Monday, March 10, 2014
The Truth Commission of Guerrero, Mexico Readies Final Report
By Kent Paterson
Forced displacements and disappearances. Vietnam-style
strategic hamlets. Death flights over the Pacific. All this and more terrorized the mountain communities near Acapulco, Mexico,
during the years when the resort was reaching its apex as a favored international destination for fun-seeking beach lovers
in the early and mid-1970s. In response to a popular guerrilla insurgency, the Mexican army and security forces escalated
what became known as the Dirty War.
"There was a lot of sadism and brutality,"
said Hilda Navarette, commissioner for the Guerrero State Truth Commission, an official organism created by the Guerrero State
Congress in 2012 to probe the Dirty War and unravel the truth about hundreds of still missing people.
"The Mexican press had a very sad role," Navarette said in an interview, adding that national and international
opinion were kept in the dark about Mexican government atrocities underway with the knowledge of Washington.
Four decades later, Navarette and her fellow commissioners are preparing to deliver a final report this year to the
Guerrero State Congress. Based on archival finds and original testimonies from victims' relatives and survivors, the report
will be of "transcendental importance" in revealing the fates of nearly 400 disappeared residents, said Octavio
Navarette, Hilda's brother and a Truth Commission assistant.
"For the first time, the report
will give documented proof of what happened to the disappeared political prisoners," he said.
the course of their research Truth Commission investigators ran across other interesting finds, including the CIA code names
assigned to Mexican presidents on the agency's payroll, and the Mexican army's use of coded language to describe detainees
as "paquetes," or packets, Navarette added.
Both Navarettes experienced the Dirty
War first-hand. In September 1974, Hilda and her family were taken from their home by Mexican troops and forced to spend the
night in the town plaza of Coyuca de Benitez, a rural municipality neighboring Acapulco, while soldiers ransacked their home
and destroyed books considered subversive. Octavio was later detained for 15 days, becoming, in his own words, a "candidate"
for forced disappearance.
Although the Dirty War extended to Chihuahua and other parts of the
Mexican Republic, the Guerrero State Truth Commission is the only such state-level endeavor currently in progress. And getting
to the truth hasn't been an easy task, according to Truth Commission staff and directors.
planning to conduct its investigation partially based on the findings of two previous government probes, the National Human
Rights Commission's 2001 report and a subsequent one authored by a now-defunct special prosecutorial office created by
the administration of former President Vicente Fox (Femossp), the Truth Commission encountered obstacles when the federal
attorneys' general office, the National Human Rights Commission, and the Mexican Army did not allow commission staff access
to their records and files.
"We want to have access to the testimonies the (Femossp)
did," Hilda Navarette said. "They interviewed soldiers -- something we haven't been able to do."
Nonetheless, the Truth Commission has managed to gather more than 350 testimonies, review declassified U.S. files,
and analyze some records in the National Archive. The information pertains to about 400 missing persons, but the true number
of people who were forcibly disappeared in Guerrero from 1969 to 1979, the years examined under the Truth Commission's
mandate, could be much higher, Navarette acknowledged.
In the Truth Commission's threadbare
Acapulco office, a large banner with the young faces of disappeared Guerrero residents, most of them men but some women too,
stands in the front room.
Since almost the beginning, staff and commissioners have experienced
disquieting incidents, according to the Truth Commission.
Early on, federal police officers paid
sudden visits to the organism's offices in Chilpancingo and Acapulco, breaking a window during one unexpected call. In
the municipality of Atoyac de Alvarez, Ground Zero in the Dirty War, Truth Commission vehicles have been followed by strangers
In late January, Commissioners Pilar Noriega and Nicomedes Fuentes were heading
back to the state capital of Chilpancingo when their vehicle was intercepted by armed men and forced off the road after a
gunshot was fired. Abandoning the vehicle, Noriega and Fuentes spent the night in the boondocks. The pair later found their
vehicle left on the roadside, with Truth Commission documents including testimonies from victims' relatives missing.
While not discounting the possibility of a common robbery in a state with a high crime rate, Truth Commission President
Jose Enrique Gonzalez did not rule out that other motives were behind the aggression against Noriega and Fuentes.
"Hopefully (police) investigations will lead to the capture of the guilty ones, as is a state obligation, and
the work of the (Truth Commission) could satisfactorily conclude," Gonzalez said in a statement.
With the passage of so much time since the Dirty War, the question of the viability of justice naturally comes into
the foreground, especially since many of the officials implicated in the repression are now beyond the arm of the law.
"We can't bring the perpetrators to justice because they are dead," Octavio Navarette acknowledged.
A veteran journalist and writer who has followed the Dirty War for decades, Navarette mentioned the late Mexican General Arturo
Acosta Chaparro as among the Dirty War's deceased architects.
Acosta Chaparro, who
later spent eight years in a military prison for alleged collusion with drug traffickers before being exonerated and honored
for his service during the Calderon administration, was gunned down gangland-style on a Mexico City street in 2012, just as
the Truth Commission was getting launched.
During the Fox administration, the Femossp unsuccessfully
attempted to prosecute two other senior officials implicated in human rights violations and crimes, former President Luis
Echeverria , and former Federal Security Directorate chief Miguel Nazar Haro. Nazar Haro has since passed away.
Family reparations, the inclusion of the Dirty War into Mexican school textbooks as official history, and perhaps
a government pledge to never resort to the human rights violations committed by its agents back in the 1970s are more likely
outcomes of the Truth Commission's final report.
Still, the Truth Commission has filed
a petition for an audience with the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which issues mandatory rulings
to member states, including Mexico.
Following its planned presentation to the Guerrero
State Congress, the report will be discussed at a public forum, the date of which has yet to be announced.
Former Guerrero lawmaker Ranferi Hernandez, a longtime Party of the Democratic Revolution activist who spent five
years in French exile after another wave of government repression in the late 1990s, said Guerrero's social movements
would not permit the Truth Commission's report to be delivered and then quickly forgotten.
the organizations are going to demand punishment for the responsible parties," Hernandez told FNS. "There will be
other demands, which we aren't going to reveal right now."
While the events that
will be portrayed in the Truth Commission's final report happened a couple of generations ago, some close observers detect
similarities with contemporary violence in Guerrero, which remains submerged in bloody disputes between organized crime groups
that routinely employ forced disappearance, population expulsions, and extrajudicial execution as tactics.
Additionally, attacks on social movements, including the murders of 13 well-known leaders during the last two years,
have coincided with the other outbursts of violence.
"There is a mix of institutional
and criminal violence," said Roberto Ramirez, editor of the Guerrero edition of the daily La Jornada. Ramirez
hypothesized that the contemporary violence might be of criminal origin, but contains a "political taint" in which
longtime caciques, or political bosses, could be using criminal groups to carry out their dirty work instead of the other
way around. The Dirty War left lasting impacts, Ramirez said, with perpetrators like Acosta Chaparro getting "entangled"
in the intrigues of organized crime.
"The Dirty War created a group of delinquents
with impunity," he said. "What we see happening now is a consequence of this."
the Truth Commission's Hilda Navarette, the two-year process of getting to the bottom of the truth has opened up an opportunity
for healing, government accountability, and the public airing of issues critical to Mexican society and politics.
The longtime leader of the Voice of the Voiceless human rights group in Coyuca de Benitez, Navarette said she would
like to see a public debate with the Mexican military over notions of national sovereignty and what it really means to be
a defender of the people. By the same token, she continued, Mexico's social movements have lessons to learn from the Dirty
War chapter of history.
"Something we have to learn as social movements is to struggle
within the limits of legality," Navarette contended. "There has to be a dialogue between the state and society on
how to resolve things."
Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Cruces, New Mexico
Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur. Reprinted
with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source.