Gov­ern­ment Spon­sored Mur­der

One jour­nal­ist’s fear­less in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a 2014 mas­sacre that still grips Mex­ico

Newsweek - - Culture - BY ROBERT VA­LEN­CIA @rva­len­twit

on septem­ber 26, 2014, po­lice in the Mex­i­can town of Iguala in­ter­cepted a group of stu­dents from the Ay­otz­i­napa Ru­ral Teach­ers’ Col­lege, lo­cated in the Guer­rero state, a re­gion rife with drug-re­lated vi­o­lence. The stu­dents—also called nor­mal­is­tas—had been stopped for hi­jack­ing two buses to travel to Mex­ico City, where they in­tended to join the an­nual march that com­mem­o­rates the 1968 Tlatelolco mas­sacre, a na­tional scan­dal in which hun­dreds of stu­dents and civil­ians were killed by the mil­i­tary. In the sub­se­quent clash, six stu­dents, all in their 20s, were killed and an­other 25 wounded. Forty-three sim­ply van­ished.

The gov­ern­ment’s of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that au­thor­i­ties turned the nor­mal­is­tas over to the Guer­reros Unidos drug car­tel, which killed and then burned the miss­ing stu­dents in a trash pit in Coc­ula. Mex­i­cans re­jected that ver­sion, and thou­sands demon­strated, shout­ing, “They took them from us alive, want them back alive” and “Fue el es­tado! [It was the state!].”

In March the of­fice of the U.N. high com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights found that the so-called Ay­otz­i­napa in­ves­ti­ga­tion was in­ad­e­quate and “af­fected by cover-ups.” For jour­nal­ist An­abel Hernán­dez, it was long-sought vin­di­ca­tion. Hernán­dez has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing col­lu­sion be­tween gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and drug car­tels, as well as the il­licit drug trade and abuse of power, for Mex­ico’s big­gest pub­li­ca­tions for over two decades. Death threats from the car­tels forced her and her fam­ily to leave the coun­try— they now live in San Fran­cisco—but she has con­tin­ued to in­ves­ti­gate Ay­otz­i­napa. Us­ing video from sur­veil­lance footage, med­i­cal re­ports and se­cret gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments, she pieced to­gether her the­ory in A Mas­sacre in Mex­ico: The True Story Be­hind the Miss­ing Forty-three Stu­dents, first pub­lished in Span­ish in 2016.

Newsweek spoke with the au­thor just be­fore the book’s English­language re­lease.

What’s changed since the Span­ish­language ver­sion was pub­lished? The find­ings have been con­firmed by the United Nations, a fed­eral judge and a court in the state of Ta­mauli­pas, Mex­ico. The ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple ap­pre­hended by the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment for the at­tacks on the stu­dents had been bru­tally tor­tured and forced to con­fess to a crime they didn’t com­mit. One of the tor­tured in­di­vid­u­als in­cluded Felipe Ro­dríguez Sal­gado (aka “El Cepillo,” or “the Brush”), who the gov­ern­ment ac­cused of burn­ing the stu­dents in the al­leged trash pit. There are five peo­ple who have been ex­on­er­ated, and a fed­eral judge be­gan to is­sue re­lease or­ders for the oth­ers [in Septem­ber].

Who is re­spon­si­ble for the at­tacks? Those who com­mit­ted the crimes in­clude the mayor who or­dered the po­lice to in­ter­cept the hi­jacked buses, the ser­vice peo­ple from the 27th In­fantry bat­tal­ion, mem­bers of the fed­eral po­lice as­signed to the Iguala head­quar­ters, mem­bers of the of­fice of the at­tor­ney gen­eral and state po­lice and mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties. We’re talk­ing about nearly 60 pub­lic of­fi­cials.

The other cul­prits are those who cov­ered the crimes up—the of­fi­cials who re­fused to in­car­cer­ate and pros­e­cute. The ad­min­is­tra­tion of [out­go­ing Pres­i­dent En­rique] Peña Ni­eto; the de­fense sec­re­tary, Sal­vador Cien­fue­gos; the then-at­tor­ney gen­eral, Jesús Murillo Karam; and the then–in­te­rior min­is­ter, Miguel Án­gel Oso­rio Chong.

Four years later, have there been ad­vances in bring­ing th­ese of­fi­cials to jus­tice?

No. It is proved that at least nine po­lice of­fi­cers fired weapons that night but no par­tic­i­pat­ing ser­vice per­son, fed­eral and state po­lice of­fi­cer or mem­ber of the of­fice of the at­tor­ney gen­eral has been de­tained.

The 43 stu­dents are among the many thou­sands who have gone miss­ing in Mex­ico, cor­rect?

In the last 12 years, 36,000 peo­ple have dis­ap­peared amid the coun­try’s so-called war on drugs. When the Felipe Calderón ad­min­is­tra­tion ended in 2012, The New York Times and I had ac­cess to a data­base that con­tained 25,000 miss­ing peo­ple at the time. But the Calderón ad­min­is­tra­tion wanted to delete the list so Mex­i­cans wouldn’t find out how many peo­ple dis­ap­peared and un­der what cir­cum­stances. This is the rea­son why the Ay­otz­i­napa case is so im­por­tant: There is a pat­tern here. Most of th­ese dis­ap­pear­ances oc­curred with the pres­ence of au­thor­i­ties dur­ing the crime.

From the Calderón gov­ern­ment to the out­go­ing Peña Ni­eto ad­min­is­tra­tion, it is be­lieved that dis­ap­pear­ances are car­ried out by or­ga­nized crime such as drug car­tels, kid­nap­pers or hu­man traf­fick­ers. The Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has never rec­og­nized that state in­sti­tu­tions are ei­ther the main per­pe­tra­tors or ac­com­plices of th­ese crimes.

It is proved that the Mex­i­can army has ac­tively par­tic­i­pated in the coun­try’s most ter­ri­ble mas­sac­ries— in­clud­ing Tlatelolco in 1968 and El Charco in 1998. In many cases, th­ese crimes go un­pun­ished; there is no sin­gle mil­i­tary mem­ber be­hind bars.

Pres­i­dent-elect An­dres Manuel López Obrador pledged to re­open the in­ves­ti­ga­tions when he as­sumes of­fice. Are you hope­ful?

I spoke with Ale­jan­dro Enci­nas, the un­der­sec­re­tary of hu­man rights, start­ing De­cem­ber 1. He con­firmed that the new ad­min­is­tra­tion will sub­mit the Mex­i­can army, pub­lic of­fi­cials, sol­diers and cap­tains to a rig­or­ous in­ter­ro­ga­tion, in hopes of find­ing the corpses. López Obrador may have good in­ten­tions, but the con­se­quences of a gov­ern­ment hold­ing an army as pow­er­ful as Mex­ico’s ac­count­able will be un­think­able.

And yet it is in­dis­pens­able to do so. The army has never been more pow­er­ful, with a larger arse­nal and im­proved train­ing. But in­stead of us­ing th­ese to com­bat drug car­tels, they use them against the pop­u­la­tion. We can’t talk about a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment as long as there is an in­sti­tu­tion that kills cit­i­zens with im­punity. The army and marines have no train­ing in hu­man rights and have been per­me­ated by drug car­tels.

It’s also worth not­ing that the mil­i­tary is fi­nanced, trained and well equipped by the U.S. through the 2008 Mérida Ini­tia­tive, a se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment that seeks to com­bat money laun­der­ing and il­licit drug trade.

Do you still fear for your life?

We can’t re­turn to Mex­ico to live. I went back in Au­gust 2016 for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and to pub­lish my book. At that time, I was told that I was be­ing fol­lowed and was forced to leave again. Not­with­stand­ing, I’m re­turn­ing once or twice ev­ery month to con­tinue my re­search. Crim­i­nals in­side and out­side of the gov­ern­ment man­aged to get me out of my home­land, but they won’t si­lence me.

UNAN­SWERED PRAYERS Thou­sands have marched for jus­tice since the dis­ap­pear­ance of the 43 stu­dents.

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