One wonders what has changed in Guerrero in the last three and a half years, since 43 students from an Ayotzinapa college were disappeared in what the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) called a massive and indiscriminate attack on the civilian population. Though the group’s analysis went unnoticed, it means that crimes against humanity may have been committed in Iguala, with the possible participation of all three levels of the Mexican government: local, state, and federal.
With profound sadness, today we can say that nothing has changed in the state of Guerrero, at least on a structural level. And not simply since the forced disappearance of the students, but rather from much earlier. The state has faced a historical context of impunity and abandon for decades. And the recent events in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero, reflect this. In December, police forcibly disappeared five, perhaps even six, of seven young people reported missing.
With profound sadness, today we can say that nothing has changed in the state of Guerrero, at least on a structural level. And not simply since the forced disappearance of the students, but rather from much earlier. The state has faced a historical context of impunity and abandon for decadesErika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International
With the New Year came the terrible news that, despite our hopes, forced disappearance remains the norm in Guerrero.
At least seven young people were forcibly disappeared between 25 December and 3 January in the state capital. Three of them, who were missing for a week, “appeared” on a Chilpancingo street, their entire bodies wrapped in packing tape. Two more young people who are still missing today disappeared at different times but, it is believed, from the same location in the city. Two more were found dead just days later, in plastic bags in a vacant lot. Guerrero wakes up to this kind of story day in and day out.
Beyond these tragedies is the tragedy of the Mexican authorities. There is corroborated evidence that city police participated in six of the seven disappearances, and that state police participated in three.
Three young people who were tossed alive onto a street, their entire bodies wrapped in tape, appeared seven days after; they said they were detained on 27 December and hidden and tortured by both city and state police.
Since the surrealism of the situation in Mexico knows no limits, it was members of the same state police force who minutes later found Alan Alexis, H. y J., and handed them over to state authorities, who are now tasked with investigating its own officers for the crimes of torture and forced disappearance.
On 3 January, the same day that these three young people were found alive, Jorge Vázquez and Marco Catalán were found dead. Days before, on December 30, they had been detained by city police during Chilpancingo’s New Year Festival. To date, one city police officer has been detained in the case, during an investigation that has raised a number of concerns due to the fact that it is based solely on the testimony of a small number of witnesses who are all local government employees and accuse only one police officer of the crimes. There is evidence, however, that other officers, including the chief of police, may have been involved.
In the case of Efraín Patrón, who has been missing since the morning of 29 December, footage from a C-4 (law enforcement monitoring system) camera was recently released. The footage suggests that in this case too at least one city police vehicle was involved in the disappearance. The route taken by Patrón is similar to that taken by Abel Aguilar before he disappeared. Aguilar’s family is still searching for him.
If we look back to before the Ayotzinapa tragedy, Iguala was already a breeding ground for state corruption, drug trafficking, and social control that was so extraordinary it couldn’t help but explode that night in September 2014Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International
If we look back to before the Ayotzinapa tragedy, Iguala was already a breeding ground for state corruption, drug trafficking, and social control that was so extraordinary it couldn’t help but explode that night in September 2014.
If we analyze recent events in Chilpancingo we see tragic similarities. A city police force which might have two salaries: one public, and the other paid by organized crime. Grave human rights violations. Social control in the streets and the silence of a city that knows everything, but is terrified to see how its situation worsens day by day, and even more terrified of speaking out. A society with a deep distrust of its authorities. And, lastly and most infuriatingly, we see a branch of the justice system that is structurally and operationally designed to preserve impunity and protect business as usual. The result: a Molotov cocktail, ready to explode.
But there is still more. After the Ayotzinapa case, many organizations were threatened and illegally surveilled with the intent to undermine their efforts, destroy their morale and preserve impunity. In the cases of the seven young people from Chilpancingo, the threats have been immediate. Marco Antonio Coronel, a journalist with Televisa, the outlet that offered the most in-depth coverage of these events, was threatened on 31 January after making public the C-4 footage that showed that the vehicle that Efraín Patrón was driving the last time he was seen in public was followed, and possibly intercepted, by a city police vehicle.
The gravity of these events and the possible connections between the authorities and organized crime require us to demand that the federal Attorney General’s Office take on these cases, including the threats against a journalist made to try to cover up the truth. But they also require us to demand structural reforms that end impunity.
All this horror has not diminished the courage of the civil society organizations, journalists and families who denounce these atrocities. They not only defend their loved ones, but also demand strict adherence to and respect for human rights from their authorities.
All this horror has not diminished the courage of the civil society organizations, journalists and families who denounce these atrocities. They not only defend their loved ones, but also demand strict adherence to and respect for human rights from their authoritiesErika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International
This article was originally published by El Universal