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La Semana: Sunday, April 24
The week in the Ayotzinapa investigation and the Tren Maya legal battle
Welcome to the Sunday edition of The Mexpatriate. In today’s newsletter:
Closer to the truth? More details on the Ayotzinapa case
Tren Maya “Tramo 5 Sur” is suspended by a judge
Please send me your comments, feedback and questions, and feel free to forward this to anyone who may be interested. You can always find all sources (with links) at the bottom of the email.
Closer to the truth? More details on the Ayotzinapa case
“We are getting closer to the truth…with the collaboration of the government…but there are important names in play. Will this administration be willing to bring those involved to justice?”
This is the crucial question of the Ayotzinapa case, posed by Denise Dresser on the Mar. 30 roundtable show, Es la Hora de Opinar. On Mar. 28, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) presented their third report on “the 43”—the first since López Obrador took office—further discrediting “la verdad histórica” (historical truth) as told by law enforcement about events in Iguala, Guerrero on September 26, 2014.
“The illegal actions include falsification of procedural records, unlawful detentions and torture, alteration of possible crime scenes…”
The GIEI was formed in March 2015 at the behest of the parents of the missing students, and in coordination with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Five experts in criminal law and human rights with extensive experience in Latin America conducted their own review and investigation of the evidence and presented their first report in September 2015. This report demonstrated the weakness of the government case, focusing in particular on the garbage dump at Cocula where the students were supposedly shot and then their bodies incinerated. The ashes were allegedly then discarded in the Río San Juan. The GIEI’s work exposed the lack of forensic evidence supporting this version of events, which was further debunked in the most recent report from three weeks ago. The group left Mexico in 2016 after their diplomatic immunity ended and a smear campaign by the authorities had made it clear they were no longer welcome. The GIEI was invited to return by López Obrador’s administration in 2019 and the team arrived in March 2020.
As shared at their Mar. 28 press conference, the GIEI obtained a video taken by a military drone that shows members of SEMAR (Department of the Navy) at the Cocula dump in the early hours of Oct. 27, 2014, a visit that was not recorded in any of the case files. Over the course of several hours, 40 different people can be observed walking around the area, removing what appear to be large plastic bags out of pick-up trucks, setting a fire and clearly taking none of the precautions appropriate to a crime scene. In 2016, the GIEI had already found evidence of an unofficial visit by the lead investigator, Tomás Zerón, to the site at Río San Juan on Oct. 28 with a suspect in custody, where on Oct. 29 the PGR (Attorney General’s Office) would “find” the remains of one of the students, Alexander Mora. The report also documents the “systematic use of torture” as a means of extracting confessions that support the government narrative. “The illegal actions include falsification of procedural records, unlawful detentions and torture, alteration of possible crime scenes. We must remember that the identity of the bones of Alexander Mora is not in question, which implies not only a distorted version of events but also that there must be evidence of how it was constructed.”
The military’s involvement in both the lead-up to the disappearances and the aftermath is also a key part of the GIEI report. According to documents they obtained—after the president ordered their release—the Department of Defense (SEDENA) and intelligence services were monitoring the students at Ayotzinapa, in fact, they had three agents undercover at the school. The normalistas have a long history of social protest and surveillance by the state was not new. There were also law enforcement operations monitoring the activities and communications of the Guerreros Unidos cartel. What is shocking and disturbing is that the combined military and police operations being conducted in Iguala in the months leading up to the confrontation on Sept. 26, 2014 suddenly went black during the hours the students vanished. “None of this information was shared with civilian authorities after the crime occurred, which makes one wonder how much information the military has hidden, even from the government,” noted analyst Pablo Majluf.
López Obrador’s administration has thus far been supportive of the continued investigation: the Special Unit for Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa Case (UEILCA) was created by the attorney general’s office in 2019, led by prosecutor Omar Gómez Trejo, who has collaborated with the GIEI since 2015. All of the investigators acknowledge and lament the fact that evidence has been manipulated, destroyed or lost in the nearly eight years since the tragedy, and many suspects and witnesses have perished. “Since October 2014, 21 people linked to the case have died or been murdered and aside from the fact that this means the loss of important sources of information, we must also insist that justice be served,” stated Gómez in a press conference in September 2021.
But how far will the exposure of the state’s cover-up be tolerated? AMLO’s close ties to the military could make the truth uncomfortable, even though the president insists that all blame lies entirely with his predecessor’s administration. In his Mar. 30 morning press conference, AMLO defended the current Secretary of the Navy, Rafael Ojeda Durán, who was the commander of the Eighth Naval Zone based in Acapulco, Guerrero in 2014. “He has no involvement in this matter…our adversaries want to make us look bad, if they could they would even try to blame us for the disappearance of the students,” proclaimed the president.
“We told Peña Nieto: ‘take responsibility for an uncomfortable truth, it is better to take on an uncomfortable truth than to keep telling an unsustainable lie,’” said Carlos Beristain, one of the GIEI experts, in a 2019 interview in Este País. “The PGR case file, the investigation, is essentially a monument to impunity. And the cycle of corruption, human rights violations, violence, ends with impunity. If impunity isn’t broken, then everything stays the same.”
Tren Maya “Tramo 5 Sur” is suspended by a judge
“Karst hydrology is fabulously complex and imperfectly understood…Below the surface—if karst can be said to have a surface—aquifers fill and empty over centuries, there are labyrinths through which water circulates over millennia, there are caverns as big as stadia, and there are buried rivers with cataracts, rapids and slow pools.”
Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey
The largest underwater cave in the world is found in Quintana Roo. In 2018, divers discovered the connection between the extensive systems of Sac Actun and Dos Ojos: the total known length is 215 miles of flooded caverns. "This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world, since it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts, among which is evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as the extinct fauna and, of course, of the Maya culture," according to explorer Guillermo De Anda in a National Geographic article on the discovery.
In January of this year, the Tren Maya “Tramo 5” route was changed to keep the project on schedule. Instead of passing through the center of Playa del Carmen via an elevated track, the southern section of the track will run 60.3 km through the jungle that parallels the federal highway to Tulum. The new route will put the train in close proximity to renowned cenotes (sinkholes) and caves, part of the peninsula’s vast and fragile karst topography.
On April 19, a federal judge in Mérida, Yucatán ordered a temporary suspension of the construction of “Tramo 5 Sur” after a group of divers filed a lawsuit against the controversial project. The ruling stated that the project could cause “imminent and irreparable damage to the area…as it does not have environmental impact approval.” Images of bulldozers tearing down trees near the mouths of caves have catalyzed a national movement to put a stop to Tramo 5. A Twitter account opened in March called “Sélvame del Tren”—a play on words using “selva” or jungle and “save me from the train”—now has 22,000 followers and has received widespread attention after uploading a video that included statements from Mexican celebrities as well as biologists and conservationists. On Monday, April 25, representatives from the group will meet with the president, who has accused critics of being “pseudo-environmentalists” who haven’t paid attention to the devastation of the ecology of the region until now.
The caves and cenotes are not only of scientific interest: the subterranean water system is vital as a freshwater resource to the region, and also to tourism. “The systems of sub-aquatic caves discharge water from the jungle into the Caribbean. Sometimes, large sections of cave ceilings located near the coastline collapse, forming “caletas” or inlets, such as the famous Xel Ha, Xcaret and Yalkú, with immense flows of underground water towards the ocean,” according to scientist Emiliano Monroy-Ríos at Northwestern University. The numerous cenotes and rich biodiversity of the jungle also attract tourism to the area.
“This is an unacceptable experiment,” says diver Luis Leal. “They will destroy many areas significant for eco and alternative tourism, which has a lower impact than traditional beach tourism. They are killing the golden goose.”
Ayotzinapa: nuevo informe del GIEI (Animal Político)
AMLO deslinda al secretario de la Marina del caso Ayotzinapa (Animal Político)
De la verdad incómoda a la mentira insostenible (Este País)
World’s Largest Underwater Cave Discovered (National Geographic)
Sélvame del Tren (Twitter)
Nuevo trazo del Tren Maya amenaza los cenotes (Animal Político)
Juez frena obras del Tren Maya en el Tramo 5 Sur (Animal Político)
Actores y cantantes piden a AMLO frenar el Tren Maya (Expansión MX)