Friday, September 25, 2015

Ayotzinapa's missing 43 - one year later (Sept. 25, 2015)

A year after 43 teachers college students disappeared in Iguala, in Mexico's Guerrero state, there are still few answers about the crime that shocked the country and the international community -- and has put a spotlight on Mexico's enforced disappearance problem.

President Enrique Peña Nieto met with the families of the disappeared students yesterday, only the second time in the year since the crime. He used the occasion to announce the creation of a special prosecutor to investigate the country's thousands of missing persons cases, reports the Associated Press. He also promised to incorporate international experts' findings into the investigation process and that the investigation will continue until it has found out what happened to each of the disappeared individuals, reports Animal Político.

In turn, the families presented eight demands, including a new internationally supervised investigation of the disappearances and an investigation into those responsible for the initial inquiry, which the families believe was intended to mislead them.

"Again and again, we ask ourselves how could we trust again in an institution that tricked us," the families wrote in the letter delivered to the president, reports the AP.

The president's offer is not enough said one of the fathers. "We don't want a special prosecutor, we want a special unit just for the Iguala case," said Felipe de la Cruz, according to Animal Político.

The Washington Post notes that the families are literally "starving for answers," as they are in the middle of a two day hunger strike ahead of a planned protest on tomorrow's anniversary.

The government's official version of events is that the students were illegally detained by local cops as they attempted to commandeer buses in order to attend a commemoration in Mexico City, and then handed over to a local gang that killed them and incinerated the bodies in a nearby dump.

But an international group of experts, under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights severely questioned the official narrative in a report that came out earlier this month. They found a number of shortcomings and points of concern. Specifically, it concluded the bodies of 43 students could not have been burned at the garbage dump in Cocula as the government maintained, reports Reuters. (See Sept. 8th's briefs.)

The president's spokesman confirmed yesterday that international experts would be involved in a third investigation of the alleged incineration site.
Yesterday the Attorney General's office announced the public release of its entire investigation -- an 85 tome behemoth with more than 53 thousand folios, reports Animal Político.

Amnesty International has a timeline of the case over the past year, and Animal Político reviews the past year of Ayoztinapa related hashtags, including the most representative: "#FueElEstado" (the government did it) "YaMeCansé" (I'm sick of this) and "#AyotzinapaSomosTodos" (We are al Ayotzinapa).

The Washington Post piece notes the relevance of the case for Americans, in light of the U.S. heroin epidemic that is fueling Mexico's drug gangs and violence and reviews how the case has contributed to the past "year of misery" for the country.

And it's worth noting that the issue of enforced disappearances in Mexico might be symbolized by the missing 43, but is far more widespread. Amnesty International says 25,700 people have gone missing in recent years, most under the current Peña Nieto administration.

Related aside: the Mexican Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia (Insyde) presented a report on its national Torture Prevention Campaign, and proposals on a special unit to investigate cops who torture, reports Animal Político.


Alerta Democrática is a new project that examines possible paths for democracy in Latin America over the next fifteen years.

Though democracy predominates in the region, the project notes that it's far from irreversible, and explores four possible scenarios for its evolution, ranging from the optimistic to pessimistic.

"Democracy in Transformation" portrays a future in which institutional innovation strengthens democratic governments; "Democracy in Tension" shows a future where political and economic power is concentrated in a caudillo style democracy of appearances; while "Democracy in Mobilization" portrays a social movements that push for transformation and democratic renewal; and "Democracy in Agony" outlines a scenario in which corruption and illicit activity hijack democratic governance, violence creates failed states and the future is uncertain.

The report uses a methodology called "transformative scenario planning," which aims improve the systemic understanding of complex problems, as well as to the establishment of new relationships and new intentions that facilitate the solution of problems through collective action.

The scenarios were developed by a team of 37 leaders from around the region and built on 65 interviews with key actors and well-known people. The project was developed with the Open Society Foundations, Fundación Avina and the Ford Foundation.

It's fascinating to see a discussion about the quality and aspects of democracy in a region that has for so long struggled to have democracy at all. What is interesting about the different scenarios is that each builds on an element that is clearly identifiable in democracies around the region today -- often coexisting within the same country. It's interesting to see how the project identifies these different aspects and teases out what could happen when some elements of democracy predominate over the others.

Check out the site for more details on the scenarios and the methodology.

News Briefs

  • Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López -- jailed since last year on charges of inciting violence and recently sentence to nearly 14 years of imprisonment -- has an op-ed in the New York Times vowing to continue the fight for a free Venezuela. He protests that he was "convicted on the absurd basis that I used “subliminal messages” in my speeches about nonviolence to inspire violence during the February 2014 protests." He goes on to note how the December 6 parliamentary elections are a unique opportunity for change and calls on the international community to defend democracy in Venezuela and attempt to curb abuses. "Finally, the government of Venezuela must end its baseless disqualifications of opposition leaders from the coming election. ... The regime should also release all 76 of its political prisoners, including those under house arrest, like the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and the illegally ousted mayor of San Cristóbal, Daniel Ceballos. An election cannot be free or fair when those who think differently are barred from running or are even behind bars."
  • Hugo Pérez Hernáiz has a post on Venezuela's university crisis as professors ask for higher wages and budget constraints cut into basic student services.
  • Colombian and Venezuelan diplomats are meeting in order to hammer out the border normalization the presidents agreed to earlier this week, but there is little information on their advances, reports El País, which emphasizes that the Venezuelan government is particularly concerned with financial issues. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Brazil's real hit a new low yesterday, and the head of the central bank announced that the country could dip into its $371 billion in reserves to stabilize the currency, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil's environmental protection agency is threatening to stop the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric plant until the consortium which built the dam completes mitigation projects in the area to be affected, reports The Guardian. Last month Brazil's human rights council unanimously voted to recommend withholding the consortium's license grave violations of human rights and failure to comply with the terms of its contract.
  • What next for the Colombian peace process after the major breakthrough announced Wednesday? (See yesterday's post.) Negotiators must focus on the complicated details of implementing an agreement ending the five-decade conflict and selling it to the Colombian people, according to the Los Angeles Times that notes it will be difficult considering the public's disregard for the FARC and the fact that the negotiated deal will not put guerrilla leaders behind bars (though it will deprive them of liberty for up to eight years). The piece quotes WOLA's Adam Isacson who notes the importance of the pace of implementation for the deal. "The time between the signing of the final accord and when the Colombian government and the international community will be set up to implement it will be a tense period, a time of limbo, that you want to be as short as possible," Isacson said.
  • But the transitional justice agreement reached this week does not address the key issue of drug trafficking according to InSight Crime. Specifically "whether the FARC's drug trafficking activities should be considered a "political crime" (or a politically connected crime), for which the government has stated it will grant a large degree of amnesty."

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