Advances at the pace of a turtle and a snail. The United States affirms that forced disappearances “have no place in a civilized society.”

1On the first anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students at the hands of armed groups in Mexico, there is a phrase that the affected populations shout: “¡Somos un chingo!” (“We are many!”) More and more people are losing their fear after facing so much injustice and repression on the part of corrupt functionaries, like the arrests of social fighters like Nestora Salgado, who has dual United States-Mexican citizenship and is still in prison.

Faced with the slow response of the authorities, populations in some areas use the turtle and the snail as symbols of popular struggle. The turtle is the symbol of the Normal School of Ayotzinapa, in the state of Guerrero, that continues to demand justice for the 43 missing students.

In the state of Chiapas, autonomous communities controlled by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) are organizing in caracoles, a system of democratic self-government that seeks to make change based on perseverance.

The organization SOA Watch, which pressures the United States to close the School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), for human rights abuses, organized visits to Chiapas, Guerrero and Mexico City in June.

The SOA Watch visits included meetings with academics from the Latin American Observatory for Geopolitics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and Laura Carlsen, the director of the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program.

2The delegates also met with HIJOS, the Movement for Peace and Justice in DF, the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas and Fray Matías Córdova human rights centers, both in the state of Chiapas, and the Tlachinollan Center for Human Rights in the state of Guerrero. The visits also included conversations with members of the community police of Guerrero that have been persecuted by the authorities, like the cases of Nestora Salgado, the Good Government Juntas and the directors of caracoles in Zapatista areas.

The response from various social groups has been to coordinate efforts to keep the country from sinking into the corruption of authorities at all levels of government and their connections with organized crime, called by some “authorized crime”. The lines in between legality and illegality appear to have disappeared in various jurisdictions. In some places, people refrain from denouncing the abuses of authorities out of fear of greater repression.

Beyond statements linking the State with the disappearances of the students as a symbol of institutional weakness, various interviewees pointed to US support for policies such as the Merida Initiative, which are too focused on security at the expense of human rights.

Another aspect is the interest of transnational organizations in taking advantage of valuable resources in areas inhabited by indigenous farmers. These resources include everything from water, to agricultural resources, to petroleum and gas reserves, to metal deposits and tourism. Many indigenous farmers who live in such resource-rich areas are afraid of being displaced.

3In this case, organized crime and the so-called war on drugs are beneficial to the economic interests of international organizations. Indimidations, disappearances, and death threats against those who speak out, including journalists, clear the way for the exploitation of resources.

Ana Esther Ceceña, a researcher from the Latin American Observatory on Geopolitics at UNAM, said that the objective of groups with transnational economic interests is access to natural resources and the application of an anti-insurgency policy that affects defenders of human rights and community leaders.

Analyst Laura Carlsen, from the Americas Program, said that Mexico is part of a United States national security strategy that was conceived after the Terrorist Attacks in 2001 and includes the war on drugs, to increase its military presence at the “vertical border” between Mexico and Guatemala.

“Ultimately, after being dispossessed of the lands that they had cultivated for generations, the farmers will end up as waiters at luxury restaurants built on lands that were once theirs,” said a community organizer. Immigrants from Central America heading towards the United States are often caught in the crossfire.

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the disappearance of students in Ayotzinapa, in the city of Iguala, Guerrero, a spokesperson from the Department of State said to that US President Barack Obama has already indicated that “this gruesome crime has no place in a civilized society.”

The State Department expressed that its “thoughts and sympathies remain with the families and friends affected by the loss of loved ones,” and said that it had met with Mexican authorities to “express our concerns and offer assistance to resolve this case.” It pointed out that Mexican authorities have arrested almost 100 suspects and that the tragedy demonstrates the importance of the Merida Initiative provisions to strengthen judicial institutions and raise public confidence. “Under the Merida Initiative, the United States and Mexico work together to disrupt organized crime, institutionalize the capacity to sustain the rule of law, build a 21st century border, and build resilient communities,” the State Department continued.  “The investigation into the Iguala incident reinforces the importance of training related to police professionalization and crime scene investigative techniques.”

4Regarding Nestora Salgado, who faces kidnapping charges after taking actions against functionaries involved in corruption, the State Department stated that the US Embassy in Mexico is following the case “very closely” and providing all possible consular assistance. “We have visited Ms. Salgado in detention on many occasions, most recently on July 17,” it said. It indicated that US consular authorities have talked with Mexican authorities on the state and federal levels, including the court in Guerrero. “We are concerned by the slow progress in her legal case; we have made these concerns known to the Mexican authorities, including at senior levels,” it stressed. The State Department stressed that it will continue monitoring the Salgado case and emphasizing its interest in just and transparent management of her case on the part of the Mexican authorities.

After a hunger strike weakened her health, Salgado achieved transfer from a maximum-security prison to a state detention center. Salgado is only one of many who search for justice, like of Nansi Cisneros, a US citizen of Mexican origin who lives in Los Angeles. Cisneros, in the name of the organizations Citizen Forensic Science (Ciencia Forense Ciudadana) and Voices Against Forgetting (Voces Contra el Olvido), has asked US legislators to question security cooperation with Mexico. The disappearance of the students of Ayotzinapa continues to be an open wound in the mind of Cisneros, whose brother Javier is still missing after being arrested by men wearing police uniforms in 2013.

6SOA Watch, for their part, expressed that the Mexican Government should end impunity, make real efforts to discover the whereabouts of the students of Ayotzinapa and of all disappeared people, and bring those responsible to justice. They indicated that between December 2006 and September 2013, Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) received 8,150 reports of abuses committed by members of the Army against the population. The organization rejected the cooperation between the United States and Mexico that has directed more than 2 billion dollars of aid through the Merida Initiative in order to supposedly “contribute to the fight against organized crime,” but that in reality has only contributed to human rights violations.

Santiago David Távara is an experienced Peruvian-born journalist living in the Washington DC area. Over more than two decades Mr. Távara has covered local news stories in the Washington DC as well as cultural, sports, economy, social, national, and international issues. He was a member of the SOA Watch delegation to Chiapas, Guerrero and Mexico City.

Translation by Simon Schatzberg