The night of the 26 of September will never be forgotten and I believe will ultimately define the war on drugs in Mexico. The definition will not be tidy nor neat. A war that started in 2006 when newly elected president Felipe Calerdon from the PAN political party decided that the Mexican government would no longer officially turn a blind eye to drug trafficking in the country. From 1930 to 2000 Mexico was ruled by what was essentially a one party system. The PRI party of Mexico controlled all presidential elections in the country and thus the state controlled drug traffic. It was the federal government that kept the peace among rival drug cartels by dividing up territory between them. The federal government was highly centralized and powerful. Of course all good things must come to an end. When the PRI stranglehold over political power in Mexico was broken by Vicente Fox’s PAN party in 2000 a new chapter would begin in relation to drug trafficking in Mexico. Few can argue that it was important Mexico reform their electoral process. The reforms that were enacted were successful for the most part. Mexican elections are now far more transparent and any party can win an election. Yet the power vacuum that was created by a weak federal government meant that rural areas could now easily be infiltrated by drug cartels. Cartels often offered jobs and infrastructure to locals, far more than what local government could offer. With the tremendous amount of money that Mexican drug cartels make selling drugs to Americans, what has happened since the Mexican electoral reforms is this.
Mexican drug cartels simply purchase elections and politicians.
When Felipe Calderon and his PAN government declared the war on drugs, a war that not even the iconic Ronald Reagan with all the assets of the American government could win, he did it with the full consent of his masters of war north of the border. Via a little known agreement with the U.S. government the Merida Initiative was passed in congress on June 30 2008. The amount of money that was appropriated for Mexico via the Merida Initiative between 2008 and 2014 was roughly 2.4 billion dollars. Which pales in comparison to what drug cartels make in one calendar year. Estimates put Mexican drug cartel revenue from the United States at anywhere between 6 and 23 billion dollars per year. So in terms of money the Merida Initiative is not much more than a grain of sand on the beach.
Much of the money from the Merida Initiative was supposed to be earmarked to strengthen civil organizations and help with reforms to the notoriously corrupt Mexican legal and judicial system. After the events of the 26 of September it is clear that the United States congress have wasted American tax payers money on programs that have completely failed to produce any real advance in regards to security or human rights in Mexico. Gringo aide has proven to be no salvation for Mexico’s poor and underprivileged. Nowhere in Mexico is that more clear than in the southern states of Michoacan and especially Guerrero.
What is now currently tearing Mexico apart at the seams started in the small town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero were the state sanctioned the abduction and killing of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa.
Iguala is a two hour drive west from Mexico City and about a two hour drive north of Ayotzinapa. José Luis Abarca was elected mayor of Iguala in July of 2012. His political alliance was the PRD party and his you tube campaign video (below) boldly claims that he is a champion of injustice and corruption. My favorite part of this video is exactly at the 1:00 minute mark. Maria Pindea looks down at her watch. It’s almost as if you can see her thinking; are we done with this commercial already, I have other shit to do.
Abarca had high hopes that is his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda (Maria from the angeles) would succeed him as mayor when his term ran out. Abarca and especially his wife were bought and paid for by drug cartel politicians if ever there were any. Maria de los Angeles Pineda comes from a family with long ties to drug cartels. Her sister Guadalupe and brothers Alberto and Mario were killed in drug cartel violence. How the PRD political party bosses could possibly put Abarca and his drug dealing wife up as a candidate for mayor of Iguala is a perfect example of the collusion between cartel and politician. It has been alleged in the Mexican press that she was in charge of funneling millions of dollars from the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel to local municipal police.
On the 26 of September Maria de los Angeles Pineda was to speak in Iguala at a political event for DIF, which stands for Sistema para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia. DIF is a nation wide governmental agency designed to help poor families live better lives and by default the wife of any existing mayor is automatically put in charge of the local municipal office of DIF. The reported story is that her husband Jose Abarca, after finding out that a bunch of leftest students were in Iguala; made what now appears to be the false assumption that the college students, from the Raul Isidro Teachers college of Ayotzinapa, would be boycotting her speaking engagement. The official story is that Abarca ordered municipal police from Iguala and the neighboring municipality of Colcula to detain the students as they left Iguala. After the buses were detained on a main city road in complete view of the public mind you, several students disembarked to confront the municipal police. The violence started there. In the ensuing scuffles and stand offs 7 people were shot and 23 injured. Eventually the remaining 43 students were taken from the shot up buses by police in black and white municipal police vehicles. Four students from Ayotzinapa died in that initial confrontation. One of the dead students was found a few blocks from where the buses had been initially attacked. His face had been filleted from his head.
Another survivor recalls the events of that evening
The students all had cell phones and many of them were able to use them. There is at least one video online (see the Vice news report on this page) in which you can hear a defiant student asking police why they are shooting unarmed students. In an event that would not be unlike the terrorist attacks of 9/11 students were able to call family and friends and bear witness to their own murders. One call went out to their college classmates in Ayotzinapa and several students jumped in a car and drove to where the students were being held. One of those students who received a phone call was Omar Garcia. When Omar arrived at the scene he was immediately taken into custody with the other students. At that point students were no longer allowed to make phone calls but were allowed to receive calls and if a student received a call he would be monitored by one of the local cops who were detaining them.
Students were then transported from the shot up buses that were parked in the streets of Iguala to municipal black and white police pick up trucks and then to somewhere on a rural highway out of town and out of view of the public. While all this was going on Omar Garcia some how was able to slip away into the darkness and escape and hence became one of the few witnesses to survive the ordeal. There is a video that shows the police trucks speeding down a highway with the students crammed in back. It is not completely clear where exactly the students were killed but the now official government report is that eventually all the students, some dead some still alive were transported to a garbage dump so they could be disappeared. Any student who might still have been alive after arriving at the dump were interrogated then killed. All this information comes from the interrogation of Guerreros Unidos cartel members who clearly showed signs of torture in their mug shots. The official press release by the government included video clips of the witnesses confessing to the event and describing in graphic detail how the students were disappeared.
The bodies of the students were then thrown into the dump, stacked like cord wood and incinerated in an event that took approximately 15 hours.
How much diesel fuel does it actually take to make someone disappear from the face of the earth? According to the extremely interesting “Interview with a Zeta” American journalist John Lee Anderson via Diego Enrique Osorno, a Mexican journalist who has reported aggressively on the drug wars, were able to answer that question. Osorno was able to set up an interview with a Zeta. The quote below is from that interview.
Many of the Zeta’s victims, meanwhile, ended up in la cocina, the kitchen, a specially chosen place in the hills, away from the roads and the towns. “That’s where you take detained people and some gas containers. Have you seen those fifty-gallon drums that have three levels, with lateral stripes around them? You make holes in the drum from the second stripe downwards and then place it near a stream or a pit. Then put the person in head-first” (afterward, he clarified that the majority were already dead) “and start pouring in diesel. With twenty liters, you can be disappeared from this world.”
With confessions beaten out of witnesses most of the details of how the bodies were burned are now part of the official record and the youtube video below was released by the state in it’s official news conference and now is part of the official record. In the video the guys who did the actually dirty work describe in graphic detail how they stacked the bodies and commenced to burn them. The video has subtitles in English. Officially (Mexican government statistics) the number of disappeared in Mexcio from 2006 to 2013 is pegged at 26,121. Some human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch believe that this number may only represent 10% of the real number of disappeared.
Before all of these confessions were beaten out of suspects the search was on for the abducted students. Completely disgusted by the government response to this atrocity hundreds of civilians immediately began searching the outskirts of Iguala for the missing students. Clandestine grave sites starting popping up all over the outskirts of Iguala while a special forensic team from Argentina arrived to take DNA samples of family members and of the bodies found in the clandestine grave sites. The only problem was that site after site turned up more bodies whose DNA did match any of the students. The mantra of family members of the victims soon became this.
Vivo se los llevaron, Con Vida los Queremos Ya – They were taken alive, alive is how we want them returned.
Jose Abarca and his wife on the 30 of September disappeared from Iguala. They were later found on the 4 of November hiding out in a lower middle class neighborhood of Mexico city. By the 20th of November Dia de la Revolucion (Revolution day) a massive rally was being planned for Mexico city. Just a few weeks earlier demonstrators labeled as anarchists tried to burn down the 150 year old doors to the National Palacio in protest to the now famous press conference held on the 7 of November when attorney general Karam Murillo finished a one hour press conference outlining how the students were murdered with the statement
“#YaMeCansé” – I am tired.
Murillo then refused to take any more questions from the press and abruptly marched out of the room. The hashtag “Ya me canse” immediately went viral with thousands of Mexicans from all over the world stating that they are tired too. Tired of police impunity, tired of violence, tired of politicians who are corrupt, tired of you name it. On the 10 of November things only got worse for the President. It was shown that his ex Televisa soap opera star wife, Angélica Rivera, owns a 7 million dollar mansion that was still registered in the name of a company owned by Grupo Higa, which is also associated with a Chinese-led consortium that was very recently, like the 3 of November recently awarded a $3.7bn contract to build a high-speed rail system between Mexico and the city of Queretaro. The contract was immediately revoked and showed that Pena Nieto has lost any credibility he might have had to run the country. The latest opinion polls show him to be at the lowest of any President in history after two years in office. Many protestors are calling for his resignation. It is hard sell to the Mexican people that Pena Nieto is serious about fighting corruption when he was recently found to be in on the take as well.
With all of this information coming to light so quickly the stage was set for a serious protest on the 20th of November in Mexico City. The protest that took place was mostly peaceful. Towards the end of the protest, well after the family member from Ayotzinapa had spoken and well after effigy’s of Pena Nieto were burned riot police finally attacked a crowd of protestors that were very close to the front doors of the National Palace. Several people were arrested that night yet it would appear that those who were arrested were not involved in any kind of violent behavior. There are several smart phone videos out now on youtube that catch riot police stating to arrest anyone who is running away. Of course hundreds of peaceful protestors ran away as riot police attacked them. The 11 protestors who were arrested have been accused of several crimes including attempted homicide. Non of the 11 had a previous police record and it remains to be seen if the federal government will try to prosecute them.
What is more disturbing than the abduction and murder of these students is how the federal government of Mexico has tried to label the protests and protestors themselves as anarchists and enemies of the state who are simply against reforming Mexico. In Francisco Goldman’s 4 of December article for the New Yorker, Crisis in Mexico: An Infrarrealista Revolution, Goldman reveals the true nature of the current PRI administration. Goldman was at the 20 of November march on the Zocalo and I recommend highly reading the entire piece. Goldman writes
In mid November, three caravans converged on Mexico City, led by family members of the forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School whose abduction, in late September, has led to nationwide protests. One caravan was coming directly from Guerrero State, where the students disappeared, another from the state of Chiapas, and another from the city of Atenco, in Mexico State, the site of the most notorious act of violent government repression committed by Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s current President, in 2006, when he was governor there. The plan was for the caravans to come together and for the travellers to lead a giant march on November 20th.
As the caravans approached Mexico City, President Peña Nieto, along with members and supporters of his PRI government, began issuing statements and warnings that seemed to signal an aggressive new strategy to counter the protests. On November seventeenth, Beatriz Pagés Rebollar, the PRI’s Secretary of Culture, published an editorial on the PRI’s official website.* “The chain of protests and acts of vandalism—perfectly well orchestrated—replicated in various parts of the country, demonstrate that the disappearances and probable extermination of the 43 normal-school students were part of a strategic trap aimed at Mexico,” she wrote. “All these activists and propagandists have the same modus operandi.” Pagés included opposition media on her list of these activists and propagandists, accusing them of fraudulently confusing Mexicans into believing that the students’ disappearance “was a crime of state, as if the Mexican government gave the order to exterminate them.”
Two days later, Carlos Alazraki, a veteran PRI insider and an advertising executive who has worked on the election campaigns of several of the party’s Presidential candidates, published an editorial entitled “Open Letter to All Normal Mexicans (Like You)” in the newspaper La Razón. “46 days ago, two bands, students and Iguala narcos, got into a brawl,” he wrote. “There are varying versions of what happened. . . . That one [band] were guerrillas, the other narcos. One or the other wanted to run the whole region.” Since the start of the “narco war,” in 2006, equating victims’ criminality with that of narcos has been a routine pro-government strategy. Such insinuations characterized many of PRI supporters’ early responses to the crime in Iguala. Alazraki closed, “Dear comemierdas. I curse the hour in which you were born. You’re murderers. You hate Mexico. And to finish, let me remind you that violence generates violence. Don’t be shocked if the federal government responds.”
The day before, in Mexico State, President Peña Nieto said in a speech, “There are protests that are not clear in their objectives. They appear to respond to an interest in causing destabilization, generating social disorder and, above all, in attacking the national project that we’ve been constructing.” Just a few days before that, he’d warned that the state is legitimately empowered to employ force to impose order.
Peña Nieto often speaks like an actor playing a stereotypical President on a television show: talking about the legitimate use of force as though phrases like that have a magical power to insulate him from the squalid realities of authoritarian power brutally and lawlessly wielded, and of a government hopelessly compromised. (Jon Lee Anderson recently wrote about Peña Nieto.) When a President like that speaks of the legitimate use of power and describes protesters as threats to a “national project,” what people hear are threats to wield that power violently and arbitrarily.
Perhaps the reason why Iguala has become a flash point for Mexico is that it happened so close to the capital in Mexico city. The abduction and murder of these 43 students is by far not the greatest atrocity to take place on Mexican soil since the inception of the Mexican war on drugs. Diego Enrique Osorio for Vice News in an article named How a Mexican Cartel Demolished a Town, Incinerated Hundreds of Victims, and Got Away With It writes,
In March 2011, Allende (pop. 22,000) suffered a massacre that now, three years later, is finally being investigated by the authorities. Commandos working for the Zetas cartel looted and destroyed dozens of buildings, while kidnapping an estimated 300 people who were never seen again.
The story of Allende in the state of Coahila has received virtually no press from the main stream media in Mexico or the United States yet remains as one of Mexico’s worst mass murders since the 1968 Tlateloco massacre against student demonstrators in Mexico City. Clearly Mexicans continue, as they have for decades, to want justice and what is also clear is that Enrique Pena Nieto‘s current administration in Mexico city is far more worried about pushing through their energy reforms and protecting their image among the elite sector of Mexico than bringing real security and economic reforms to the poor and marginalized of Mexico. It has been reported that the homicide rate in Mexico actually increased for the first 20 months of the PRI Pena Nieto administration compared to that of previous PAN presidency of Felipe Calderon. The Brookings Institute has also recently shredded the glossy veneer of the PRI stating that,
The government of Peña Nieto changed the national discourse on organized crime and violence in Mexico. It requested that the media banish homicides from its front pages in order to calm citizens’ anxieties and assure foreign investors that the government held control over insecurity. The means to assert this control transferred greater autonomy to the armed forces, as well as to state and municipal police, institutions lacking appropriate training for law enforcement. In September 2014, both the armed forces and the municipal police are alleged to have killed and caused the disappearance of groups of citizens. These violent acts, as well as the murder of prominent politicians, have raised the specter that a new level of violence has returned to Mexico – this time carried out by official bodies as well as organized crime.
These are truly revolutionary times in Mexico and to move forward the government must stop labeling protestors as anarchists and enemies of the state and start addressing the real issues of this fiasco that is called The War on Drugs. If the United States with all of it’s resources and power was unable to win a war on drugs then it seems logical that Mexico is destined to fail as well. The statistical evidence of that is clear. As the latest 43 missing are added to the national statistics of the disappeared (anywhere from 26,121 to 200,00 since 2006), the country must look ahead and look within. It is time to start reviewing every single rural mayor from every single municipality in every single state in this country. If they have ties to drug cartels then they must go. Until that happens expect more of the same in Mexico. More disappeared and more protests.
Excellent Report by Vice News on Ayotzinapa
Aljazeera has done a great report on Mexico’s disappeared, the video report above is excellent, the article is here.
This is the full press conference were the government states its case that the students were murdered transported to a dump where their bodies were turned to ashes. It is at the end of this press conference when Attorney General Murillo makes the now infamous statement, “Ya Me Canse” I am tired and walks out. If you take the time to watch the full one hour press conference at no time does he ever mention that the police have murdered these students. The government has been extremely careful in its wording of events.