Prelude to Iguala: “Heavy-handed police tactics” used against Ayotzinapa students in 2011
Washington, DC.- U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Earl Anthony Wayne said that “evidence of heavy-handed police tactics” was “strong and disconcerting” after a 2011 clash with student protestors from Ayotzinapa normal school left two youths and a gas station employee dead and several others wounded, according to a declassified cable from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
Authorities in the Mexican state of Guerrero “reacted defensively and insensitively by blaming the victims and denying any responsibility” for their part in what the Embassy cable called a “chaotic student protest” in which “both police and protestors resorted to violent tactics.”
The newly-declassified cable was obtained by the National Security Archive under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and was the focus of an article published today by the award-winning team of investigative journalists at Mexico’s Aristegui Noticias.
The deadly 2011 incident against students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Normal School in Ayotzinapa came less than three years before 43 students from the university were disappeared and six others were killed after being detained by police forces in Iguala, Guerrero on the night of September 25-26, 2014. More than a year later, the federal government’s theory about what happened that night lies in ruins, and the families of the victims are no closer to knowing the fates of their loved ones.
Last month, a group of independent investigators invited by the Mexican government and appointed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of American States rejected the government’s version of the 2014 case, which held that a cabal of local politicians, municipal police forces and members of a drug gang had kidnapped and killed the students before burning the bodies at a garbage dump. The group of experts said the government lacked physical evidence connecting the alleged perpetrators to the case, that security forces had tortured many of the witnesses, and that a fire in which the government claims the bodies were burned could not have happened.
The 2011 Embassy document describes how “about 500” students from Ayotzinapa and allied organizations blocked a tollbooth along a federal highway near the city of Chilpancingo and demanded a meeting with Guerrero governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero to discuss deteriorating conditions at the state-funded school. Both state and federal police participated in the ensuing confrontation.
State and Federal authorities were “pointing fingers,” said Wayne, with both sides accusing the other of firing the shots the killed the two students. “Regardless of who is responsible for the deaths, the evidence of heavy-handed police tactics is strong and disconcerting,” Ambassador Wayne said in his comments.
Governor Aguirre, who later resigned in the wake of the 2014 student disappearances, was taking steps “to control the political damage,” according to Wayne. “The case is being investigated by state and federal authorities and Aguirre and his collaborators will be under immense pressure to conduct a thorough investigation, though results are not expected anytime soon.”
In 2012, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) found that government agents were responsible for numerous human rights violations in the 2011 incident, including arbitrary detentions, torture, cruel treatment and beatings.
Two Guerrero state agents were later investigated for the shootings but were released after 16 months in detention when a judge found the evidence against them insufficient. The then-prosecutor of Guerrero, Alberto López Rosas, who was accused by CNDH of covering up the crime, was exonerated in 2013 and went back to work for Governor Aguirre. The head of the federal police at that time, Facundo Rosas Rosas, who was also accused of abuses during the 2011 confrontation, was later removed from his post but continued as Secretary of Public Security in the state of Pueblo before it was announced that he was under investigation for leading a criminal group that had systematically stolen fuel from the state oil company, Pemex.
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These materials are reproduced from www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive. For more information contact Michael Evans: (202) 994-7029. National Security Archive intern James Midkiff contributed to this report.