention the involvement of the police. On the contrary, G.J.R. had said the students had forced him to take them and that he’d been attacked during the brawl; beaten, sprayed and threatened before they let him go.
More details came in a Friday story from teleSUR English:
Once again Mexico’s federal government “truth” regarding the fate of the forcibly disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students has been shot down by Argentine Team of Anthropological Forensic experts, who made their report public revealing there is no way the students were incinerated at garbage dump in Cocula, Guerrero.
The Argentine team, also known by their acronym EAAF, decided to make an exception to their very strict rule of not revealing a full report carried out by them by making public the conclusions of their investigation which are presented in a 351-page document.
In lamest terms, the EAAF’s conclusions conclusively reject the federal government’s truth by saying there is no way that the students were incinerated at the Cocula dump.
Their conclusions are based on an investigation that began at the Cocula dump exactly one month after the students were attacked and forcibly disappeared the night of Sept. 26, 2014 and the following morning.
Even before the latest twists, one presidential candidate north of the border sought to reap some political advantage appearing in an interview with La Opinión, a Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles, reports the Latin Times:
“It is indignant. If I was working with the Mexican government, I would not rest until we found out what happened to those 42 people,” the presidential hopeful said during an interview with a Mexican publication. “Their kidnapping was a terrible law violation.”
With her statement, the 68-year-old former Secretary of State suggested that Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration is clearly not doing enough to provide answers for the families of the missing students, which is no surprise for the Mexican people.
During the interview, Clinton added that if she were voted the next President of The United of America, she would work towards strengthening the relationship between both countries, and join the investigation in order to get to the bottom of things.
“It is something that everyone in Mexico should be fighting for, in order to find answers,” she told La Opinión. “If there’s something that America could do to help, I would be the first one to offer that help.”
But Clinton’s zeal, which appeared on the same day as the crucial New York primary, drew fire from the father of one of the missing students.
From the Semillas Collective:
Ayotzinapa Dad Responds to Hilary Clinton’s Statement
Father of missing Ayotzinapa student, Antonio Tizpa-Responds to Hilary Clinton after she recently gave a statement on Ayotzinapa, in which she mistakenly cites 42 students missing instead of 43. Tizapa asks her: “Are you with the Mexican people or with the Mexican government?” He urges her to end Plan Merida : An initiative Clinton helped implement and expand during the Obama administration, which has only increased violence in Mexico (state committed crime). He also asks her to tell the Mexican government, to allow the investigation by the GIEI, The group who discovered that there was no scientific evidence to support the Mexican governments account of what happened to the 43, To stay in Mexico & continue their investigation until the 43 missing students are found. The Mexican government has ordered the GIEI to leave by April 30th. Learn more/Sign Petition go to: www.change.org/staygiei43
The Mérida Initiative was launched in the last half of the final year of the George W. Bush presidency, and continued under Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, where she gave it her enthusiastic support.
The program provided arms and training for Mexican military and police forces. One program funded by the plan provided training in torture techniques by an American security contractor. Another program funded arms that wound up in the hands of drug cartels.
The initiative was announced on 22 October 2007 and signed into law on June 30, 2008. From FY2008 to FY2015, Congress appropriated nearly $2.5 billion for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative, including 22 aircraft.
As noted in a 2014 report on Plan Merida by Alexander Main for the North American Congress on Latin America:
In a letter sent to Obama and the region’s other presidents last year , over 145 civil society organizations called out U.S. policies that “promote militarization to address organized crime.” These policies, the letter states, have only resulted in a “dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves. Human rights abuses against our families and communities are, in many cases, directly attributable to failed and counterproductive security policies that have militarized our societies in the name of the ‘war on drugs.’”
The latest round in the ramping up of U.S. security assistance to Mexico and Central America began during President George W. Bush’s second term in office. Funding allocated to the region’s police and military forces climbed steadily upward to levels unseen since the U.S.-backed “dirty wars” of the 1980s. As narco-trafficking operations shifted increasingly from the Caribbean to the Central American corridor, the United States worked with regional governments to stage a heavily militarized war on drugs in an area that had yet to fully recover from nearly two decades of war.
In 2008 the Bush Administration launched the Mérida Initiative, a cooperation agreement that provides training, equipment, and intelligence to Mexican and Central American security forces. A key model for these agreements is Plan Colombia, an $8 billion program launched in 1999 that saw the mass deployment of military troops and militarized police forces to both interdict illegal drugs and counter left-wing guerrilla groups. Plan Colombia is frequently touted as a glowing success by U.S. officials who point to statistics indicating that drug production and violence has dropped while rebel groups’ size and territorial reach have significantly receded. Human rights groups, however, have documented the program’s widespread “collateral damage,” which includes the forced displacement of an estimated 5.7 million Colombians, thousands of extrajudicial killings, and continued attacks and killings targeting community activists, labor leaders, and journalists.
Under President Obama, the U.S. government has renewed and expanded Mérida and, in 2011, created the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). From 2008 to 2013, these programs have received over $2 billion and $574 million respectively, according to a 2014 report by the Igarapé Institute. Though administration spokespeople emphasize investments made in judicial reform and drug prevention programs, most funds have been spent on supporting increasingly warlike drug interdiction and law enforcement.
And in a report issued last year on a drive by seven human rights organizations calling on the Obama Administration to end the plan’s funding of Mexican security forces, the Washington Office on Latin America noted:
“Our research and documentation, as well as the work done by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances, illustrate that the Mexican government has failed to make sufficient progress on the human rights priorities identified by Congress in its assistance to Mexico,” the eight co-signing groups affirm. In addition to WOLA, these include Amnesty International; the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro PRODH); the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center; Citizens in Support of Human Rights A.C. (CADHAC); Fundar, Center for Analysis and Research; the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.
“In general, providing Mexican security forces with more training and equipment while corruption and abuses continue unchecked does little to improve security in Mexico, and is likely to continue to exacerbate an already dire human rights situation.” the memo reads. “We reiterate that the path to citizen security for Mexico is not that of a logic of war, but rather that of respecting human rights, strengthening civilian institutions, enacting true police and judicial reform, punishing corruption, and consolidating the rule of law and a representative and accountable democracy.”
The memo refers to several emblematic cases, including the enforced disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa and the massacre in Tlatlaya. It also provides examples of the Mexican government’s failure to investigate and punish officials for human rights violations, enforce prohibitions on the use of torture, and search for victims of enforced disappearance, all of which clearly demonstrate why the State Department should not issue a favorable report to Congress in order to obligate the withheld funds.
We conclude with a statement by Berkeley journalist Steve Fisher, one of the few U.S. reporters to conduct groundbreaking research on the Ayotzinapa crisis, during a January 2015 interview by Christy Thornton for the North American Congress on Latin America:
I think that there can be justice. But I don’t think at the moment it comes from the hands of the Mexican government. The Mexican government has not shown to us, and Anabel Hernández and myself have seen very directly how the Mexican government has chosen to lead this investigation. It’s clear that while they have a lot of very important information, they’ve chosen not to act on it and not to investigate the federal police and the military. And we haven’t heard any indication that they were going to investigate, because for the last three months they haven’t done so, when there’s so much proof that they were involved. You know that alone shows that they’re not being diligent at the very least, and I think that the fact that they’re basing the majority of their investigation on tortured witnesses cuts off at the knees this entire investigation, and shows the Mexican government’s incompetence to actually get to any sort of justice for these students.
I believe that if justice is going to happen, it’s going to come through additional investigative reporting, it’s going to come through the parents demanding that something happen, and not letting up, and bringing this story international as they have been doing, bringing it to the public. As far as the future of the investigation, I think that from what we’ve seen, the Mexican government needs to go back and do some very strong investigations of the military and the federal police. For example, the day after this event happened, after the attack on the students, the Guerrero state government demanded that investigators be allowed into the military space in Iguala, the military refused. Nothing came of that! That should have been a red flag in and of itself. They didn’t allow them to review the premises. So there are many many many avenues that the Mexican government could be taking to shed some light on exactly what happened, but in turn, instead, the very institutions that were directly involved that night, the Mexican military at least being complicit, and the federal police being on the scene, those institutions are in charge of looking for these students and are, in many ways, in charge of investigating.