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'Ayotzinapa is the tip of the iceberg'

When the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, came to power on December 1, 2012, he said the main objective of his mandate was to open up the country's oil market, but that objective has now been overshadowed by what the United Nations now calls a "humanitarian" crisis -- the more than 20,000 people who have gone missing through kidnappings and forced disappearances. Now, nearly two years after he was sworn in, the kidnapping and forced disappearance of 43 students from a small city, Iguala, in the south of the country could change the course of his presidency.

When the case had not yet caused a stir abroad, Peña Nieto tried to steer clear of it, claiming it was a matter for the local authorities. But what at first appeared to be another sad case, one of more than 23,000 still unresolved, has turned into an international scandal. Now, the families of the victims are taking on the Attorney General's Office (PGR), headed by Jesús Murillo Karam, which has claimed the 43 students were murdered.

According to Murillo, police had received orders from Iguala's Mayor José Luis Abarca to stop the young people from entering the city. They were allegedly planning a protest at an event hosted by the mayor's wife. The police force not only followed these directions -- they also opened fire on the students in two vicious attacks, which left six dead. Those still alive were kidnapped and handed over to hit men allegedly working for the cartel known as Guerreros Unidos.

In a press conference last week, Murillo expressed "legal certainty" that the 43 had been killed, burned and had their remains discarded at a rubbish-tip located in the town of Cocula, although so far the remains of only one of the students has been identified (19-year-old Alexander Mora).

The relatives of the missing are refusing to give up their fight -- "Alive they took them, alive we want them back" is the protest slogan that has spread across social networks since that fateful night of September 26 last year, when three buses from the Escuela Normal (teaching training school) of Ayotzinapa were intercepted by Iguala's municipal police.

The Herald spoke with Ana Marcia Aguiluz, Director of the Central America and Mexico Programme for the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) this week about the inconsistencies in the investigation. CEJIL expressed its opposition to the possible closure of the investigation into the incident just days after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced it would form an international group of experts to develop a search plan to find out what happened to the students -- and if they're alive.

The parents accuse the PGR of wanting to close the case without finding out the truth. Why is that?

Because (the office) is drawing conclusions from very little evidence. Most are based on testimonies. That is a problem in any country in the world, but particularly in Mexico because there is a history of torture being used to obtain confessions. In fact, several of the people who have been arrested in this case have already said they were tortured. So in this context, the relatives do not trust that this is what really happened because there is virtually no scientific proof. The response of the authorities to what happened in Ayotzinapa continues to be insufficient. The Mexican state is obliged to listen to what the families have to say and exhaust all lines of investigation by using reliable evidence.

But an Argentine forensic team that is participating in the investigation has already confirmed that some remains found on the rubbish-tip in Cocula belongs to one of the students...

Yes, but the Argentine team has argued that it was not there when the bag containing the remains was found, so it cannot vouch that it was really found there.

Is it possible that the government is using some of the detainees to protect other people?

I dare not speculate about it. What is true is that the method of using torture to obtain confessions is well-known in Mexico and there have been many cases.

Last week, Peña Nieto said that people have to get over this tragedy and move on. Is the government trying to minimize the importance of this case?

Of course it is. The importance of this case has helped to highlight the magnitude of the problem in Mexico. When this government took office, there were already 23,000 people missing. It is not an isolated incident, as the attorney general said, it is systematic, and Ayotzinapa is just the tip of the iceberg. The government wanted to close the case as soon as it could due to the political cost, but that's no longer possible because it is not only the 43 missing, it's a whole country and an international community that is demanding answers.

Why did Peña Nieto take over a month to meet with the parents of the victims?

The president made some early mistakes that are now irreparable. After what happened, he said it was up to the authorities of Guerrero -- governed by the opposition party PRD (the Party of the Democratic Revolution) -- to sort thing out. In other words, the government didn't want to get involved. When Peña Nieto found out about what happened he could have offered all of his federal resources to help search for the missing youngsters, but he didn't. Hence, a lot of the critical evidence in the days after was not collected. He thought that the PRD would have to accept the political cost, but he was wrong. It is a problem for the country and the fact that he does not have a permanent, honest and transparent dialogue with relatives has cost him dearly.

Could we say that the government only took up the matter when it began to have an international impact?

Of course we can. That's when the government realized that it had to react.

Why did the government not accept the offer of technical assistance offered by the IACHR?

It did accept it, but with certain conditions. The committee wanted to investigate beyond the Ayoztinapa case. This proposal was not accepted by the government. It asked the investigators to stick to the students' case. The committee was formed about three weeks ago by people well-known in the international arena.

What is the feeling now the commission will go to Mexico despite the fact the PGR has already given its conclusions?

It is one of the many contradictions that don't have any logic. The government pays a million dollars for these experts to go to Mexico to help with the investigation and at the same time the Attorney General Murillo virtually closes the case. It is very suspicious. It seems that this decision to receive the commission was simply a way not to lose face abroad.

At the time of slaughter José Luis Abarca was the mayor of Iguala. He and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda ,went on the run shortly afterwards and then they were arrested by federal police. What was their involvement in the events?

Everything indicates that the participation of Abarca was direct and it was he who gave the order to arrest the youngsters and to hand them over to the Guerreros Unidos hitmen. On the evening of September 26, his wife had an event in Iguala and he wanted to prevent the students interrupting it. A year before in Iguala, two demonstrators were killed and one witness said Abarca was the mastermind (of that killing), but it was never investigated. So there were previous claims indicating he already had clear links to drug-trafficking.

Murillo claims that catel's hitmen murdered them because they had mistaken them for members of a rival cartel Los Rojos.

It seems very unlikely to me. It is very strange that he has reached that conclusion. How can you mistake a student for a hitman?

Several Mexican newspapers have suggested that the Army could be involved. How did they come to this conclusion?

One of the parents of the victims had GPS on his cell phone that indicated that his son, who was in Battalion 27, was in Iguala. It is an important clue. But there's been no intention by the government to investigative this clue.

What kind of relationship do the students from the teacher training schools have with the Mexican authorities?

Historically the teacher training schools are known for creating professionals who generally come from rural areas with limited economic resources. They are taught to have a critical view of authority and to have social awareness. It is an education that teaches you to question the abuse of power.

Do authorities persecute students from these schools?

Protests by the students from the teacher training school in Ayotzinapa have been repressed before. In December 2011, they staged a rally in the city of Chilpancingo and during a confrontation with police two student were shot dead.

Ana Marcia Aguiluz, Director of the Central America and Mexico Programme for the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

[Source: By Ernesto Lugones, Herald Staff, Buenos Aires Herald, Bs As, 03Feb15]

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