A blow to Mexico’s Peña Nieto

October 13, 2015

Tens of thousands of people marched in Mexico City on September 26 to commemorate a year of struggle since the disappearance of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers' college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. Despite the rain, the parents of the 43 missing students led a mass demonstration to Mexico City's Zócalo, followed by contingents of students, teachers, unions and civil society organizations.

A year after the disappearance of the students in the southern city of Iguala, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) released a damning report questioning the government's investigations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has backed the GIEI report and urged the Mexican government to follow its recommendations, including the interrogation of military personnel and structural reform of the police, the army and the country's legal system. But in a nationally televised interview, Mexico's Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos refused to accept the interrogations of military personnel by international experts, arguing that they haven't committed any crimes and have already been questioned by local authorities.

Meanwhile, across Mexico, slogans such "It was the state" and "It was the army! Open up the barracks!" were popular demands at this year's demonstrations. In the following article, Manuel Aguilar Mora, a leading member of the League of Socialist Unity (LUS) in Mexico, analyzed the GIEI report and its implications for the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The article, written before the September 26 anniversary, was originally published in Spanish at Viento Sur and was translated into English by Héctor A. Rivera.

LESS THAN a month before the first anniversary of the night of Iguala, the night of the murder of six people (including three students) and the disappearance of the 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa, a media coup has put that dreadful night back in the headlines.

For Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the findings of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) on the killings and disappearances of that night--released on September 6--represent a huge blow to the credibility of his government. The supposed "historical truth"--put forward by former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, which, according to him, closed the case--was shattered by the conclusions of GIEI's report. The infamous "historical truth" of the Peña Nieto government proved to be a "historical lie."

One devastating conclusion resounded especially forcefully in public opinion: the 43 students from Ayotzinapa were not burned in the landfill of Cocula, as Murillo Karam stated last November. Therefore, the demand to continue the search for them retains its validity. A year after their disappearance, the cry of "they were taken alive, we want them back alive!" will be placed with even greater urgency before the PRI government.

Protesters gather to demonstrate on the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students
Protesters gather to demonstrate on the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students (Daniel Cima)

The government's strategy of trying to pass over this case by keeping it in the background has failed miserably. It is, in fact, the most serious of the many problems this administration is facing halfway through its mandate. Every day, there are new reports about another action taking place across the country, from Baja California to Yucatan, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of the 43 students. These actions are then to culminate in a "national day of outrage" [which took place on September 26], with a massive convergence in Mexico City outside the presidential residence of Los Pinos and then a march to the city's main square, the Zócalo.

The struggle for the return of the 43 makes itself more relevant and will continue to more deeply define the broad and growing popular opposition to the PRI government that finds itself in a quagmire, even as its hostile cliques have begun their internal struggles to choose Peña Nieto's successor. During the protests of September 26, the calls for Peña Nieto to resign rang loudly in the streets.

THE FINDINGS of the GIEI are not surprising. Since last November, many investigations, especially those that appeared after the October 2014 expose in the magazine Proceso, have pointed out multiple inconsistencies and omissions in the arguments presented by Murillo Karam and deemed "historical truth."

For example, the implausible theory that 43 bodies had been burned on a rainy night in a landfill.

Such a fire would have produced a column of smoke dozens of meters high, yet no such thing was ever reported in the area. To keep a fire of this magnitude going would have required huge amounts of tires and flammable materials. The laborers, who were the perpetrators, according to confessions tortured out of them by police, would have never been able to get hold of the materials needed for such a fire with their meager resources. A Peruvian expert brought in by the GIEI to inspect the dump in Cocula determined that there was no evidence of a gigantic fire that would have been necessary to incinerate 43 bodies. There were no marks in the surrounding area that would have been left by such an intense fire lasting 10 or more hours.

The GIEI's investigation also noted the presence of a fifth bus that was taken by the students and attacked by police, according to sworn testimony, but Murillo Karam's report failed to mention this fifth bus. The contents of this bus might explain the ferocity of the attack against the students, since it is suspected that this bus was carrying drugs bound for Chicago.

Some of the most explosive aspects in the report deal with the role of the army, much to the chagrin of Peña Nieto and his government. The report points out what analysts and commentators have stated on multiple occasions, namely that it is impossible to deny that the army was present during the events of that night. Thus, one of the report's most damaging recommendations for Peña Nieto is the call to authorize an investigation of the military barracks located in Iguala as well as the interrogation of military personnel involved in the episode.

THE GIEI's 500-page report is full of observations, remarks and recommendations that imply that the Mexican government must reexamine its conclusions. In fact, the report calls for an entirely new investigation--without definitively rejecting the initial investigation and the "historical truth" advanced by the office of the Attorney General. The GIEI's report detonated a media scandal, compelling the government to recognize the necessity of continuing the investigation and meeting with family members and their lawyers.

Faced with these circumstances, the GIEI's tenure in Mexico should be extended in order to continue its independent investigations--another conclusion that the government finds irritating.

These developments raise many questions. For example, why has Peña Nieto's government accepted that an independent investigatory body should play such a prominent role regarding events in Iguala? Why has the Organization of American States (OAS), which oversees the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, which, in turn, sponsors the GIEI, put Mexico under so much pressure to carry out a new investigation? After all, Mexico is one of the most important members of the OAS and an extremely close ally of Washington.

The answer is that they have been forced to respond because of an impressive level of national and international pressure in support of the Ayotzinapa students. This solidarity also extends to the student's most direct and closest allies, the teachers of the CNTE (National Coordinator of Education Workers).

The Ayotzinapa case is just the tip of the iceberg. The issue of missing persons in Mexico is already a Latin American problem. The case of the missing students symbolizes the thousands of cases of disappeared persons in Mexico, cases piling up for more than decade. And yet, as noted by various human rights organizations in Latin America, the sheer magnitude of this movement is new. International solidarity arising in response to the events in Iguala has mounted powerful pressure that the Mexican government can't easily ignore.

Dozens of non-governmental organizations that defend human rights have asked Peña Nieto to comply with the recommendations made by the GIEI. This list includes: the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Center for Legal and Social Studies (both from Argentina); the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA); the Commission for Peace and Justice and the Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace (both from Colombia); the Human Rights Association of Peru; the Center for Human Rights at the Catholic University Andres Bello of Venezuela; the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission of Ecuador; the Human Rights Coordinator of Paraguay; the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights in the United States; and other similar organizations from Bolivia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and of course Mexico.

THE GIGANTIC popular mobilizations that recently culminated in the resignation and arrest of Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina have much in common with the events in Mexico. These actions have had a direct impact on popular opinion in Mexico. If this is possible in Guatemala, why not in Mexico? What does Guatemala have that Mexico doesn't? Despite the very great similarities between Guatemala and the southern and southeastern part of Mexico, the two countries are obviously very different. In Mexico, the demand for Peña's resignation has yet to reach the masses of workers, which it will have to do in order to bring about results similar to those in Guatemala. The Mexican political system is much more powerful, its nationalist and social roots remain at least partially intact, much more so than in Guatemala.

Yet, Perez Molina's downfall and arrest should be instructive. While not downplaying the great popular campaign that ousted this genocidal military man, we should remember that last spring the highest court in Guatemala revoked the first court decision issued against Perez Molina. We should also take note that Perez Molina was sentenced because of his personal involvement in a truly scandalous fraud--the courts didn't pass sentence on his genocidal past. Finally, in the first round of elections on September 6 to elect Perez Molina's replacement, the winning candidate was the "independent" Jimmy Morales. Morales is a television comedian with direct links to the most right-wing and reactionary groups in the country. In the upcoming second round of elections, he may well be elected as the new president of Guatemala.

Thus, here in Mexico, the slogan "Out Peña!" must be raised alongside an alternative program that has as its goal the establishment of a government of workers, peasants and indigenous people. Only this deeper struggle can lay the basis for a new society and prevent another PRI or PAN politician from replacing Peña Nieto, or perhaps some so-called "independent" in the style of Jimmy Morales. This is, after all, what the capitalist groups in power are already planning.

Translated by Héctor A. Rivera. First published in Spanish at Viento Sur.

Further Reading

From the archives