By Fulton Armstrong
Last week’s report on the disappearance of 43 Mexican students from the tiny village of Ayotzinapa left many questions unanswered about events on the bloody night of September 26-27, 2014, but it left no doubts about the depth of the corruption at the local and national level swirling around the youths’ tragic deaths. The Mexican government – recipient of more than $2 billion in U.S. security assistance in the last eight years – not only produced a bogus report last year, based on tortured and otherwise impugnable sources, to divert attention from the tragedy; it also actively impeded the work of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), operating under the aegis of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, that produced the new report. GIEI members documented the witness-tampering, obstructionism, and overall lack of cooperation of the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. As the public presentation of the report wrapped up, the massacre victims’ families and supporters – some holding signs demanding to know “¿Dónde están?” – made clear their fear that the government will again sweep the case under the carpet and chanted to the experts, “¡No se vayan!”
Many details of the kidnapping, torture, and execution of the 43 youths, who were studying to be teachers, probably will never be known because much of the evidence has been tainted or destroyed. The GIEI, however, pieced together a largely verifiable explanation of events in which local police, Federal Police, and the Army went on a bloody rampage after the students commandeered buses, as they had on other occasions with the tolerance of their owners, to transport classmates to a protest the following day. The authorities tracked the students’ movements, set up roadblocks, systematically terrorized them, and summarily executed those who escaped and tried to tell of the atrocities. The cover-up started immediately, culminating four months later in a report by the Office of the Attorney General (PGR) – one of Washington’s closest partners in curbing narcotics-related crime and violence – falsely claiming the students were mixed up in struggles among narcotraffickers. The GIEI demonstrates that there is no way a serious PGR investigation did not know otherwise.
- International and domestic reaction to the report has been strong, but Peña Nieto’s reaction has been low-key. (He also made headlines last week in proposing the decriminalization of marijuana.) In several Tweets, the President thanked the GIEI; promised that the PGR will “analyze the complete report to improve its investigation of the tragic events”; and pledged that the PGR “will continue working so that there is justice.” The U.S. Department of State issued a statement saying that “we trust the Mexican authorities will carefully consider the report’s recommendations.”
Peña Nieto cannot escape personal responsibility for the scandalous cover-up and obstructionism – he promised a full accounting long ago – but the GIEI report indicts much more than the presidency. From the rural police and Army officers on the scene to the highest levels of law enforcement and the military command in Mexico City, the violence against the students has been neither admitted, condemned, nor punished, reinforcing Mexico’s longstanding culture of impunity. The PGR’s report was tainted by deliberate falsehoods as well as the vicious forms of torture employed to exact false testimony from “witnesses.” (Other torture stories, including an incident in which the Minister of Defense apologized for Army and Police torture of a woman in prison, are increasing in frequency.) The U.S. Department of State’s human rights report, released two weeks ago, criticizes Mexico for its “impunity for human rights abuses,” but Washington also needs to ask whether the $2.1 billion of “Mérida Initiative” assistance it has provided to “help Mexico train and equip its law enforcement agencies, promote a culture of lawfulness, [and] implement key justice reforms” has been a good investment. The U.S. Senate has finally confirmed the new U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, one of the architects of State Department’s implementation of the Mérida Initiative, and it stands to reason that she will demand some accountability.
May 2, 2016