Ayotzinapa, at the Edge of the Abyss

Tomorrow, September 26th, 2022 marks the 8-year anniversary of the barbaric mass-disappeance and murder of 43 normalistas (student teachers) who were traveling to Mexico City from their school in Iguala, Guerrero. Though the crime was dismissed by the previous administration as a tragic incident perpetrated by the drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, just over a month ago, the Commission for Truth and Access to Justice published a report indicating that the whole event was a “crime of the state.”

While arrest warrants have been issued for officials at all levels, there are a number of top-ranking individuals whose names were not included, and several culprits who remain at large. As Luis Hernández Navarro points out, justice will be determined by the victims — the family members of the missing students.

Family members hold posters with the faces of the forcibly disappeared students from Ayotzinapa teachers’ college (Wotancito, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

by Luis Hernández Navarro

Three events overlap in the Ayotzinapa massacre. The central one is the savage aggression against the students of the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School by organized crime, military and police. The second consists of the decision of state agents at different levels not to intervene to prevent the crime from being committed, despite having real-time information of what was happening. Finally, we have the state scheme to hide the true dynamics of the extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances, and the fabrication of a version of the facts, which is clearly false.

The recent report of the Commission for Truth and Access to Justice in the Ayotzinapa case (https://bit.ly/3wmYqhP) has large and significant gaps. It does not specify, for example, something as important as the whereabouts of the remains of 40 missing students (three have already been identified). Nor why those responsible for security did nothing to prevent the atrocity. Even less does it explain what led the federal government to invent the monstrosity of the “historical truth.1 ” Many hypotheses can be intuited, but they are not explicitly stated.

Another bad sign is that the prosecution of Murillo Karam was not done by the Ayotzinapa case unit, but by the Seido2. The recrimination of prosecutors by the judge in the hearing of the former attorney general, for not being prepared for the indictment, is a terrible indication. The GIEI’s3 statement that “we did not know, nor have we directly accessed and examined the material from which the screenshots that appear on page 38 of the report were taken, does not look good either. Nor have we had access to the expert reports made on them.

Despite this, it seems that the report is a step forward in the clarification of the facts, and in the opening of a door to try and punish those responsible for the massacre and its cover-up. Admitting that it was a State crime is a relevant event, whose medium-term consequences are unforeseeable.

It is false that the report has no new information, and that everything it points out was known before. It is even more untrue that its content is the same as the “historical truth.” The only ones who are interested in spreading these versions are those who prepared, defended and benefited from the lies of the official discourse of Peña Nieto.

Just one example among many. The “historical truth” hid, contrary to all available evidence and testimonies, the existence of the infamous fifth bus, in which either heroin or money was transported. On the other hand, the new document confirms the movement of the EcoTer bus without being stopped, bypassing 16 checkpoints on the perimeter of Iguala at all its exits. Who, if not the Army, was capable of facilitating an operation of that magnitude?

Beyond the loopholes and limitations, the Truth Commission’s document provides important data on the attack against the normalistas and the government’s scheme to conceal it.

But, in addition, where before there were loose pieces or a few assembled pieces, today there is a puzzle that, without being completely solved, brings together its pieces in a meaningful way. There is a narrative based on solid evidence, not extracted through torture, which seems to open the door to know what happened, and punish (some) guilty parties.

The report points out, again and again, the responsibility of soldiers and marines in the state crime. It confirms that the military commanders in the region did not carry out, as they were obliged to, actions for the protection and search for soldier Julio César López Patolzin, one of those who the Army had infiltrated among the normalistas, in a clearly counterinsurgent action. His trail could have helped to find some of the young people alive. This is not just a claim. Four days after the night of Iguala, six students were alive, held hostage in a warehouse in Pueblo Viejo.

The document shows the presence of the narco-state in the region, and the role of the Army in it. “There existed,” the report states, “an evident collusion of agents of the Mexican State with the criminal group Guerreros Unidos who tolerated, permitted and participated in the acts of violence and disappearance of the students, as well as in the government’s attempt to deny the truth of the facts.”

The Army knew in real time what was happening and not only did nothing to prevent it, but many things could not have happened without its direct intervention. In a conversation between El Chino – the visible leader of the criminal group – and a high-ranking military officer identified as El Coronel, the latter ordered soldiers to remove the remains from Iguala, and added: They took most of them to the battalion (https://bit.ly/3AfWdpm)

Above any and all considerations, if anything made it possible for the “historical truth” to collapse, for the truth about the night of Iguala to begin to be known and for a window to open for justice to emerge, it is the heroic, selfless and untiring struggle of the parents of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. Without their unbending will to get to the bottom of the matter, without their tireless determination to find their children, without their wise distrust of the official siren songs, without their determination to mobilize every day so that oblivion does not defeat memory, very little would have been achieved.

Beyond these initial reflections at the edge of the abyss, to fully evaluate the scope of the Truth Commission’s report, it is essential to wait for the parents to make their opinion on it known. Their moral authority is indisputable. No one better than them to weigh the genuine significance of the document. We will know it this Thursday.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Tuesday, August 23, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/08/23/opinion/018a1pol Translation by Chiapas Support Committee and Schools for Chiapas.

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  1. The “ḧistorical truth” refers to the official government story perpetuated throughout the administration of Peña Nieto to cover the involvement of government and military officials in the massacre.
  2.  Acronym for Special Prosecutor for the Investigation of Organized Crime.
  3. Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the Ayotzinapa Case.
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