Ayotzinapa: One Year Later


Saturday, September 26th, marked the one year commemoration of the attack, perpetrated by government security forces in the city of Iguala, in the State of Guerrero, Mexico, against students from the Ayotzinapa rural teacher’s college, in which six people were killed, over 40 were injured, and 43 students were forcefully disappeared.

Large demonstrations demanding truth, justice, that the students be found, and even that the President resign, were held in many Mexican cities. Smaller demonstrations were held in dozens of cities all around the world, from London and Paris to Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires. The protest march in Mexico City was led by the parents of the disappeared students and many of their classmates. Its starting point was near Los Pinos –the official residence and workplace of the Mexican President– and it ended eight kilometers away, and five hours later, in El Zócalo, the main square in downtown Mexico City.

Similar demonstrations have been taking place in Mexico City on the 26th of every month since the attacks occurred. These marches were massive for the first few months, rallying over one hundred thousand people from all walks of life. Several of those first demonstrations ended in police repression after allegedly being infiltrated by government provocateurs. However, turnout greatly diminished since the beginning of 2015. The march last Saturday was once again massive –tens of thousands of people gathered despite the rain–, proving that the Ayotzinapa case is still at the center of public concern.

Saturday’s demonstrations came after several important developments. On September 6th, a group of independent experts (the Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes or GIEI), appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to conduct a parallel investigation into the attacks, presented their preliminary results, which debunked (see this and this) many crucial points of the official government investigation. According to this official investigation, corrupt municipal police attacked the students, killing six people, and abducted 43 of them. They then handed the students over to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, who killed and incinerated them in a garbage dump. Their remains were then allegedly put into plastic bags and dumped in a river. The official explanation for the attacks was never clear and was changed several times –the last explanation was that the Guerreros Unidos cartel and corrupt local police had confused the students with members of a rival cartel.

The GIEI denied the possibility that the students were incinerated in the garbage dump and stated that many detained suspects had been tortured by authorities during their interrogation, which casts doubt on the veracity of their confessions. The experts also declared that municipal, state and federal police, as well as military forces, were monitoring the students’ movements in real time, were fully aware of the attacks and were present in the streets of Iguala that night. As a result, the motive for the attacks explained in the official investigation was ruled out, since all of the security forces were well aware of the identity of the students. The GIEI experts also pointed out that important evidence had been destroyed, and that they had repeatedly been denied the possibility of interviewing members of Iguala’s military battalion.

Another important development came on September 16th, as the attorney general Arely Gómez González declared that the remains, supposedly from the garbage dump, of a second student had been indentified by DNA analysis –the remains of a first student were identified in December 2014. However, a group of Argentine forensic experts that has participated in the investigation criticized the attorney general, explaining that the genetic matching between the samples and the student’s family was in fact low in statistical terms. These forensic experts also pointed out that the remains of both students were not found at the garbage dump but apparently in bag in a nearby river, although they were not present during the discovery of these remains and couldn’t vouch for their origin.

Parents of the 43 disappeared students, for their part, criticized the attorney general for her “lack of professional ethics, violating the agreement reached with the government to give information first to the families and then to the media.” Also, the director for the Americas of Amnesty International stated that: “the Mexican authorities’ unfounded allegations that they have identified the remains of Jhosivani [the second student] smell like desperation and a cruel attempt to show that they are taking action before the first anniversary of the students’ forced disappearance. It seems they are prepared to do anything so as to wash their hands of any responsibility in one the worst human rights tragedies in Mexico’s recent past.”

The last important development was that the parents of the 43 disappeared students met with President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday, September 24th. They made eight demands to the President:

* An acknowledgement of the legitimacy of their search for justice and that the case remain open.

* That the GIEI remain active investigating the case and that their reports and recommendations be accepted.

* That the investigation be redrawn and conducted by a specialized investigative unit, with international oversight. This unit would have two tasks: investigating the whereabouts of the students and investigating the government cover-up.

* Re-launching a search for the students with the use of all technology available.

* Immediate and dignified attention to those injured during the attacks and to the families of the students who were extrajudicially executed.

* Respect for the Ayotzinapa rural teacher’s college and that all attempts to criminalize the students be ceased.

* That mechanisms be put in place for a permanent and respectful communication between the government and the parents of the disappeared students.

* Recognition of the crisis of impunity, corruption and widespread violation of human rights in Mexico, and concrete actions to combat these issues.

The President refused to commit to all of these points, stating that the attorney general’s office and the Secretary of the Interior would study the demands. Instead, he announced six actions: to investigate all of the findings and possible culprits; to incorporate the GIEI’s results and recommendations into the official investigation; to continue to investigate what happened to each of the students; to insure that the victims get proper government attention; to re-analyze evidence in the garbage dump; and to create a special prosecutor’s office to investigate disappearances in general –mind you there are around 26,000 disappeared persons in Mexico, most during the last few years. Also, the GIEI was allowed to continue its investigation for another six months. However, the parents of the disappeared students had asked that the GIEI’s mission be extended a whole year.

Immediately after the meeting, the parents of the disappeared students denounced the President’s proposal, saying that some of the six points were just rehashed promises or things the government had the responsibility to do (and were not compromises), and insisting that they wanted an investigative unit, with international oversight, specifically for the Ayotzinapa case. They also decried the fact that the government continues to avoid recognizing that its investigation was wrong, and that it continues to deny the possibility for the GIEI to interview members of Iguala’s military battalion.

Saturday’s protest march also comes after signs of growing international pressure to elucidate the Ayotzinapa case. It is interesting to note that Jeremy Corbyn wrote a letter to the Mexican ambassador in the UK, expressing his concern about the Ayotzinapa investigation and about human rights in Mexico. The UN office in Mexico, for its part, called on the Mexican government to elucidate the irregularities and redraw its investigation. Even a group of senators from the US expressed concern about these irregularities and asked John Kerry to insist to Mexican authorities that the investigation be accurate and that the GIEI’s findings and recommendations be accepted.

Internal and international pressure will be of the upmost importance for a real investigation, with possible international oversight, to take place. What is certain is that the parents of the 43 disappeared students will not rest until they know the truth about what happened to their children, despite the government’s desire to wear them out and to close the case. As one of the parents declared at the end of Saturday’s march: “If he [the President] wagered on us becoming exhausted, he is losing. If he wagered on us forgetting, he is fucked. Because we, the 43 parents, will continue to fight for the 43 disappeared students.”

The social movement that has been generated by the Ayotzinapa case will not only be long lasting, but it is also set to instill a congregation of many separate social movements, as some intellectuals and prominent activists have been suggesting. The parents of the disappeared students acknowledged this at the protest march last Saturday. One of the parents stated that: “We are here not only to demand that our 43 students be found alive, but also to demand justice for over 25,000 disappeared persons in the country. We must also fight for those that have been dispossessed of their lands. Let there never be one more isolated struggle!”

A recent survey in 18 Latin-American countries revealed that Mexicans are the most unsatisfied with “democracy”, and that the Mexican President was one of the worst rated in the whole continent. As Mexicans’ trust in their institutions and in democracy keeps fading, the joining of social movements will be of essence to restructure the grave failings of the Mexican State.

Matthew Lorenzen can be reached at: matthewjlorenzen@gmail.com.