A group of experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has just issued a new report on the Mexican government's own investigation of the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero state nearly one year ago—and finds that the official conclusions are improbable. The Sept. 5 presentation of the IACHR findings drew such a huge audeince that organizers had to set up a TV screen for the overflow crowd on the patio of the Mexico City Human Rights Commission offices. Back in January, Mexico's then-Prosecutor General Jesús Murillo Karam announced the results of his investigation: all the students had been killed by members of a narco-gang called the Guerreros Unidos, who incinerated the bodies in a trash dump at the bottom of a canyon, then shoveled what remained into plastic bags and threw them in a river. That theory was largely based on confessions from detainees—who have since claimed to have "confessed" under torture. IACHR investigators who visited the dump site concluded that the incineration of that many bodies would have required an inordinate amount of fuel, and caused a massive forest fire.
Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco, a leading activist in Mexico's violence-torn state of Guerrero and a vocal advocate for the families of the 43 students who went missing there in September 2014, was himself found dead on Aug. 10. His body was discovered riddled with bullets and slumped over the wheel of the taxi he owned in the pueblo of Xaltianguis, just outside Acapulco. He had led search parties after the disappearance of the students, who are now believed to have been turned over to a murderous narco-gang after being detained by police. Only one body of this missing students has yet been found. As it became increasingly clear the students had been killed, he helped organize a group called The Other Disappeared—mostly women, who meet every Sunday to search the hills for the remains of their loved ones. Since the group began work, it has unearthed 129 bodies, which were handed over to the authorities for identification. As he began to organize around the issue, Jiménez Blanco said some 300 families came forward saying they also had missing relatives. He said in a BBC interview earlier this year: "We have been saying from the start that this area is a cemetery."
The US Department of Commerce on Aug. 14 agreed to allow limited crude oil trading with Mexico, easing a ban on crude exports that has been in place for 40 years. Members of the US Congress were informed by the Department of Commerce that it plans to approve an application by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico's state-run oil company, to trade heavy oil pumped in Mexico for light crude pumped in the US. Despite applications from some dozen other countries, which were denied, Canada is the only other nation currently exempt from the ban. Unlike in the agreement with Mexico, Canada is not required to export similar crude quantities to the US. An end to the ban has been called for by both members of Congress and oil producers, including Exxon Mobil Corp.
Another bloody incident in the ongoing crackdown on anti-narco citizen self-defense militias is reported from Mexico's conflicted west-central state of Michoacán. On July 19, a detachment of army and marine troops was mobilized to the indigenous Nahua community of Santa María Ostula, an outlying hamlet of Ixtapilla puebla in Aquila municipality. Villagers mobilized upon the troops' advance, blocking the road into Ostula. In the ensuing fracas, soldiers fired on the villagers, leaving a youth dead and four other community members injured. The troops then carried out their mission: to arrest Semeí Verdía Zepeda, leader of the Aquila self-defense group. He was charged with illegal possession of two rifles, including an AK-47. (Informador.mx, La Jornada, Sopitas, July 19)
Mexico's independent Miguel Agustin Pro Human Rights Center (or Centro Pro) on July 2 released new evidence that high-ranking military officers gave soldiers orders to kill prior to an army mass slaying of more than 20 supposed narco-gang members in June 2014. The facts of the bloody incident at Tlatlaya, México state, have been disputed for over a year now. Purported documents from the 102nd Infantry Battalion released by the Centro Pro read like extermination orders. "Troops must operate at night, in massive form, reducing daytime activity, to kill criminals in hours of darkness," one document says. This casts further doubt on the official version that the casualties died in a gun battle that began when suspects fired on soldiers in a warehouse raid. An investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has already determined that between 12 and 15 of the victims were killed unarmed or after surrendering. Yet the defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, continues to stand by the official story, charging that "people and groups who perhaps don't like what the army is doing have already convicted the soldiers."
For the first time in nearly 80 years, Mexico opened its oil industry to foreign companies, offering 14 offshore exploration blocs in a July 15 auction. However, only two of the blocs were sold, falling short of expectations. ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total all passed on the first 14 shallow-water oil blocs in the Gulf of Mexico. A consortium of Mexico-based Sierra Oil & Gas, Texas-based Talos Energy and UK-based Premier Oil Plc won Bloc No. 2 after the first bloc didn't receive a bid, Mexico's National Hydrocarbons Commission and Energy Secretariat announced. Only nine companies took part in the auction, fewer than the 25 originally planned. A larger auction is planned for next month. The blocs are near the US-Mexico transboundary waters, and close to some of the most significant discoveries of the past 15 years on the US side. A new Hydrocarbon Law, allowing for production-sharing and profit-sharing, was instated in 2014. Over the past decade, Mexico has fallen from the world's fifth oil producer to tenth. (FuelFix, July 16; FuelFix, BBC News, July 15; WSJ, July 12)
Well, that didn't take long, did it? A massive manhunt is underway in Mexico after the country's most notorious drug lord escaped from the country's highest security prison on the night of July 11. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán stepped into a shower and through a secret door down a tunnel that led out of Altiplano Federal Prison. The lighted and ventilated tunnel was nearly a mile long, Mexico's National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García admitted. Reports indicate the tunnel even had a "rail system." It came out in a warehouse. The Mexican press have now dubbed El Chapo the "Lord of the Tunnels."
After an electoral season marred by narco-violence and assassination of candidates of all parties, the results from Mexico's June 7 vote are in. The coalition led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico as a one-party state for 80 years, maintains its slim majority in the lower-house Chamber of Deputies, although it lost some seats. Gubernatorial races were also held in several states, including some hit especially hard by the cartel violence. The PRI gained the governorship of Guerrero, but lost control of Michoacán to the left opposition. In one upset, the PRI lost northern Nuevo León state to an independent, Jaime "El Bronco" Rodríguez Calderón—the first independent candidate to win a governorship in Mexico. The gadfly rancher survived two assassination attempts by the Zetas when he was mayor of García, a Monterrey suburb. His son was killed in an attempted abduction, and his young daughter kidnapped, although returned unharmed. El Bronco beat the PRI and other estabished parties with a populist campaign and invective against entrenched corruption. With the state's establishment press bitterly opposed to him, he made deft use of social media to mobilize support. (Reuters, BBC News, Televisa, CNN México, June 8)