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The government continues to drag its feet in resolving the case of missing 43 Ayotzinapa students, says Laura Carlsen

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GREGORY WILPERT, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador. Monday, September 26 marked the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students from a small teacher’s college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico. To protest against their disappearance and to demand justice thousands of Mexicans marched on the capital of Mexico City on that day. Parents and friends of the disappeared students are demanding that a real investigation take place and that those who are responsible for their disappearance be identified once and for all. Let’s take a look at what one of the parent representatives had to say: SPEAKER: Regarding the incidents we continue to demand justice for two years. Since the first days we have said that if they (government) cannot give us answers then we need to go to Los Pinos (presidential headquarters) because he (President Enrique Pena Nieto) is inept and cannot continue as president of our country. WILPERT: Until now, all that is known is that the students participated in a protest and on their way home were ambushed by both local and federal police. At least six were killed by gunfire and 43 were abducted and turned over to a local gang. What happened after that is still shrouded in mystery. Joining us from Mexico, to take a closer look at the incident and its aftermath, is Laura Carlsen. Laura is the Director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. She focuses on US policy in Latin America and grassroots movements in the region. Thanks for being on the Real News again, Laura. LAURA CARLSEN: Thanks Greg. WILPERT: So according to the Mexican Human Rights commission, over 40 thousand Mexicans have gone missing between 2005 and 2012 and an estimated 2 thousand at the hand of state security forces. What would you say makes the Ayotzinapa case of 43 missing students stand out so that it has galvanized Mexicans to such an extent over the past two years? CARLSEN: We knew that they were disappeared in the country. It was a phenomenon that was rising and the information was beginning to come out. But this case was so dramatic that it really struck people in a very emotional way. Here are 43 students. They’re poor mostly indigenous students that were trying to get ahead by going to this school that provides a professional career in education to students that otherwise wouldn’t have much of a chance. In addition, it was dramatic. These students were on a bus and they were clearly abducted by the local police. So it opened up this Pandora’s box of corruption and complicity that again people had an idea existed but it had never been revealed in such a clear form. This caused an immediate reaction among the population. People hit the streets almost from the first time that it was revealed and it was exacerbated by the fact that first President Peña Nieto tried to ignore it and shunted the responsibility onto the state government saying it had nothing to do with the federal government. Then when the federal government did take the case, they began to come up with a series of explanations and attempts to kind of sweep it under the rug that only outraged people more. This has been the sequence of events. There’s also a lot to be said for the insistence of the parents. The way they were able to come from their grief into a position of activism almost constant demands and mobilization to prevent that this case be hidden from public views. So with this convergence of factors, in addition, international solidarity because also the international response was tremendous, the case has been kept in the limelight from then and become in many ways a symbol of deeper problems here in Mexico. WILPERT: Recently as you mentioned, Peña Nieto has also promised to do a more profound investigation and find those who are responsible for the disappearance. But give us a brief summary of where the case stands right now and why people are so upset about the way it’s been handled? CARLSEN: Okay, the best way to do that is by looking at the last report of the independent group of experts. Because there’s so much pressure in the streets and from the population to resolve this case and because people were questioning the hypothesis and the information the government was giving out. The government was really forced to accept the investigation by an independent commission that was sent from the Organization of American States. This group of experts that included forensics and legal experts carried out a very thorough investigation to the degree in which they could because they also complained bitterly that the government was a major obstacle in getting the kind of information that they needed. They were then, their mandate was then extended and then the report, the final report was last spring. What the group said is that the hypothesis of the government, that the group of students were abducted by local police that were in cahoots with organized crime, handed over to an organize crime group, and then essentially incinerated at the dump in Copula, was physically and completely impossible. This set everything back to zero and worse for the government of course and they’ve been struggling to come up with another hypothesis since then when it becomes clearer and clearer that what they’re really trying to cover up, probably a deep complicity not only on the municipal level but also on the state and federal levels with what happened that night in Iguala, Guerrero to the students of Ayotzinapa. After this case, the government refused to extend the mandate of the independent group of experts. They insisted that they needed to go further. They were frustrated by the government didn’t deliver the evidence that they required. The government destroyed and supposedly lost a great deal of evidence. They basically dumped a bunch of documents on the commission a week before they left, making it impossible to analyze a lot of the evidence but then being able to say oh well we gave you these documents. And they also were unwilling and this is one of the major points that’s still left pending, to let the group of experts independently interview members of the army. This is one of the biggest questions that’s still left open. The army was present at the scene of the crime. The group of experts established that it wasn’t just the Iguala police that was state, federal, and local police, and armed forces that were involved in a coordinated attempt, coordinated attack. And this is the phrase that they used, coordinated on the students. So this also leaves completely open the question of motive. If it was an organized crime for whatever reason, getting rid of these students and if it was a coordinated attack by government forces, then there’s huge questions that are still left opened and this was a big frustration of the group of experts. What the parents are demanding is that the recommendations of the group of experts which include following up on many of these questions be complied with by the government which has not happened. So far there’s very few of those recommendations that they’ve even followed up on. They’re asking that new lines of investigation be opened. That this explanation that organized crime was behind the whole thing and that they manipulated local police to be involved is just one theory. It’s been disproven in many aspects. Especially the physical aspects of it and therefore new lines of investigation should be opened. These are some of the demands and more or less where the case is right now but people have very little faith that the government of Enrique Peña Nieto is going to pursue this in a transparent and thorough manner. WILPERT: I understand that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is also involved. I guess that’s not part of the group of experts. But do you think that the involvement of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights will move this case forward, especially given that the Mexican state authorities are also very involved in this particular case? That is implicated in the case? CARLSEN: Yes, if you live in the country with the level of impunity of Mexico and you’re investigating a crime of the state, then outside help can be a lifeline. The problem now is that they were ordered to leave basically and they’re unable to comeback although there’s still mechanisms that were designed to follow up on it and the recommendations that I mentioned before. So these mechanisms are again one of the most important demands because without those there’s very little even with mass mobilizations like the ones that we’ve seen around Ayotzinapa here in Mexico since it first happened. Even with mass mobilizations its very, very difficult to crack open that impunity that characterizes the government especially when it’s so likely that they’re covering up something really important. WILPERT: I guess one of the factors or one of the ways of getting to the bottom of this case is of course having independent journalist investigate as well but given the fact that in Mexico, the journalistic profession is under attack, this could be a problem as well. How do you see right now the media coverage of this particular case of the past 2 years? Has it been given the attention in the Mexican media that it really deserves? CARLSEN: It’s been given quite a bit of attention. There’s been mobilizations on every 26th of September since the crime occurred and it was made known to the public. But the attention it’s been given has been very divided. There is one side that’s adamant that the students were involved in something they shouldn’t have been involved with. They put forward baseless hypotheses that they were somehow linked to an organized crime group or delinquents themselves. That kind of coverage has continued. It’s created its clearly defensive. It’s clearly an attempt to delegitimize the movement, the parents, and the students themselves who are still disappeared and who sustained the government cover-up. But on the other hand there has been consistent coverage as well on the human rights violations and of the movement and of the demand that the students be presented, be found alive, and the government continuous search as well as continuing the investigation. And in that investigative reporting has been very important. There’s been investigative reporting from here in Mexico and also with some agencies and individuals in the United States that has been able to prove the involvement and the presence of the armed forces at the scene of the crime. Although the government has not permitted investigators to really move forward with ascertaining exactly what their role was. There have been investigative reports that we’re able to find for example. When the government came up with some remains in their attempt to prove that the students were burned in Copula and their remains were dumped, it turned out some reporters followed a government investigator and found that before they supposedly found the remains, they were at that very scene and engaged in suspicious activities that some people believe may have had to do with planting evidence. So the fact that there have been very brave individuals that have gone after this and that have attempted to find the facts when there has been such a clear position especially on the part of the federal government now to block investigation and particularly independent investigation has been very important in putting together a very complex sequence of events and motives and individuals in these months and now two years. WILPERT: Well we’ll definitely keep an eye on this and continue to follow this story as it develops. But thanks so much Laura for joining us again on the Real News. CARLSEN: Thank you. It’s worth mentioning that it was really heartening to see the huge number of people that came out for the march yesterday after 2 years of what’s been an exhausted process and also to see the determination of the families. So it’s a sure sign that this case will not be buried as so many cases in the past have been. WILPERT: Okay well thanks for mentioning that. And thank you for watching the Real News.


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Laura Carlsen is the Director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. She focuses on US policy in Latin America and grassroots movements in the region.