Mexico Claims on Disappeared Students

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Mexico Claims on Disappeared Students

Explosive allegations published in Proceso, one of Mexico’s leading news weeklies, this past Sunday, revealed strong evidence pointing to direct participation of federal authorities in the presumed killings of dozens of education students from the drug war-torn state of Guerrero. The investigation also revealed that Mexican federal, state and municipal authorities were tracking the exact movements of the students on the same night of the massacre in question this past Sept. 26. According to the government’s own documents, and in at least five clear instances, key testimony obtained by officials to sustain their version of the events was actually induced via illegal interrogation techniques that amounted to torture, including electric shocks to testicles and extreme beatings.
The investigation’s revelations are not only a stark contrast with what has been officially maintained by the Peña Nieto administration, but also contradict most of what most mainstream news has reported from Mexico and beyond.

The Official Version
The official version of what happened Sept. 26, the night of the disappearances, largely emanates from a now-infamous press conference, which has even served as a reference point for a nationwide movement that has been ongoing since soon after the presumed massacre occurred. The Attorney General leading the press conference, Jesus Murillo Karam, mentioned that he was tired at the end of the hour-long conference. “I’ve had enough, I’m tired,” Murillo said, when trying to avoid further questions from journalists about the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students. The #YaMeCanse Twitter hashtag arose almost as soon as the conference itself ended, and has served as the battle cry for a nationwide movement that has attracted international support and attention, including a day of protests which featured over 200 actions across the globe and cross-border protests, as previously reported by teleSUR English. During the press conference, and reiterated through a variety of official accounts since that time, authorities have claimed that the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife ordered local municipal police to attack several buses of the “normalistas” (trainee teachers) on several occasions. The attacks wound up killing at least three people and 43 students were handed over to the “Guerreros Unidos,” or United Warriors, drug gang. Authorities say the gang went on to brutally assassinate, dismember, torture and burn the victims to death, something which is disputed by their parents. The ex-mayor and his wife have since been detained in connection to the presumed massacre. Acting on a tip from the couple’s landlord in Itzapalapa, the “imperial couple,” as local media dubbed them, were considered by federal officials to be the main culprits behind the crime. The official allegation was that the couple acted in cahoots with a gang that had long suspected, close ties to the mayor and his wife.

State Version Undermined
The new investigation, penned by acclaimed Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez and the University of California at Berkeley-based journalist Steve Fisher, blows the lid off the official accounts in a number of ways. It says that federal, state and local officials were quite aware of the whereabouts of the students and were closely tracking and monitoring them. According to the investigation, key testimonies, obtained by officials, were garnered through illegal torture techniques; federal police and soldiers from the military were present at the scene of the killings; and the government has deliberately withheld this information in an attempt to maintain their own official accounting of the events in question. The allegations also come during a time in which the government’s version of the events was already being questioned by other sources. A research team, headed by a group of scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, argued that the government claims that the “Guerreros Unidos” gang incinerated all 43 students lacked any “scientific explanation.” In an extended interview via a three-way telephone call with the authors of the investigation with teleSUR English, Anabel Hernandez and Steve Fisher discussed and detailed their findings.

Journalists Discuss Disturbing Findings ​
The ever-passionate and expressive Hernandez is no stranger to explosive investigations and allegations, so much so that her home was raided by official authorities late last year. The award-winning and internationally-acclaimed journalist has also been subjected to harrowing, threatening acts, such as having found animal body parts at the doorstep of her home. In her latest investigation, however, Hernandez makes the case that her co-authored findings starkly reveal that governmental responsibility for the presumed massacre is much higher than what has been previously admitted. “The point is that we know that the federal police were there, we know that they knew when the students abducted and we know that many of the testimonies that the PGR [Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office] were obtained and acquired through torture techniques. But in Mexico, evidence obtained through torture is illegal,” Hernandez told teleSUR. In contrast to the official version, which maintains that the federal government was unaware of the massacre, Hernandez and Fisher allege that federal police and military soldiers directly participated in the presumed massacre itself and were one of three levels of government closely monitoring the students whereabouts throughout the night of the presumed massacre. According to Hernandez and Fisher’s account of the unedited Guerrero state report they obtained, which was drawn up for the Interior Ministry and obtained by the magazine about a month-and-a-half ago, the students were monitored as soon as they left their school grounds at 5:59 p.m. Both federal and state police were monitoring the students while they traveled from the Chilpancingo-based Control, Computational and Communications Center (C4). The article goes into further detail, noting that at 8 p.m., the federal and state police arrived at the highway where the students were fundraising; at 9:21 p.m., a federal police chief – Luis Antonio Dorantes – was advised of the student’s arrival; and at 9:40 p.m. the C4 center reported the first gunshots. The report was also based on 12 videos recorded by surviving students on their cell phones. One of those, now publicly released, has audio clearly recording one of the surviving students yelling in distress: “The police are now coming, the federales are staying and they are going to want to screw us over!” The student clearly makes the distinction between local police and federal police. In sum, various levels of government were much more aware of the students, and more present at key points throughout the evening in question, than has been previously admitted. Hernandez made it clear to teleSUR, however, that their investigation didn’t reveal whether or not the United Warriors gang were involved with the massacre. Her partner Fisher said: “We cannot say whether or not Guerreros Unidos was ultimately involved with this, or not, but we can say that the evidence we have acquired was that they were tortured [before their testimonies were given]. It is thus suspect that they could actually get proper testimonies considering the fact that they were tortured brutally, including electric shocks to testicles and extreme beatings.” Hernandez added that other telltale signs of torture were uncovered in their investigation, including bruised ribs, blackened eyes and black-and-blue marks on the neck. Such findings were especially damning, Hernandez pointed out, considering that, “the attorney general’s version was based solely on testimony by presumed drug traffickers.” Fisher expanded, telling teleSUR, “I would say that in any case where there is torture involved, it brings into question the entire investigation. It would be interesting to know why the PGR would base this very important investigation on, according to their own documents, information obtained through people that were brutally beaten and tortured.” Hernandez and Fisher wrote that the Peña Nieto administration has withheld the information they reported on. Soon after the disappearance of the education students, the Guerrero Attorney General’s Office requested that the Mexican Federal Police hand over extensive documentation related to the potential participation of federal police agents, including the exact registries of when agents clocked in and out while on the job the night of the attack. However, the investigation added that since the Peña Nieto’s administration took over the investigation this past Oct. 4, the requested documentation was never handed over to the Guerrero office. “It is clear that the PGR has been manipulating the case, that the federal government has been manipulating the case, and that now, the official version of the case has been shown to not be trustworthy,” Hernandez passionately asserted during the extensive interview, adding that in subsequent conversations with government officials, none of their allegations were officially denied to either of the reporters.

Investigation Points to a Number of Implications
Considering the many contradictions between the investigation and official accounts, many questions can be asked. Since Mexican officials have long-claimed that United Warriors was the group which took custody of the students from local police, who had initially detained them, have there been any false arrests among the some 74 people that have been rounded up since Sept. 26? The accused leader of the United Warriors, Sidronio Casarrubias, is among the many detained, who include an array of local law enforcement officials. Casarrubias has since revealed to officials the kind of relationship he had with Abarca while he was mayor, but it is not clear whether or not he was among the five people tortured in Herandez and Fisher’s account. “United Warriors has sewn a web of complicity with several mayors and above all with security officials,” Murillo previously told the press. “In Iguala, the complicity was between the authorities, the local police and the United Warriors,” Murillo added. If there is one official acknowledgment which Hernandez and Fisher do not dispute, it is the systematic relationship that exists between drug cartels and the Mexican state. It is that very relationship which has served as a spark plug to a nation that has undertaken a significant amount of resistance since Sept. 26.

Nationwide Movement Continues to Wage Protest
The revelations by Herandez and Fisher come at a time that the nation’s ire was already raised to a feverish boiling point. In one of the largest countries and economies of Latin America, Mexico has witnessed near-daily, and nationwide, actions of resistance. Since the disappearance of the “normalistas” on Sept. 26, the country has been brimming with mass marches, candle-light vigils, university and labor-union-led strikes, occupations of official and university buildings, riot police-led arrests of demonstrators, property destruction of official buildings, sit-ins, panels ruminating over the ills of narco-state violence and international bridge closings. Most recently, at least 22 people were injured this past Sunday during protests in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, in which police opened fire on demonstrators. teleSUR reported that three parents of the forcibly disappeared, a journalist, a student from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and a member of an education union were among those injured. The violent law enforcement response to the protests, specifically that of Sunday’s occurrences, prompted the National Human rights Commission to demand that authorities conduct themselves within the law. The disappearance clearly served as the catalyst for the movement’s inception, much of the country has long been weary of the systematic problem of disappearances, and the eery official impunity which has often surrounded them. Conservative official estimates put the disappearances at nothing less than 22,000 over the course of the last three years alone. Other analysts estimate the actual total as being higher than that.

Mass Graves Point to Narco-State Crimes
The disappearances of the “normalistas” are emblematic of a long-running problem in Mexico: thousands upon thousands of cases of disappearances, many of whose investigations were found ‘inconclusive’ and long ago closed, exist throughout the country. Some estimates range as high as 24,000 disappearances having occurred since 2011 alone, the overwhelming amount of which were “unsolved” and/or “closed” cases. In another case of official law enforcement involvement in a crime, 22 alleged kidnappers were summarily executed by Mexican soldiers in Tlatlaya in June 2014. A federal judge recently charged three soldiers with murder and four others with abuse of authority and other charges in relation to the massacre. At least a dozen mass grave sites have been discovered since the time of the Ayotzinapa disappearances. Meanwhile, movement activists and organizers alike have alleged that many more mass grave sites exist than those officially acknowledged.
Regardless of the real total of mass graves, their undisputed existence still points to a problem more familiar to locals and residents of the area: Guerrero is not only a drug war-torn state, but a complex nexus of corruption and corroboration between local, regional and state authorities and their allies in street gangs and powerful drug cartels. Even federal officials have since admitted that the case of the disappeared students points to a larger, narco-state reality. While the troubles of living under a narco-state have long-been familiar to residents in Guerrero, in the wake of what seemingly is a never-ending case of the disappearances of the Guerrero students, it has now become a reality with which the whole nation of Mexico, and well beyond, are becoming familiar with as well. But now, in light of the explosive allegations revealed by Hernandez and Fisher, it will become yet a more complex reality with which the nation will have to come to grips and to which the government may have to provide yet more answers during tiring press conferences.

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