Monday, October 20, 2014
A New Report Exposes and Weighs the 'Dirty Wars'
By Kent Paterson
After more than two years
of painstaking work, a revealing report on the Mexican government’s dirty war against opponents in the state of Guerrero
decades ago [was] delivered on October 15, 2014, even as new human rights and political crises engulf the Pacific coast state.
Authored by the official Guerrero Truth Commission (Comverdad), the report [was] presented to government officials
at a session in the tense state capital of Chilpancingo.
Based on archival research, as well
as hundreds of interviews with Dirty War survivors and victims’ relatives, the report names politicians and members
of government security forces responsible for extrajudicial murder, torture, forced disappearance, rape, and scorched earth
campaigns that displaced entire communities.
The findings document the cases of more
than 200 of the estimated 600 individuals in Guerrero forcibly disappeared during a government counter-insurgency campaign
against leftist rebels, rural residents and political dissidents in the late 1960s and 1970s. The ultimate fates of the missing
have never been fully explained.
But Pilar Noriega, a Mexican attorney and Comverdad
commissioner, said research by commission staff showed that government prisoners were registered at places like Military Camp
No.1, in Mexico City, before they vanished.
“This is a fact,” Noriega
Established by the Guerrero State Congress in 2012, after years of campaigning
by Dirty War survivors, Comverdad was given a two-year mandate to compile a historical record of human rights abuses from
1969 to 1979, and issue recommendations for further action by the authorities.
the Guerrero project uniquely centered on a single state, Comverdad’s report is not the first one sanctioned by the
Mexican government to examine the Dirty War.
A 2001 report by the National Commission
for Human Rights detailed human rights abuses on a nationwide basis during the Dirty War, as did a 2006 report by a now-defunct
federal special prosecutor’s office that, despite some legal attempts, failed to hold accountable government officials
who were linked to human rights atrocities like former President Luis Echeverria.
however, said the work of the Guerrero Truth Commission broke new ground – sometimes literally.
For example, Comverdad’s investigations allowed staff and support personnel to recover the remains earlier
this year of two guerrillas from the Poor Peoples Party who were slain in combat with the Mexican army in 1974. The Mexican
army had ordered local residents of the mountainous zone where the clash occurred to bury the two men in secret graves, where
they laid for almost 40 years.
Given Mexico’s geographic proximity to the United
States, as well as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s intense activities south of the border, FNS asked Noriega
about Washington’s role in Guerrero during the Dirty War. She said Comverdad did not locate documents in Mexican government
archives that indicated a direct U.S. role, but records made it clear that Washington was closely “following the matter”
“If Washington intervened directly, at least the documents we had access
to in the (Mexican) National Archive did not show that,” Noriega said. Kate Doyle, longtime director of the Mexico Project
of the National Security Archive (NSA), a non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C., concurred with Noriega’s
take on Washington’s participation in the Mexican Dirty War.
Doyle, whose organization
has obtained CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency documents via the Freedom of Information Act on the situation in Guerrero,
especially from 1971 to 1974, told FNS that the U.S. gathered intelligence and sometimes provided it.
Unlike Mexican government propagandists of the time who cast Poor Peoples Party leader Lucio Cabanas as a brigand,
CIA analysts regarded the school teacher-turned-guerrilla commander an important leader with a mass following, according to
Doyle. But following the mold of U.S. policy before and afterward, the administration of President Richard Nixon backed the
Mexican counterinsurgency campaign, despite being aware of human rights abuses in full swing.
supported “implicitly and explicitly anything Mexico did to maintain stability,” Doyle said in a phone interview.
Conducting its investigation and preparing a final report was no easy task for the budget-strapped Comverdad. According
to Noriega, commission staff received “surprise” visits from federal police officers; the windows in one Comverdad
office were broken; and false stories were spread that the commission was dripping with millions of pesos.
Moreover, some commissioners were threatened, with Noriega and another commissioner forced to spend a night in the
boondocks after they were assaulted by attackers on a highway last January.
had no budget for the last six months of its term, and never got full access to key documents possessed by the federal attorney
general’s office that could have been utilized in the commission’s final report, Noriega said.
By law, Comverdad cease[d] to exist on October 15 after its report [was] given in Chilpancingo. Now it will be up
to other officials to act on the information. “We aren’t a prosecutorial body,” Noriega stressed. “The
evidence we have will be given to the (legal) authorities.”
The reparation of damages
to victims’ families will be among the recommendations Comverdad makes to state officials; historical events of the
Dirty War and the personalities behind them are planned for inclusion in future textbooks distributed in Guerrero’s
schools, Noriega said.
The outgoing commissioner added that officials from the Peña
Nieto administration made public commitments to address the human rights debt at a session of the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, D.C. last March.
Ironically, the Guerrero Truth Commission
report on the Dirty War goes public when a new action is scarring the landscape, according to many human rights activists
The most dramatic – and bloody – example of the contemporary
dirty war happened the evening of September 26 and the morning of September 27, in Iguala, Guerrero, when municipal policemen
and civilian gunmen gunned down six people and forcibly disappeared 43 male students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers
College of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero – Lucio Cabanas’ alma matter.
30 policemen and others have reportedly been detained for crimes related to the Iguala Massacre, but the students are still
missing. In this connection, the authorities are checking the identities of numerous human remains found in clandestine graves
If anything, the crisis over the Iguala Massacre is deepening. [Last] week alone,
hundreds of enraged Mexican students and teachers trashed and torched government offices, occupied banks and shut down businesses
in Chilpancingo, as other protesters blockaded highways south of Acapulco.
in Michoacan seized buses from private companies for a protest caravan to Guerrero, while a second one departed Oaxaca to
provide support for the Ayotzinapa students.
Besides the safe return of the students,
many protesters demand the ouster of Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre who, ironically, first served as governor in 1996 after
Ruben Figueroa Alcocer was forced to resign because of the massacre of 17 unarmed farmers by state policemen at Aguas Blancas.
In Mexico City, thousands of students of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, National Pedagogical University,
Autonomous Metropolitan University, Autonomous University of Chapingo, National School of Anthropology and History, the Autonomous
University of Mexico City, and the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico are staging strikes and protests in solidarity
with the Ayotzinapa students, according to the latest press reports from Mexico.
university uprisings occur even as a massive student strike continues at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City.
Internationally, the Iguala Massacre and other human rights abuses have elicited sharp rebukes from the IACHR, the
United Nations, Amnesty International, and members of the European Parliament.
prepares for key Congressional elections in 2015, the new human rights crisis has transformed into the worst political one
for the barely two-year-old administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Mexican political analyst Raymundo Riva
Palacio captured the sentiment across the pundits’ spectrum in a column [last] week he penned about the perennial crises
of Mexican presidents.
“Some emerged from the tempests successful, while others
sunk and took the country down with them,” Riva Palacio wrote. “But in all cases, the crisis defined the presidency
and their administrations. Now it’s Enrique Peña Nieto’s turn.”
the Iguala Massacre and other ongoing events divert attention away from the Guerrero Truth Commission report?
“I think this is precisely the moment the report should come out – the obvious necessity of the government
addressing not only a security crisis in Guerrero but a democracy crisis,” the NSA’s Kate Doyle contended.
“I can’t think of a better time for the Guerrero Truth Commission to reflect on this brutal, violent
past in Mexico. The horror that’s happening today is something that has been ongoing in Guerrero and other parts of
Mexico for decades and must be stopped.”
In contrast to Latin American countries
like Guatemala and Argentina, where Cold War era dirty wars were followed up by truth commissions and even the prosecution
and jailing of some officials responsible for grave human rights violations, Mexico never engaged in a historical accounting
of its own dirty war, according to Doyle.
Doyle cautioned that truth commissions are not human
rights panaceas, but can be “one path” in a broader societal quest for justice.
Pilar Noriega, contemporary atrocities like the Iguala Massacre have long, tangled roots in the 1970s Dirty War. “This
is the product of impunity from that era,” Noriega said. “It is the product of not having clarity about that epoch.”
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.