More than 17 months after the deadly attack on students and civilians in the Mexican city of Iguala, the truth behind the atrocity — and justice for the victims — seems more elusive than ever.
Although many people have been detained in connection with the attacks launched by police and suspected underworld gunmen, basic questions are still not answered about the events of Sept. 26-27, 2014, which shook Mexico to the core and focused world attention on an ongoing human rights crisis south of the border.
Who exactly ordered the attack? Precisely which government authorities were aware of the events as they transpired in real time, and why did they not stop the aggression? Why didn’t authorities react to the hundreds of forced disappearances that occurred in the Iguala area prior to the forced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college?
What’s more, if the students who were snatched by security forces allegedly working in cahoots with the Guerreros Unidos drug trafficking organization were not murdered and incinerated at the Cocula garbage dump — as was claimed by former Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam but later discredited by exhaustively-researched reports from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and a team of independent experts (GIEI) named by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — then what happened to the missing young men?
It’s important to note that three Ayotzinapa students — Daniel Solis Gallardo, Julio Ramirez Nava, and Julio Cesar Mondragon — were killed during the attacks launched against the students in Iguala.
And last but far from least, is a cover-up of the whole episode deepening?
In an op-ed critiquing last month’s visit to Iguala by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, a legal and human rights advocacy organization supporting the parents of the 43 missing students contended that while impunity and insecurity still gripped the land, the relatives and friends of the Ayotzinapa students were just as determined as ever to continue on the path of truth and justice.
“Although the reflectors are focused on Iguala in order to find the 43 disappeared young men, the authorities have no indications of where they were taken. There are more doubts than certainties in arriving to other lines of investigations,” wrote the Guerrero-based Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain.
“The declarations of more than 100 detainees do not point to the intellectual authors. Nothing more is known about the collusion of high-ranking politicians with criminal organizations, and very little has advanced in the line of investigation concerning the fifth bus (the possible key to the Iguala atrocity). A wall is run up against in investigating the military personnel and big business of drugs that leave Guerrero for various cities in the United States…”
Iguala’s position in Mexico’s opium/heroin industry might be compared with the historic role of California’s Napa Valley and San Luis Obispo/Paso Robles region in winemaking.
A test of political will in getting to the bottom of the truth of Iguala/Ayotzinapa was recently held in the Guerrero state capital of Chilpancingo, where more dirt was tossed on official account of the Night of Iguala.
Convened by the Ayotizinapa Special Commission of the Mexican Congress and a similar group from the Guerrero State Legislature, the meeting featured testimonies from relatives and associates of the Avispones soccer team, whose bus was shot up by gunmen the evening of Sept. 26, killing the driver and a promising young soccer player. A woman passing by in a taxi was also killed by the gunmen, who were presumably from the Iguala municipal police force.
Largely quiet since the bloody night, the family members and team staff spoke out publicly.
Previous accounts filtered through Mexican government channels held that the Avispones, who were returning in a bus to Chilpancingo from a victorious match in Iguala, were traveling in a vehicle that was confused for one of the buses seized by the Ayotzinapa students and furiously pursued by police and other gunmen.
But Avispones parents Miguel Angel Rios and Roberta Evangelista don’t accept that version. At the Feb. 25 Ayotzinapa Special Commision meeting in Chilpancingo, Rios and Evangelista told lawmakers that the attack bore the hallmarks of a planned one, partly based on information that was circulating on social media in Iguala on Sept. 26 warning of ugly events to follow.
Evangelista is the mother of David Josue Garcia, the 15-year-old Avispones player who was shot to death in the attack. She insisted that the Avispones’ bus could not have been mistaken for one of the vehicles the Ayotzinapa students seized at the Iguala bus terminal, which they planned to use in their fundraising and political activities, because it was of a different model.
The bereaved mother scolded legislators for taking so long to hear from relatives of the Avispones’ victims, who in addition to Garcia and the slain bus driver, Victor Manuel Lugo Ortiz, included several wounded bus passengers.
“We don’t know what you have done since you were named part of the Special Commission…” Evangelista said. “It is sad to retell what happened.”
Added Rios, “We feel we are the forgotten (victims) of Iguala.” Backing up his case, Rios said that of the 32 recommendations on Iguala/Ayotzinapa issued by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission only three of them dealt with the attack against the Avispones.
Almost from the beginning, the administration of Peña Nieto disassociated federal security forces from involvement in the Iguala violence, but testimony offered in Chilpancingo recently painted a different picture. Rios, for instance, said he saw Mexican soldiers on the streets of Iguala during the night of the murderous police rampage.
Facundo Serrano, manager for the Avispones, added that Federal Police agents refused to help injured people aboard the Avispones’ bus who sought treatment at an Iguala medical clinic. Instead of getting prompt medical treatment, the Avispones were subjected to gunpowder residue tests which inexplicably came out positive, Serrano said.
The testimonies of Rios and Serrano coincided with surviving Aytozinapa students, who previously complained that they were harassed by soldiers while attempting to get help for wounded classmates at the Iguala clinic. Jorge Leon Sanchez, Avispones’ trainer, broadened the criticism by taking unnamed legislators to task for improperly offering people related to the Iguala victims houses that were built for the displaced victims of Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel in 2013.
Many stories in the Guerrero and national press have reported on misapplications of relief aid and multiple problems in reconstruction projects, including extortion.
The Chilpancingo testimonies were laid out in detail in a letter from Avispones’ relatives and staff to Congresswoman Maria Guadalupe Murguia Gutierrez, head of the Ayotzinapa Special Commission. The letter said the Avispones’ bus was detained by the Federal Police 20 minutes before it was attacked by gunmen. It also accused federal officers of blocking timely medical assistance, thus allowing teen David Josue Garcia to die.
Further, members of the Avispones went the headquarters of the army’s 27th Infantry Battalion but were turned down for medical assistance there, too, the letter charged. Instead of getting help from the soldiers, the Avispones were “received with mistreatment and threats,” the writers asserted.
The letter accused authorities of mishandling evidence from the attack, adding that the charter bus from the private Castro Tours company in which the Avispones were attacked is now back on the road minus the bullet holes and shattered glass. As it turned out, the Chilpancingo meeting exposed internal divisions within the Ayotzinapa Special Commission, which had been percolating for months, over the scope and breadth of the congressional body’s probe.
A major source of contention is how or even whether the members of the Mexican army should face candid questioning from lawmakers about the possible participation of soldiers in the Iguala/Ayotzinapa affair.
Last October, Mexico’s Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos declined a request to allow “foreigners” (a reference to the GIEI) to interview soldiers, but he reportedly agreed to a meeting between the Ayotzinapa Special Commission and soldiers from the 27th Infantry Battalion, the unit which is stationed in Iguala.
A back-and-forth between the military and Ayotzinapa Special Commission then ensued for months, with same lawmakers wanting to systematically interview the army chain of command responsible for Iguala during late September 2014, including General Alejandro Saavedra Hernandez, who was later promoted before landing his current job as state security coordinator for Guerrero.
But on Feb. 3, Ayotzinapa Special Commission member Arturo Alvarez Agli proposed that the commission cancel a face-to-face meeting with the military. A Mexican Green Party member from Guerrero, Alvarez argued that the desired information could be received in writing. His position was supported by a majority of Special Commission members representing Peña Nieto’s PRI and allies from the Panal and PES parties.
In Chilpancingo, Special Commission member Araceli Damian Gonzalez, representative of the Morena party, accused Alvarez and fellow commission members Victor Manuel Silva (PRI) and Maria Eugenia Ocampo (Panal) of undermining efforts to interview soldiers from the 27th Battalion who were present for the Night of Iguala.
Green Party representatives countered the accusation by decrying a “politicization” of the Special Commission that could only hurt victims’ relatives, with Alvarez adding that a meeting with soldiers was unnecessary since Defense Secretary Cienfuegos had already rendered pertinent information. The military chain of command should be respected, he said.
Special Commission member Marbella Toledo Ibarra, representative of the Citizen Movement party, supported Congresswoman Damian Gonzalez’s criticism. “Unfortunately, the relevant parties that are interested in arriving at the truth have been wiped out,” Toledo was quoted as saying. “We lost all the votes.”
As dust from the Chilpancingo meeting lingered in the air, a spokesman for the Ayotzinapa students characterized as a waste of time an announcement by the Mexican Office of the Attorney General (PGR) that it would conduct a third probe of the Cocula dump, given that both the Argentine forensic anthropology specialists and the GIEI found no relevant evidence at the site to support the story of a mass murder and incineration there.
Nonetheless, Meliton Ortega said parents would respect the PGR’s new investigation if it was conducted in conformance with criteria developed by the GIEI.
According to the PGR, the study is expected to be completed later this month for review by the GIEI and PGR. Federal officials would “continue advancing in parallel form” with other leads aimed at clarifying the Iguala/Ayotzinapa crimes and detaining all the responsible parties, the PGR insisted.
For their part, parents were to return to Iguala last week in an attempt to gather more testimony from residents about the events of Sept. 26 and 27, 2014, Ortega said.
Meanwhile, friends and family members mourned Mauro Rosario Ayodoro, an ex-commander of the community police and member of the Popular Guerrero Movement (MPG) who was assassinated Feb. 28 together with fellow activist Gerardo Simon Ramirez in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero.
Ayodoro was from the same municipality where eight of the 43 missing students hailed, and he led search parties to the Iguala area in a community mobilization to locate the young men in late 2014.
“He was very involved, and gave part of his life to find the young men of Ayotzinapa,” said Tecoanapa MPG leader Jose Isabel Garcia Mora.
Ayodoro had worked closely with Miguel Angel Jimenez Blanco, another community police leader from the Guerrero State Union of Popular Organizations who led the searches for the 43 students. In their investigations, the two men and their helpers uncovered clandestine graves near Iguala containing the remains of other murder victims. Jimenez was later murdered on Aug. 8, 2015.
In a report on the state of human rights in Mexico in 2015 released on March 2, the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights termed Iguala/Ayotzinapa an “emblematic example of the apparent collusion between federal agents of the State and members of organized crime.”
The report contended that grave human rights violations in Mexico such as Iguala/Ayotzinapa were subject to the impunity that’s reigned in the country ever since the Mexican government’s unpunished dirty war of the 1970s against opponents.
Sources: Aristeguinoticias.com, March 2, 2016. Article by Gustavo Sanchez B. El Sur, February 26, 28 and 29, 2016; March 1, 2016. Articles by Carlos Navarette, Lourdes Chavez, Zacarias Cervantes, Tlachinollan, and editorial staff. La Jornada, February 29, 2016 and March 2, 2016. Articles by Carlos Fazio and David Brooks. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), February 25, 2016. Article by Citlal Giles Sanchez. Proceso, September 20, 2015; February 14, 2016; March 2, 2016. Articles by Anabel Hernandez, Steve Fisher, Jesusa Cervantes, Marcela Turati, and editorial staff. CNN.com, September 21, 2015. Article by Laura Reyes.