Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 15, 2014

New Report Exposes Mexico's Dirty War

Corpses of students massacred by police as they were coming from Iguala to collect funds.

By Frontera NorteSur

Censored News

New Report Exposes Mexican Dirty War

After more than two years of painstaking work, a revealing report on the Mexican government’s dirty war against opponents in the state of Guerrero decades ago will be delivered Wed. Oct, 15, 2014, even as new human rights and political crises engulf the Pacific coast state.

Authored by the official Guerrero Truth Commission (Comverdad), the report will be presented to government officials at a session in the tense state capital of Chilpancingo.

Based on archival research as well as hundreds of interviews with Dirty War survivors and victims’ relatives, the report names politicians and members of government security forces responsible for extrajudicial murder, torture, forced disappearance, rape, and scorched earth campaigns that displaced entire communities.

The findings document the cases of more than 200 of the estimated 600 individuals in Guerrero forcibly disappeared during a government counter-insurgency campaign against leftist rebels, rural residents and political dissidents during the late 1960s and 1970s.  The ultimate fates of the missing have never been fully explained.

But Pilar Noriega, Mexican attorney and Comverdad commissioner, said research by commission staff showed that government prisoners were registered at places like Military Camp No.1 in Mexico City before they vanished.

“This is a fact,” Noriega told FNS.

Established by the Guerrero State Congress in 2012 after years of campaigning by Dirty War survivors,  Comverdad was given a two-year mandate to compile a historical record of human rights abuses between 1969 to 1979 and issue recommendations for further action by the authorities.

Although the Guerrero project uniquely centered on a single state, Comverdad’s report is not the first one sanctioned by the Mexican government to examine the Dirty War.

A 2001 report by the National Commission for Human Rights detailed human rights abuses on a nationwide basis during the Dirty War, as did a 2006 report by a now-defunct federal special prosecutor’s office that, despite some legal attempts, failed to hold accountable government officials who were linked to human rights atrocities like former President Luis Echeverria.
Noriega, however, said the work of the Guerrero Truth Commission broke new ground-sometimes literally.

For example, Comverdad’s investigations allowed staff and support personnel to recover the remains earlier this year of two guerrillas from the Poor Peoples Party who were slain in combat with the Mexican army in 1974. The Mexican army had ordered local residents of the mountainous zone where the clash occurred to bury the two men in secret graves, where they laid for almost 40 years.

Given Mexico’s geographic proximity to the United States as well as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s intense activities south of the borde, FNS asked Noriega about Washington’s role in Guerrero during the Dirty War. She said Comverdad did not locate documents in Mexican government archives that indicated a direct U.S. role, but records made it clear that Washington was closely “following the matter” of Guerrero.

“If Washington intervened directly, at least the documents we had access to in the (Mexican) National Archive did not show that,” Noriega said. Kate Doyle, longtime director of the Mexico Project of the National Security Archive (NSA), a non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C., concurred with Noriega’s take on Washington’s participation in the Mexican Dirty War.

Doyle, whose organization has obtained CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency documents via the Freedom of Information Act on the situation in Guerrero, especially from 1971 to 1974, told FNS that the U.S. gathered intelligence and sometimes provided it.

Unlike Mexican government propagandists of the time who cast Poor Peoples Party leader Lucio Cabanas as a brigand, CIA analysts regarded the school teacher-turned-guerrilla commander an important leader with a mass following, according to Doyle. But following the mold of U.S. policy before and afterward, the administration of President Richard Nixon backed the Mexican counterinsurgency campaign, despite being aware of human rights abuses in full swing.

Washington supported “implicitly and explicitly anything Mexico did to maintain stability,” Doyle said in a phone interview.

Conducting its investigation and preparing a final report was no easy task for the budget-strapped Comverdad. According to Noriega, commission staff received “surprise” visits from federal police officers; the windows in one Comverdad office were broken; and false stories were spread that the commission was dripping with millions of pesos.

Moreover, some commissioners were threatened, with Noriega and another commissioner forced to spend a night in the boondocks after they were assaulted by attackers on a highway last January.
Comverdad had no budget for the last six months of its term, and never got full access to key documents possessed the federal attorney general’s office that could have been utilized in the commission’s final report, Noriega said.

By law, Comverdad will cease to exist on October 15 after its report is given in Chilpancingo.  Now, it will be up for other officials to act on the information. “We aren’t a prosecutorial body,” Noriega stressed. “The evidence we have will be given to the (legal) authorities.”

The reparation of damages to victims’ families will be among the recommendations Comverdad makes to state officials; historical events of the Dirty War and the personalities behind them are planned for inclusion in future textbooks distributed in Guerrero’s schools, Noriega said.

The outgoing commissioner added that officials from the Pena Nieto administration made public commitments to address the human rights debt at a session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, D.C. last March.

Ironically, the Guerrero Truth Commission report on the Dirty War goes public when a new one is scarring the landscape, according to many human rights activists and observers.

The most dramatic-and bloody-example of the contemporary dirty war happened the evening of September 26 and the morning of September 27 in Iguala, Guerrero, when municipal policemen and civilian gunmen gunned down six people and forcibly disappeared 43 male students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero-Lucio Cabanas’ alma matter.

More than 30 policemen and others have been reportedly detained for crimes related  to the Iguala Massacre, but the students are still missing. In this connection, the authorities are checking the identities of numerous human remains found in clandestine graves near Iguala.

If anything, the crisis over the Iguala Massacre is deepening. This week alone, hundreds of enraged Mexican students and teachers trashed and torched government offices, occupied banks and shut down businesses in Chilpancingo, as other protesters blockaded highways south of Acapulco.

Students in Michoacan seized buses from private companies for a protest caravan to Guerrero, while a second one departed Oaxaca to provide support for the Atoytzinapa students.

Besides the safe return of the students, many protesters demand the ouster of Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre who, ironically, first served as governor in 1996 after Ruben Figueroa Alcocer was forced to resign because of the massacre of 17 unarmed farmers by state policemen at Aguas Blancas.

In Mexico City, thousands of students of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, National Pedagogical University, Autonomous Metropolitan University, Autonomous University of Chapingo, National School of Anthropolgy and History, the Autonomous University of Mexico City, and the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico are staging strikes and protests in solidarity with the Ayotzinapa students, according to the latest press reports from Mexico.

The university uprisings occur even as a massive student strike continues at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City.

Internationally, the Iguala Massacre and other human rights abuses have elicited sharp rebukes from the IACHR, the United Nations, Amnesty International, and members of the European Parliament.

As Mexico prepares for key Congressional elections in 2015, the new human rights crisis has transformed into the worst political one for the barely two-year-old administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto. Mexican political analyst Raymundo Riva Palacio captured the sentiment across the pundits’ spectrum in a column this week he penned about the perennial crises of Mexican presidents.

“Some emerged from the tempests successful, while others sunk and took the country down with them,” Riva Palacio wrote. “But in all cases, the crisis defined the presidency and their administrations.  Now it’s Enrique Pena Nieto’s turn.”

Will the Iguala Massacre and other ongoing events divert attention away from the Guerrero Truth Commission report?

“I think this is precisely the moment the report should come out-the obvious necessity of the government addressing not only a security crisis in Guerrero but a democracy crisis,” the NSA’s Kate Doyle contended.

“I can’t think of a better time for the Guerrero Truth Commission to reflect on this brutal, violent past in Mexico. The horror that’s happening today is something that has been ongoing in Guerrero and other parts of Mexico for decades and must be stopped.”

In contrast to Latin American countries like Guatemala and Argentina, where Cold War era dirty wars were followed up by truth commissions and even the prosecution and jailing of some officials responsible for grave human rights violations,  Mexico never engaged in a historical accounting of its own dirty war, according to Doyle.

Doyle cautioned that truth commissions are not human rights panaceas, but can be “one path” in a broader societal quest for justice.

For Pilar Noriega, contemporary atrocities like the Iguala Massacre have long, tangled roots in the 1970s Dirty War.  “This is the product of impunity from that era,” Noriega said. “It is the product of not having clarity about that epoch.”

-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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