Mexico: official Ayotzinapa story questioned

On Dec. 13 the left-leaning Mexican news magazine Proceso published an investigative report challenging the government's account of the abduction of 43 students and the killing of three students and three bystanders the night of Sept. 26-27 in Iguala de la Independencia in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Based on cell phone videos, interviews, testimony by witnesses and leaked official documents, the report's authors, Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher, claim that agents of the Federal Police (PF) were involved in the attack on the students, that the Mexican army was at least complicit, and that the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto has been covering up the role of federal forces.

The official version is that responsibility for violence against the students, who attended the traditionally leftist Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa, lies entirely with Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez, municipal police in the Iguala area and a local drug gang. But a leaked document shows that federal and state police were regularly informed on the students' movements from the time they left Ayotzinapa for Iguala the evening of Sept. 26 through the time of the attack, according to the Proceso report. Federal forces could have intervened to stop the violence; instead, they may have participated in it. Some of the students reported seeing federal agents during the attack; other students said the police assaulting them had equipment, including a machine gun, not issued to municipal police departments in Mexico.

Guerrero state prosecutors clearly suspected federal involvement. On Sept. 28 they ordered the PF to provide records on the activities of federal agents in the area for the Sept. 24-28 period; the PF didn't comply. Under political pressure, the state government dropped out of the case on Oct. 4, leaving the investigation entirely in the control of the federal government.

The reporters also questioned the official claim that the Guerreros Unidos ("United Warriors") gang was involved, since the only evidence for this seems to come from confessions by gang members who had evidently been tortured by the authorities. The government asserts that the abducted students were transferred to members of the gang at a specific Iguala police station. According to the Proceso report, the activity would have been visible to anyone in the area, but neighbors said they saw and heard nothing unusual that night.

Hernández and Fisher charge that the motive for the attack was political: "The attack on and disappearance of the students was directed specifically at the ideological structure and administration of the college." They note that the students were all members of the college's Student Struggle Committee and 10 were "political activists in training" with the Political and Ideological Orientation Committee (COPI).

Hernández is an award-winning Mexican journalist and the author of a bestselling book on official corruption and the drug trade; the book was published in English as Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers. Fisher is a US reporter and filmmaker. The research was supported by the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of Berkeley, California. (El Diario de Coahuila, Dec. 14, from Proceso; Fusion, Dec. 14)

Just as the new issue of Proceso was hitting the newsstands in the early morning of Dec. 14, a confrontation between federal police agents and students and their supporters left 22 people injured in Chilpancingo, the Guerrero state capital. According to a local human rights attorney, Vidulfo Rosales Sierra, some 15 to 20 Ayotzinapa students were setting up for a rock concert they were to hold that morning in the north of the city as part of activities protesting the Sept. 26-27 attacks. At around 5 am a group of federal agents, apparently drunk or on drugs, arrived and attacked the students with fists and rocks, Rosales Sierra said.

Parents, teachers and students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) also became involved in the confrontation, and later some 250 members of the militant State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG) joined in; they have been holding a sit-in at Chilpancingo's main plaza since Oct. 8. The CETEG members reportedly set three police vans on fire, along with four other vehicles, and detained three federal agents, taking them to Ayotzinapa in nearby Tixtla municipality and then transferring them to the municipal prison. The injured included eight federal agents and two reporters; the rest were students, teachers and parents. (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 14.