This article is translated from the Spanish original written by J. Jesus Esquivel, Marco Appel and Yetlaneci Alcaraz. It appeared in the weekly investigative journalism magazine Proceso in October 2014. The first part of the article can be found online here.
This week president Peña Nieto stated that Mexico needs to move on from the Ayotzinapa case while attorney general Murillo Karam stated that the government is certain of the facts and the case is effectively closed. Unsurprisingly, many -most prominently the families of the disappeared – disagree with the government response and vow to keep fighting for the truth and for those responsible to be brought for justice.
The article, a few months old, provides an interesting insight into the federal government´s response to the tragedy in the days and weeks after the atrocity as well as a survey of the international response to the events. Now that 4 months have passed since the events of September 26, it provides a point of embarkation for hindsight and judgement on whether the federal government responded adequately and in the manner in which it promised it would and whether international organisations have followed through with their strong and indignant initial rhetoric . Many have already made up their minds.
In the face of the negative image of Mexico projected abroad because of the Tlatlaya and Ayotzinapa cases, the Enrique Peña Nieto government applied a strategy of damage control: Mexican embassies sent letters and communiques to the governments and parliaments of the nations to which they are accredited, ambassadors convened journalists to retransmit the message that the president read on October 6 or made ¨courtesy visits¨to local medial outlets to offer the version of what is ¨really¨happening in the country.
The objective: To create the perception that the Mexican government is in control of the situation in several states – when in reality the violence is out of control – and to fulfil its international commitments regarding security, justice and human rights.
The Tlatlaya massacre, the forced disappearance of the teaching students in Ayotzinapa and the discovery of hidden graves in Iguala – incidents widely covered by international press – are starting to have concrete effects on foreign policy: the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the State Department of the United States condemned the events and demanded a thorough and transparent investigation to shed light on these crimes and to bring those responsible to justice.
Furthermore: 16 members of the European parliament requested that the modernisation process of the global agreement between Mexico and the European Union, which both parties were negotiating, be suspended until ¨confidence is restored¨in the Mexican authorities in respect to human rights.
¨A Crime of the State¨
The world´s main media agencies widely covered the cases of Tlatlaya and Ayotzinapa and in a matter of days undid the image of a stable and modern country that that Peña Nieto government has tried to sell the world.
¨43 Missing Students, a Mass Grave and a Suspect: Mexico´s Police¨was the headline on the front page of the newspaper the New York Times in its October 7 edition. It noted ¨Even in a country accustomed to mass killings, the case has generated alarm, both for the possible involvement of the police and for the fact that the students were not known to have criminal ties.¨The New York Times pointed out that ¨massacres and mass graves are rarely a surprise in Mexico…but the discovery of 28 charred corpses piled up in common grave on the slopes of a hill in Iguala, is a different kind of horror.¨
In France on October 8, the newspaper Le Monde published that the facts add up to a country in crisis¨ since ¨they reveal the barbarity of the municipal police and their links to organised crime.¨ In several of its editions the newspaper repeated the accusation that a ¨crime of the state¨had been committed in Guerrero. After Peña Nieto´s televised speech on October 6 , in which he affirmed that there would be no place for impunity, the newspaper questioned whether the dispatch of the national gendarmerie ¨would be enough to calm down the anger of the people.¨
On October 9 Radio France commented that ¨there are moments in which reality resembles the most sordid television dramas. In Mexico they happen more often than elsewhere.¨
An article in the newspaper Libération – ¨Mexico: 28 corpses and a Crime of the State¨- states that ¨this tragedy brings to light the collusion between local police and organised crime.¨
¨The city of Iguala, noted for being the city where Mexico´s independence was signed in 1821, is known worldwide from this point on for ´the barbarity of Iguala´¨said the Welsh newspaper on the 7th of the month.
On September 30, the British newspaper the Guardian described the aggression of the police and the alleged killers towards the Ayotzinapa students as an ¨ambush¨.
On October 7 Jen Psaki, spokesman for the United States Department of State stated ¨this is an alarming crime which demands a complete and transparent investigation.¨
Furthermore, in an email sent to the Proceso correspondent in Washington, a spokesperson of the State Department warned that ¨we will continue to follow very closely the Mexican government investigations in respect to the incident on June 30 in Tlatlaya…¨
¨While we can´t prejudice the investigation, we will continue to collect additional details about the status of this investigation and we underline the importance of a thorough, transparent and respectful investigation with due process. If the investigation reveals that violations of human rights were committed it is equally as important that those who are found to be responsible are brought to justice.¨
On the same day the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, assured that the disappearance and possible killing of the 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural School ¨is not mourned just by Mexico but by all countries of the Americas¨. He called for an explanation of ¨a murder so inhuman that it is absurd.¨
In a letter on October 10 the vice-president of the Human Rights Commission of the European Parliament, Barbara Lochbihler, condemned the disappearance of the 43 teaching students from Ayotzinapa. In a personal pronouncement sent from her office in Berlin, the German politician and member of the faction of the Green Party in the European parliament expressed: ¨It is with indignation, anger and concern that we, in the European parliament, see the forced disappearances and murders in the state of Guerrero.¨
However, the negative effects abroad went even further. On October 10, 16 members of the European parliament, including the High Representative of the European Union Foreign Affairs Union, Catherine Ashton and the Italian Federica Mogherini who will take over from the start of November, sent a letter to Peña Nieto:
¨We, the members of the European parliament, are deeply dismayed at the recent occurrences in the state of Guerrero, Mexico¨, starts the four page missive to which this magazine had access.
The European members remember that the Global Agreement, in force since 2000, as well as the Strategic Association of 2008 ¨establish cooperation mechanisms between both parties in respect to the indivisibility of human rights and the security of citizens, as stipulated in the clause on human rights.
¨Therefore we firmly believe that any modernisation of the Global Agreement, as is foreseen for 2015, must be put on hold and its objectives and areas foreseen for liberalisation must be revised.
In Germany, members of the Green Party took concrete action in the session of parliament on October 15: They asked for explanations from the federal government about what consequences the crimes may have on the collaboration of a security material agreement that both countries are currently negotiating.
In the face of an avalanche of criticism and protest from abroad, the government of Peña Nieto initiated a strategy of damage control. According to sources in Los Pinos (Mexican presidential residence) and the Department of Foreign Relations consulted by this weekly, on October 7 the Presidential Office of the Republic ordered the foreign ministry to send the following instruction to all its embassies worldwide: ¨Retransmit¨in your respective countries the message offered by Peña Nieto on television.
In Washington, the ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora complied. On October 8 he convened journalists from six media outlets to ¨an off the record information session. Three of them, American – the AP agency and the television channels CNN and Telemundo – and the others EFE (Spain), DPA (Germany) and AFP (France). Mexican correspondents were not invited.
Medina Mora read a 13 point communique which repeated Peña Nieto´s speech. One of the journalists that attended the ¨information session¨ – and who requested to remain anonymous – recalled that the ambassador did not want to respond to questions related to the denouncement made the very same day by Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, who held that ¨the government of Peña Nieto covered up human rights violations to maintain an image¨already non-existant in Mexico. The ambassador ¨discarded them and did not want to respond¨according to the source.
On the same day October 8 the ambassador in Germany circulated a communique under the title of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs ¨The government of Mexico categorically condemns the acts committed in Iguala, Guerrero and will not permit that there be impunity for those responsible. They are acts of outrageous, painful and unacceptable violence that our country does not deserve.¨
It informs that the federal government has sent army personnel, federal police and the gendarmerie to Iguala to retake control. ¨The aforesaid coalition has since yesterday been carrying out vigilance work in several points of the municipality of Iguala and completing inspections in surrounding areas with the goal of prevention and citizen protection.¨
It also informs that in addition to the 22 arrested there are four more detainees. 117 municipal police are being subjected to truth verification tests and all weapons of the municipal police have been seized in order to be subjected to ballistic tests and to verify that they are approved weapons.
After detailing that Argentine experts have been added to the investigative teams, the embassy concluded its communique by annexing a document about the security strategy of the Mexican government.
On October 10, at the end of a meeting with members of the Business Coordinating Council, Mexican foreign secretary José Antonio Meade, affirmed that no countries had released ¨alert¨notifications to their citizens in relation to the occurrences in Iguala. He did recognise, however, that there is ¨a lot of interest¨. We are communicating with complete transparency the progress in this case. What we want to guarantee is that the response of the Mexican government will be forceful and conclusive, it will be a response that closes any space for impunity.