After Nine Years, the Struggle of the Parents of the 43 is Still Going On

Blanche Petrich

  • In this six-year term a climate of trust was built, but hope was lost for the second time, he says.
  • He emphasizes that after the departure of the group of experts from the country and the great feeling of loss it provokes, what must be done is putting the focus on the next steps and not letting the feeling of impotence prevail, “that nothing can be done.”

Beristain comments that in the GIEI they joked that the “i” of interdisciplinary was only for him, as the other four are criminal lawyers.Photo Víctor Camacho

Recently arrived in Mexico, in March 2015, the five investigators of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) decided not only to focus on the criminal investigation of the Ayotzinapa case, but to “let themselves be touched by the stories of pain and suffering” of the mothers and fathers of the 43 missing students, the three murdered, the seriously wounded and the surviving boys, who recognized that they had been “traumatized” on the Night of Iguala.

Carlos Beristain, who was a member of the GIEI, talks to La Jornada about those moments of patient listening in this interview where he narrates the most intense moments of the psychosocial accompaniment: “about the “tremendous impact” caused to this collective of Guerrero families by the lie about the Cocula garbage dump; about that “return to the place of the nightmare” of the normalistas who emerged unscathed from the attack; about the devastating effect of the cover-up of key information to learn the whereabouts of their children, even to this day, and about “the loss of trust for the second time.”

This discussion explains how, after nine years, the group of Ayotzinapa parents remains standing.

The departure of the GIEI from Mexico in the face of the Army’s outright refusal to open the last padlock to learn crucial information, just in the final stretch of the investigation, represented to the families of the students another blow to their hope of finally knowing, nine years later, the whereabouts of their children. It was a different impact from the one they suffered during the previous six-year term, because “with President López Obrador a climate of trust has been built. “And not only that, but you are also touching hope. And you lose it for the second time. That is already very difficult to restore.”

– They have said: AMLO (President) broke his word. What happens now?

– We have tried to contain ourselves to prevent the response from being a rage. Anger is a normal response to an abnormal situation. The question is what to do with that anger to make it constructive. And in this case the collective struggle is a form of positive channeling. And it should not be used by others for other interests.

Originally from Bilbao, Beristain has spent three decades working in psychosocial care for victims. He participated in the elaboration of the report “Nunca más” (Never again) on the war in Guatemala, for which Bishop Juan Gerardi was assassinated. He has worked on the issue of State torture to political prisoners in the Basque Country and the displacement of the population in Western Sahara. He has been part of the Truth Commissions of Colombia (the most recent), Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru.

“We joked among ourselves: the “i” of interdisciplinary in the GIEI was only for me. The other four are prominent criminal lawyers specializing in human rights.” They are former prosecutors from Colombia– Angela Buitrago and Guatemala Claudia Paz y Paz, as well as lawyers Francisco Cox, Chilean, and Alejandro Valencia, Colombian.

How much can a lie weigh?

– How did the parents feel when the PGR told them that their children had been killed and then burned in a garbage dump, that they shouldn’t look for them any longer?

It was the ultimate expression of contempt for life. Dumped in a garbage dump, burned like a log or an animal. It was immediately clear to them that they were listening to a story that was not true.

“There is always an attempt in the victims to make sense of what is going on. When they have to face deceptions such as the ‘historical truth,’ which was an intentional distortion of what really happened, the psychological blow is tremendous.

“The relatives confronted that version alone, without support for a long time. When we had our first report completed rejecting that version with scientific evidence, we went to Ayotzinapa to present it to the families and to the students. Emiliano Navarrete, one of the parents, told us: ‘The weight of the lie has been lifted from our shoulders’. One wonders: how much can a lie weigh?”

– How was the psychosocial work done in this case?

– We opened a space for each person to express his or her feelings, and we also gave a great deal of importance to the work of the search. This is where a significant part of the pain can be channeled, the need to know, not to remain passive, but to do something for their children.

“In psychology there is a thing called the internalization of damages. A harm that has occurred socially becomes internalized. Parents ask themselves if they were not to blame. The five of us sat in on those conversations; we had to let ourselves be touched by their stories in order to understand what was happening to them. Out of that came invisible things that are defining.”

Beristain cites several moments where, thanks to the trust built, previously hidden information emerged that were of enormous importance for the clarification of what had happened. In this way, another detail was revealed that strongly refuted the PGR of President Peña Nieto, who assured that at 12 o’clock at night all the students were already dead.

“It was in a session on the subject of telecommunications. Suddenly a mother said to us: ‘my son wrote to me urgently asking for a phone recharge at 1:40 a.m.’. Impossible, I replied. She showed her phone and, indeed, the last message had arrived more than an hour and a half after the time at which, according to the version, no one was alive. We followed up, checked and it was verified that the boy had communicated with his mother at that time.”

-What was the moment that affected you the most?

-When we went to see them for the first time at the school, many of them spoke, 13 or 14. They told us three things: always tell us the truth, no matter how hard it is; we only trust you; and, please, don’t sell out.

“At first I didn’t understand. How would we sell out out? I understood when we started to see the whole strategy that was set up around us, how they tried to manipulate us. One example: after we presented three expert reports demonstrating that the pyre at the garbage dump could not have existed, we were forced to accept a fourth expert assessment with six experts.

“The spokesman was a firefighter sent from Texas, James Quintire. He presented the report in English. We asked for three days to translate it, study it in detail and then present it to the public. The American said that his back was hurting and he had to leave immediately for the airport. He left, but not to the airport. He went down one floor and there, without us being present, he told the press conference that the incineration at the dumpsite did exist. He lied. And the contract for that expertise was perpetually reserved. That is when we understood how people could easily think that we had sold out”.

And when there seemed to be no more manipulation?

– Supposedly, the time had passed when these kinds of manipulations were occurring. And then came the presentation of the screenshots of the Commission for Access to Truth and Justice, which supposedly provided new information in the direction that several kids had been alive and transferred to different places. What was that moment like?

– It was very hard. That report was not consulted beforehand with the parents. It was held at the National Palace, in a very confrontational atmosphere and in front of the President and the Secretaries of the Navy and Defense. Alejandro Encinas did not say where those messages had come from. The parents felt terribly struck, their dignity was attacked. Afterwards we made a technical expertise, we demonstrated the inconsistencies in the language and the metadata and we discarded those screenshots as valid evidence.

– Your departure is another blow to their hope. Are the families prepared to continue the struggle without the GIEI?

– We know that our departure from the country provokes a great sense of loss. But the parents have grown enormously over the years. It doesn’t mean that the pain and indignation has diminished. We have to make sure that this anger is not used politically by others for other purposes.

“What we have to do now is to put the spotlight on what the next steps should be, so that the feeling of helplessness, that nothing can be done, does not prevail.”

Original text published in La Jornada on August 6th, 2023.
Translation by Schools for Chiapas.

Want to receive our weekly blog digest in your inbox?

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top