Human Rights

Ayotzinapa and Beyond: Documenting the Drug War’s Hidden Atrocities

reynosa_tamaulipa_mexico_patrol_rtr_imgAs independent forensic experts cast further doubt on the Mexican government’s account of the September 2014 disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa Normal School in Iguala, Guerrero, a new examination of declassified U.S. archives sheds light on the alarming pattern of drug war atrocities that predate the Ayotzinapa case.

In a new article for The Nation, National Security Archive researcher Jesse Franzblau looks at declassified evidence on US security assistance programs in Mexico and the pattern of secrecy and cover-up associated with the 2010-11 San Fernando migrant massacres.

Jesse also highlights another massacre in Mexico that has received much less international attention. From March 18-21, 2011, the Zetas criminal group descended on Allende, Coahuila, kidnapping and executing some 300 family members, friends and others linked to three Zetas believed to be informants for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Local security forces did not respond to the massacre, even though Coahuila state government officials, as well as the federal attorney general’s office were aware of the attack as it was being carried out. Neither state nor federal officials investigated the attack afterward, and Coahuila’s governor did not publicly acknowledge the killings until over a year later, according to the new article.

In fact, it was not until January 2014 that authorities began searching for the remains of the disappeared and announced the exhumation of mass graves in the area. In a chilling scene reminiscent of Ayotzinapa case, some of the hundreds of remains found in Coahuila had severe burns from attempted incineration.

While it is still not clear why it took three years for Mexican authorities to start looking for remains, the well-established links between local and state authorities and the Zetas provide some clues. As with the San Fernando massacres, the killings took place at a time when the Zetas had consolidated control over much of the political and security apparatus in Mexico’s northern region. According to internal US government reports published by the National Security Archive; in the lead up to the massacre, cartels were operating “with near total impunity in the face of compromised local security forces.” Contemporaneous diplomatic reports show that U.S. officials had long connected Coahuila’s then-head of state investigations to the Zetas.

Franzblau argues that the Mexican government’s effort to deflect attention away from federal responsibility and depict the disappearances as a local phenomenon follows a pattern seen in other cases of grave human rights violations. U.S. records previously unearthed by the National Security Archive show that Mexican authorities took similar measures to cover up the state’s role in the San Fernando massacres. The US Consulate in Matamoros, Mexico, reported how Mexican authorities had transferred bodies of the hundreds of victims to other locations “to make the numbers less obvious and thus less alarming.” The consulate said it appeared that state officials were trying to downplay the extent of the mass graves and the “state’s responsibility for them.” Federal officials also withheld official information and obstructed investigations by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) into the massacres by blocking CNDH access to crucial files on the case. Years later, in December 2014, Mexico’s attorney general’s office for the first time released a document from its investigation of the case in response to a freedom of information request filed by the National Security Archive. The document revealed new details on direct links between the San Fernando police, the Zetas and the San Fernando killings.

In another case, the Mexican military attempted to cover up the execution of 22 people by members of the army’s 102nd Battalion in Tlatlaya, in the state of Mexico, by claiming the victims were connected to criminal drug activity and killed during a shootout. Last October, the CNDH released its report on the case, finding that the army manipulated evidence at the site of the killing. The CNDH also reported that state prosecutors threatened three female witnesses with rape, and beat two of them, to force them to sign statements exonerating the soldiers implicated in the killings.

Jesse’s article also looks at formerly secret US documents on Mérida Initiative training and assistance programs – such a DEA criminal investigations trainings – that were carried out out as the US was reporting on that the security apparatus in the region had been compromised by organized crime.

Check out the full article over at The Nation.

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