MEXICO CITY – The attempt to locate 43 missing teacher trainees in the vicinity of the southern Mexican city of Iguala, a search mainly carried out by groups of civilians, has brought to light dozens of clandestine graves containing more than 100 bodies and revealed the alarming level of violence in that municipality.
The media attention given to the case of the missing students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, a nearby teachers’ college in Guerrero state, has led numerous families to break the silence they had maintained out of fear of reprisals and denounce the disappearance of their loved ones and even look for them amid the mountainous terrain.
The case of the Ayotzinapa students, who came under attack on Sept. 26, 2014, by police in Iguala after they had commandeered buses they had planned to use to travel to Mexico City for a protest, has laid bare the extent to which the locally dominant Guerreros Unidos drug cartel had infiltrated the municipal government.
It also has exposed a cover-up orchestrated at the highest levels of government, Amnesty International said this week.
The London-based rights group pointed to “military and law enforcement agencies’ role in the tragedy” and the government’s refusal to allow soldiers to be interviewed by international experts about what happened that night.
AI blasted the Mexican government, saying its “unshakable determination to convince the world that the students were killed by a drug gang and their remains burned in a dumpster is distracting from any other valuable lines of investigation.”
A lab in Austria says two sets of severely burned remains provided to it by the Mexican government have been identified as those of two Ayotzinapa students, but international experts say the DNA analysis is not conclusive.
Although fear and uncertainty still prevail in Iguala, the protests at the national and international level stemming from the Ayotzinapa case have given many local residents the courage to speak out and organize in order to spark a change, the coordinator of a group that calls itself The Other Disappeared of Iguala, Citlali Miranda, told EFE.
After the events of Sept. 26 of last year, the so-called Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero, an organization of indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples, arrived in Iguala to search for the students, and Miranda and a group of her friends joined them.
Her organization now comprises 450 families who are looking to put a name to dozens of bodies that have been found in unmarked graves.
“They began searching for graves and finding them, but since they were very old remains and could not be considered those of the (Ayotzinapa students), they merely discovered the graves and left them,” she said.
But then people started asking each other: “‘they’re not the students, but who are they?’ Because there are a lot of graves, a lot of remains.”
Miranda’s group only managed to unearth the first of these graves on their own. Later, the federal Attorney General’s Office came in and took over the next steps of exhuming the bodies and taking DNA samples of the corpses and families of missing persons.
A total of 104 bodies have been found so far in 60 graves, but only seven fully identified human remains have been delivered to their families.
A total of 370 people are registered as missing in the municipality of Iguala, although only 270 complaints have been filed with the federal AG’s office because many people do not go to the authorities out of “distrust and fear,” Miranda said.
Of the 450 families that make up her organization, 150 participate every weekend in the search for graves in Iguala and neighboring municipalities, a task that has been interrupted by rain in recent weeks.
Local authorities used to assist in the effort to locate and identify the missing and contacted federal prosecutors to exhume bodies, but now they do not even help with the digging, she added.