7 Months After: investigative journalists talk about the Ayotzinapa Case
Seven months after the attack on Ayotzinapa students, I remembered that unspeakable crime by attending a talk at my local branch library (Temescal) in Oakland. For several hours last Saturday, Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher talked about their work as investigative journalists. Both are postgraduate fellows at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Journalism in the Investigative Reporting Program.  They are currently investigating the Ayotzinapa Case and have written several articles for the Mexican weekly Proceso.
Hernández and Fisher have debunked the federal government’s official version of the Ayotzinapa Case piece by piece. For example, the federal government denied that the Federal Police were involved. Hernández and Fisher obtained a key piece of evidence that told a different story: the September 26, 2014 monitoring record from the Center for Control, Command, Communications and Computation (C4), a computer-monitoring center connected to both state and federal police. That C4 monitoring record showed that the students were monitored from the minute they left Ayotzinapa for Iguala and that their location was reported to the Federal Police.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the government’s official version concerned the alleged “motive” for such a heinous crime: José Luis Abarca, Iguala’s mayor at the time in question, supposedly ordered the attack because he was afraid that the students would disrupt his wife’s presentation of her DIF  activities. The official version goes on to say: following the mayor’s orders, municipal police from Iguala and from the neighboring municipality of Cocula attacked and captured the students while the United Warriors (Guerreros Unidos) criminal gang murdered and then incinerated them, without the knowledge of the federal agents and soldiers stationed in the zone.
Hernández made a big point of saying that there is no way the mayor of Iguala and his small municipal police force, even with the aid of Cocula’s municipal police and “Guerreros Unidos,” had the ability to pull off an operation like the disappearance of 43 college students and the attack that preceded it. She stressed that the mayor was a “nobody” and Guerreros Unidos were never even heard of before this tragedy. She emphasized that Iguala was a place where large federal institutions dominated: the federal police, the Army and offices of federal agencies like Governance (SG) and the Attorney General (PGR).
It has been reported in the Mexican press that no murder or kidnapping charges have been brought against Abarca because there is no evidence to support either charge. A member of Caravana43 stated the same thing in a talk at Boalt Hall, the UC Berkeley Law School, and Hernández emphasized it. She added that Abarca’s wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, had finished her presentation and left the area by the time the student’s reached Iguala. The presentation of Abarca’s wife was not the motive for the attack!
As for the “confessions” from alleged members of Guerreros Unidos, Hernández said that photos of their appearances before a judge showed obvious signs of torture. The significance of this is that their confessions were obtained under torture and, therefore, should not be upheld up in court of law.
So what actually did happen? Who ordered and/or planned the attack and the disappearances and why? That is what Hernández and Fisher continue investigating. They want answers. So far, they have obtained information from the reconstruction of the crime, pieced together by the parents’ lawyers with survivors of the attack, as well as from cell-phone videos taken by survivors. They have obtained government documents and interviewed both survivors and detainees. They stated that they are planning to investigate why the EPR (Ejército Popular Revolucionario, EPR) issued a statement shortly after the attack pointing fingers at the Mexican Army as responsible for the murders and enforced disappearances. A baseless accusation or does the EPR know something? The parents certainly seem to believe that the Army was responsible. At the talk I attended in Berkeley a member of Caravana43 specifically said the parents and survivors believe the Army is responsible.
There was a hint in the first Proceso article by Hernández and Fisher that the leftist politics of the school may have been a motive:
“Moreover, according to the information obtained by Proceso at the Ayotzinapa Teachers College, the attack and disappearance of the students was directed specifically at the institution’s ideological structure and government, because of the 43 disappeared one was part of the Committee of Student Struggle, the maximum organ of the school’s government and 10 (others) were “political activists in formation” with the Political and Ideological Orientation Committee (Comité de Orientación Política e Ideológica, COPI).” 
And there was also an implication in the Saturday talk that the government suspected a connection between the students and the EPR or the ERPI  and that could have been the government’s motive.
The question and answer session was interesting. One of the questions that is always asked at public discussions involving the Drug War in Mexico is whether legalizing drugs here in the United States would solve the problem of violence in Mexico. What seemed to be of greater concern than legalizing drugs, at least from the journalists’ perspective, was ending the military aid that trains soldiers and police how to kill more effectively and provides them with the weapons needed to do so. Hernández believes those weapons and training are not used against drug traffickers or organized crime, but rather against the (innocent) civilian population.
Why has the Ayotzinapa case won so much support in Mexico and the world? Anabel Hernández answered that question by saying that since the beginning of Mexico’s Drug War, the federal government has generally blamed the victims; in other words, when government security forces (Army, Navy or federal police) cause civilian deaths, the federal government alleges that those civilians were working for drug trafficking gangs or had a family member involved in drug trafficking. She went on to say that the government likewise tried accusing the Ayotzinapa students, but it was so ridiculous that it wasn’t believed. Because the government could not connect these students to organized crime, the students represent the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of the government’s Drug War and all those citizens that live in fear of the next massacre or disappearance. Thus, the parents of the dead and disappeared students and the survivors of the attack speak with an unprecedented moral authority.
The passion with which Anabel Hernández spoke was contagious and many of those asking questions were also passionate. A final thought I came away with was that Mexico’s Drug War affects everyone, regardless of skin color, economic status or social class.
I also came away with a question I have had for several years and one that was asked by another member of Saturday’s audience: Why isn’t there more of an effort in the U.S. to end the Merida Initiative and stop the supply of weapons to Mexico?
Submitted by Mary Ann Tenuto-Sánchez
 For more information about Hernández and Fisher and the program see: http://journalism.berkeley.edu/news/2014/dec/19/irp-fellows-investigate-governments-role-disappear/
 DIF – These are initials for the National System for Integral Family Development, a welfare program for families administered through the President, Governor and Mayor’s offices. The wives of the president, governor or mayor are usually the ones responsible for carrying out these responsibilities.
 Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo Insurgente, an armed group in Guerrero
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