The military operation: kill and disappear

As Mexico begins to open its archives on the “dirty war,” Abel Barrera Hernández describes some of the Mexican Army’s counterinsurgency operations

Genaro Vázquez Rojas

By: Abel Barrera Hernández*

During the “dirty war” (1965-1990), repression in Guerrero was systematic and generalized. The report Truth Commission of the State of Guerrero (Comverdad, its Spanish acronym), which was presented recently in Acapulco, reports with great detail that the Army’s atrocities were not casual or isolated repression. It responded to the State’s policy that had as its express objective exterminating the guerrilla, destroying the rural and urban communities where the groups settled and found shelter for their supplies. The search they carried out in the most rugged regions was to arrest, torture and disappear the men, women and children they found on the roads and in the villages. It was about clearing the lands sown with rebellion. They slashed the precarious productivity of the fields so that the scarce food the families consumed would not be enough for the guerrilla. Starvation was part of the extermination. No one could move food out of the community. Whoever dared would no longer wake up in the town.

Federal and state authorities, instead of addressing the causes of the rebellion, submitted to military power. They left public security in the hands of bloodthirsty generals and allowed the military zones to become centers of torture, executions and disappearance of people. The president of the Republic left the strategy for suffocating the social and armed uprising in the hands of the Secretary of National Defense. They used all the economic resources, occupied the best military equipment to transfer it to the Sierra de Guerrero. They Commissioned special forces trained to kill and concentrated a large number of soldiers from other states, to enter the territories where the population lives in extremely precarious conditions.

The anti-guerrilla military operations were rigorous: to kill and disappear the armed groups and their support networks. Because of living in places where the guerrilla operated, people were victims of illegal detentions; they suffered torture so that they would confess where to find the armed men. Due to mere suspicion, some were disappeared and executed. “Guachos” was the nickname that the soldiers earned for their quarrelsome and cowardly attitude. For the damage they caused. For their rapacity. For arresting and killing innocent people. The first and last names of the guerrilla leaders were compelling reasons for the guachos to arrest entire families. In addition to torturing them, they looted homes, displaced them and in some cases, disappeared the heads of family. They sought to uproot the guerrilla; however, the families that carry in their veins the ideal for which their husbands and sons fought, maintain the indelible mark of their lineage. Today, they resist and remain in their homelands in search of individual and community reparations. 50 years after this abominable repression, they maintain the demand for justice.

Lucio Cabañas Barrientos (left) and Genaro Vázquez Rojas (right).

The anti-guerrilla military operations were rigorous: to kill and disappear the armed groups and their support networks. Because of living in places where the guerrilla operated, people were victims of illegal detentions; they suffered torture so that they would confess where to find the armed men. Due to mere suspicion, some were disappeared and executed. “Guachos” was the nickname that the soldiers earned for their quarrelsome and cowardly attitude. For the damage they caused. For their rapacity. For arresting and killing innocent people. The first and last names of the guerrilla leaders were compelling reasons for the guachos to arrest entire families. In addition to torturing them, they looted homes, displaced them and in some cases, disappeared the heads of family. They sought to uproot the guerrilla; however, the families that carry in their veins the ideal for which their husbands and sons fought, maintain the indelible mark of their lineage. Today, they resist and remain in their homelands in search of individual and community reparations. 50 years after this abominable repression, they maintain the demand for justice.

The Comverdad report and its three annexes show the radiography of the horror, the cartography of the violence that the Army perpetrated, the testimonies of survivors and family members who overcame the ravages of war. They are an example of honor and toughness in the face of infamy and insolence of the authorities for the crimes of the Army.

The Plan Telaraña (Spiderweb Plan), applied in March 1971, is part of a counterinsurgency scheme used in Guerrero for the purpose of gaining the will of the civilian population to later attack contra insurgent groups. General Hermenegildo Cuenca Díaz, the Secretary of National Defense, announced it among yjr troops, but asked for secrecy in its application. The central component was to reactivate the economy through infrastructure works; provide medical care and promote literacy campaigns. With the Army as a benefactor agent, it sought to take the flags away from the guerrilla movement, classifying it as criminal. This work would be accompanied with espionage to provide information on the guerrilla presence and combat it.

The military forces in charge of operating this strategy were the 27 and 35 military zones, in co-ordination with the commands of the adjacent territorial jurisdictions. Social work with the civilian population that involved public agencies of the State providing direct benefits to poor families was key. They cast the hook so that military action would enter; however, it was a failed attempt. The Army didn’t know that the population maintains a code of ethics that will always defend the rights of collectivity. It will not betray its people for a kilo of sugar. Faced with this failure, the Army acted against the same population because it never imagined that justice is a widespread demand.

Lucio Cabaños Barrientos

The Spiderweb Plan mobilized against the guerrilla at least 2, 236 soldiers; 2, 115 troop members, grouped together in 77 military parties (partidas), as well as 105 officers and 16 chiefs and an undetermined number of rural defenses. It had the support of three helicopters from the Attorney General Office. The action started on April 29 and 30, 1971, to comply with the express orders of the Secretary of Defense and the supreme chief of the armed forces, Luis Echeverría Álvarez. In this first stage of the Spiderweb Plan, the president declared: “they must be sure that we will defend our democracy from any interior or exterior aggression.” For his part the Secretary of Defense declared: “guerrillas don’t exist in Mexico… military intelligence investigates to prevent subversive elements from carrying out agitation anywhere in the country.” In addition to applying the Spiderweb Plan in six stages combined with a tracking plan, the Army applied the Fan Operation (Operación Abanico), to carry out encircling movements to corner enclose, and eliminate the guerrilla group headed by Genaro Vázquez Rojas. Despite Operation Rabbit Hunt, the Army was very far from achieving its objective of winning the population’s trust and cornering the guerrilla.

The Army was founded on supreme power that had no limits or controls for exterminating the guerrilla movement. The president of the Republic gave it all the economic and logistical support for turning the state of Guerrero into a counterinsurgency laboratory. After the passage of 50 years, impunity reigns with the militaristic strategy of killing and disappearing, as has happened with El Charco, Tlatlaya and the 43.

* The author is the Director of the Human Rights Center of the Mountain-Tlachinollan

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Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Tuesday, June 7, 2022, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/06/07/opinion/020a1pol and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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