Mexico’s federal police responsible for slaughter of student teachers?

The story is well known.  According to Federal prosecutors in Mexico, the local Mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, affiliated to the center left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa, ordered the police on Sept. 27 to arrest the native teaching students and then hand them over to the local drug cartel, Guerreros Unidos.  The narcos, on Abarca’s orders, then killed the student activists, enrolled at the Ayotzinapa native teaching academy, and burnt their bodies to dispose of the evidence.

However, a report in Mexico’s weekly newsmagazine el Proceso last month, supported  by the investigative journalism program of the University of California at Berkeley, suggests that the Federal Police and army, and not Abarca and Guerreros Unidos, were responsible for the disappearance of the 43 students.

According to reporters Anable Hernandez and Steve Fisher in the “La historia no oficial ” (the Unofficial story, Dec. 14/14),  who based their investigation on leaked documents from the state government, interviews with local witnesses, and videos taken by the disappeared students with their cell phones, the students were being tracked from Mexico City’s Center of Control, Command, Communications and Computation – a communications structure used by federal and local police and the army – as soon as they departed from their school in Ayotzinapa on Sept. 26.

Heavily armed security forces  attacked the students when they arrived in Iguala aboard three buses at 9:40 p.m., on their way to Mexico city to participate in a demonstration to remember the hundreds of students massacred by the army and police there in 1968.  The massacre was ordered by the same political party that governs the country today, the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI).

Federal Police informed the 27th Infantry Battalion, which is stationed in Iguala, of the attack and the unit’s commandos were in the zone when the attack was launched.  A compiled video taken from the footage the students took with their cellphones, posted on the El Proceso website, shows the  unarmed students under attack by Federal Police.  Comments such as “don’t shoot”, “get down”, “they already killed one”  can be heard amid gunfire.  Another student remarks, “the police are leaving, the federal [police] are going to stay.  They’re going to hassle us.”

Hernandez and Fisher also discovered that the five narcos who had implicated Abarca and his wife, had been tortured prior to giving testimony.  Witnesses had black eyes, mark’s on the neck, and bruising on the ribs and there were signs that authorities had used electric shock to one witness’s testicles.

While the PRI government of  Enrique Pena Nieto has so far refused to comment on the El Proceso story, the federal Attorney General told the parents of the disappeared students last week that they have no evidence that either the Federal Police or army were involved in the crime.

The El Proceso story confirms what many Mexicans already believe, that the Federal Police and army were likely involved in the disappearance of the students.  One of the demands of protestors in Guerrero is access to  thebase of the 27th Infantry Battalion in Iguala to search for the 43 students or their remains.   Despite initial denials from the Ministry of Defense, the base is equipped with large ovens capable of cremating human bodies, according to a document from the Ministry posted on the internet.

At the request of the parents of the disappeared students, the National Human Rights Commission announced Dec. 29 that it will be investigating the 27th Infantry Battalion for possible violation of human rights.  The parents also asked the Commission to ask Pena to withdraw the army from Guerrero  because they are committing human rights abuses.  

Retired General Jose Fransisco Gallardo Rodriquez told La Jornada (Jan. 11/15) that army bases have ovens as well as detention facilities for political prisoners.  Rodriquez was imprisoned for nine years (1993-2002) at the Number One Military base in the Federal District for demanding the creation of a military ombudsman.  “In the Number One Military base there are basements with prisoners.  There they placed in them naked, and there were civilians.  I saw cables, buckets of water, everything they use for torture.  I thought they were going to kill me.”  

Rodriguez believes that the army disappeared the students:  “On the first day of the facts about Iguala l said it was the army.  They are the only ones responsible because they have militarized the entire state.  Who is responsible? The supreme commander of the armed forces, Enrique Pena Nieto.  The government has catalogued the rural teacher schools as focuses of dissidence.”

It is not only in Iguala where security forces are accused of killing unarmed civilians, but elsewhere in Mexico.  “Mexico is facing its worse human rights crisis in years, with security forces committing horrific abuses that are rarely punished,” said Daniel Wilkinson, America’s managing director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).  “The Pena Nieto administration has so far failed to take this crisis seriously, and President Obama has been unwilling to call them on it.  Since former President Calderon began ‘a war on drugs’ in 2007, Mexican security forces have engaged in egregious violations, including torture, extra judicial executions and enforced disappearances.  HRW has documented such abuses by security forces throughout the country, including 149 cases of extra judicial executions.  United Nations human rights monitors have found that torture is a generalized practice in the country and that extra judicial executions by security forces have been widespread.”

HRW is calling on the Obama administration to halt aid to Mexican security forces until human rights violations are investigated and prosecuted.

If the El Proceso report is correct that the federal police and army were responsible for disappearing the 43 students, the Iguala massacre allowed the rightwing PRI government of Pena Nieto to kill two birds with one stone: eliminate the pesky activist students and discredit the PRD, one of the main center left opposition parties in Mexico.

Photo: Marco Ugarte/AP