Mexico: Violence in Guerrero, Missing Students, Clandestine Graves and Mass Confusion

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On the night of September 26 three separate attacks against two groups of young people riding in buses occurred within hours of each other in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. Conflicting accounts of the events that happened on September 26 have been abundant since the incidents were first reported. What we know at this point is that a large number of youths have been missing since that night and several mass graves were discovered October 4. So far Mexican authorities have not released much information about the grisly discovery. Journalist Ezequiel Flores in Mexico tweeted that the bodies of youths were recovered from the clandestine pits on the outskirts of Iguala, rumors in social media say the bodies were burned but as of the time of this publication we have not been able to confirm if the bodies found in the graves are those of the missing youths.

Mass Confusion in Mexican Media

Various Mexican sources reporting on the attacks of September 26 in Iguala have released a large quantity of extremely confusing reports. The team at Revolution News were not the only ones following the violence in Guerrero who noticed the confusion. Eje Central found the reporting on Guerrero so confounding that they felt it necessary to publish an article entitled “Violence in Iguala: Confusion in news agendas” that details which papers were reporting on what issues and the frequency of the reports. Per Eje Central, from September 28 through October 2, five of Mexico’s main news sources published a total of 139 reports focusing on events that transpired in Guerrero ranging from attacks against a futbol team to reports about the mayor of Iguala. Eje Central found that the majority of reports have focused on the missing normalista students, probably because this is not the first time normalista students have been victims of violence. For now we will focus on events starting from September 26 and try to make some sense out of wtf has happened in Guerrero, Mexico.

The Basics

Observador Ciudadano (not included in Eje Central’s report on media confusion) published an article on September 27 with details of three distinct attacks on buses of youths, so we will begin by translating the details of the three incidents. We have pulled google maps of the cities to provide a geographical sense of the areas affected.

We wanted to preface this article with the disclaimer that due to conflicting reports from so many media outlets, it has been difficult to pin down exactly how many students and/or futbol players are dead or missing. The basics are as follows:

Two groups of young people were attacked. A group of students (normalistas) from Ayotzinapa and a futbol team called Los Avispones from Chilpancingo. As far as we can tell, both groups were in Iguala the night of September 26 and both were attempting to make their way home – traveling south from Iguala.

Route from Iguala to Chilpancingo, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico

Route from Iguala to Chilpancingo, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico

Map zoom showing Ayotzinapa which is slightly east of Chilpancingo.

Map zoom showing Ayotzinapa which is slightly east of Chilpancingo.

The Attacks

According to Observador Ciudadano’s report, the first attack was carried out by municipal police against a group of student teachers (normalistas) from the Normal Raúl Isidro Burgos school in Ayotzinapa who were returning to Ayotzinapa in three buses from fundraising activities in Iguala. Observador Ciudadano reported that 35 normalista students “allegedly took the buses” and a police chase ensued from Juan Álvarez street in center city Iguala to Periférico Norte (still in the city of Iguala) where the attack by municipal police occurred. One student died in the first attack, Aldo Gutiérrez Solano, from Ayutla. Six students were wounded at the site of the first attack and at least 25 students were detained by police.

Telesur reported that Pedro David Garcia, representative of the Student’s Committee, said the protesters were unarmed and non-violent and that the students spoke to the bus drivers who agreed to give them the three buses. Garcia said they did not threaten the bus drivers.

We think this first video was taken during the initial attack on the normalista students. Nothing is visible on camera but among the screaming we’ve been able to make out people yelling, “Bajan sus armas!” (Put down your weapons!) and what sounds like “Dejelo hijo de puta!” (Let him go son of a bitch!)

The second attack happened about four hours later at the scene of the first attack. Normalista students who returned to the scene were talking to reporters when armed men attacked them, killing two more students whose names have not been released.

The third attack later that night was committed by armed gunmen against a busload of futbol players from Chilpancingo, team name Los Avispones (The Hornets), who had played a match earlier that evening in Iguala. The bus driver was killed in the third attack along with a woman named Blanca Sánchez Montiel. She was allegedly passing by the area in a taxi. The taxi driver was injured but survived. It is still unclear how the incidents are related and the media reports have mostly focused on the normalistas with little attention given to the Avispones.

The description on this next video says it was filmed during the attack on the Avispones futbol team. Again not much is visible and it sounds like it was recorded from a distance, however you can hear several caliber weapons firing followed by dead silence.

Between six to eight people died in both attacks: one normalista student died in the first attack carried out by municipal police, two more normalistas died in the second attack at the hands of armed gunmen and one futbol player (from the Avispones) died in the third attack also by armed gunmen along with the team’s bus driver and a woman passing by in a taxi. One more student was found the following morning deceased and horribly disfigured. By our math so far the total number is nine dead.

Reports surfaced the following morning (September 27) that army personnel had located the body of first year normalista student, Julio César Mondragón near the industrial area of Periférico Norte, Iguala. His eyes had been gouged out and the skin of his face ripped off. Unconfirmed reports in social media say he was tortured and killed in a style that is typical of drug cartel violence and brutality.

Body of Normalista student Julio César Mondragón found tortured

Body of Normalista student Julio César Mondragón found tortured

Body of Normalista student Julio César Mondragón found with eyes removed and face skinned off

Body of Normalista student Julio César Mondragón found with eyes removed and face skinned off

22 Police Officers Arrested

La Journada published an article in the afternoon of September 28 reporting that the Attorney General of the state of Guerrero had arrested 22 Iguala police officers for allegedly being involved in the violence that occurred on September 26. The 22 police officers were allegedly transferred to the port of Acapulco for security reasons.

Some of the Missing Return but Conflicting Numbers & Confusing Reports Continue

In the early hours of Tuesday September 30, several students were reported as found. As of this publication (October 5th) the standing number of missing students seems to be 43. A poster that has been circulating online and posted in Guerrero shows the names of 57 missing students.

Sopitas reported on October 2nd as to why there was confusion regarding the number of students missing. From Sopitas:

In the early hours of Tuesday October 2, government spokesman, José Villanueva Manzanares, reported of the 57 students who were missing since Friday, 13 have returned to their homes. Vidulfo Rosales Sierra, attorney for the Montaña Tlachinollan center of Human Rights clarified that 12 of the students were located. Youth number 13, name Nava Julio Cesar Ramirez’s body was identified Tuesday afternoon in the Forensic Medical Service Chilpancingo by his parents and classmates.

Per Sopitas the names of the (12) students who have been found alive are: Daniel Gerardo Cantú Morales, Severo Pedro Mingas, Eduardo Sebastián Delgado, Mateo Carrera Moctezuma, Luis Ángel Gutiérrez Álvarez, Jonathan Maldonado Hernández, Ambrosio Martínez Rodríguez, Marco Antonio René Santos, Cirino Tejeda Meza, Rodrigo García Morales, Mario Torreblanca, Jaciel Ramírez Sánchez.

Sopitas also reported that initially the list given of missing students had 57 names but later the count was dropped to 55 as one of the students was located in a hospital and the name of another student was repeated twice in the list.

As of the time of this report the number of missing students remains at 43 (55 students that were initially reported missing minus the 12 that were located).

Mass Graves Found

Conflicting reports continued regarding the mass graves found on October 4. Initial reports said one clandestine grave was found allegedly via an anonymous tip. Later reports surfaced advising the possibility of 3 or 4 mass graves. Borderland Beat is reporting the discovery of 4 mass graves near the town of Iguala, Guerrero. Initially we read reports that as many as 20 bodies were found in the graves but local reporters are obviously having the same issues with confirming numbers in this case.

Journalist Arturo Cano tweeted:

“#Iguala #Ayotzinapa “There are nine bodies,” said a policeman. “They are 12,” says another.”

“Here is a cemetery of drug traffickers, so it did not surprise us to hear vans this Saturday”: resident of Pueblo Viejo. #Iguala #Ayotzinapa

Officials have said they are waiting for DNA test results to say for certain how many bodies were found and if they are in fact the missing normalista students. Rumors in social media indicate the human remains may have been burned with diesel fuel. Right before we published this article, Al Jazeera reported that 21 bodies have been exhumed but still no confirmation if they are the missing normalistas.

The Mysterious Vanishing Mayor of Iguala

Mayor José Luis Abarca has been accused of homicide, injuries and abuse of authority, arising from acts of violence that occurred in Guerrero however he has apparently fled. Governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero indicated that he will request an order of apprehension against the secretary of local public security, Felipe Flores, who is also MIA. Both Mayor Abarca and Felipe Flores are currently considered fugitives from justice. According to Borderland Beat, Iguala residents have long complained of the criminality of Abarca and his wife, and their alleged ties to the Guerrero Unidos cartel.

Cartel Connections?

La Journada published a short report on October 4 that indicates the possibility of 2 cartels involved in the disappearance of the 43 normalista students. Guerrero was under control of the Beltrán Leyva cartel up until around 2010 when the cartel splintered. Guerrero seems to be in dispute since then but La Jornada names (2) cartels – Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos – as possibly being involved.

Borderland Beat published a detailed report on the Beltrán Leyva cartel in 2009.

Coincidentally the head of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, Héctor Beltrán Leyva, AKA “El H”, was arrested on October 1, right in the middle of the chaos in Guerrero. According to Borderland Beat, the US issued a bounty of $5 million back in 2009 for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Héctor Beltrán Leyva, and Mexico was also offering 30 million pesos reward. El H was allegedly arrested a seafood restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, in a military operation, without a single shot being fired.

We are really not sure if the arrest of El H in Guanajuato is relevant to the missing normalistas in Guerrero but with so many bizarre events happening in the span of 8 days, it seemed worth mentioning. El H was the capo of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, he had connections with both the Juarez Cartel and Los Zetas, he was wanted for at least 5 years with several million dollar rewards from 2 countries and he was arrested (allegedly without a struggle) in the middle of the investigation of the massacre of normalista students in Guerrero.

Conclusion

Amid a deluge of media reports and online rumors about what exactly has happened in Guerrero, Mexico the most we can conclude at this time is that a student massacre happened, the municipal police were involved in the killing as well as unnamed armed men. The mayor is missing in action but the head of a drug cartel has been arrested. Several mass graves have been found in an area that neighbors say is a known cemetery for drug traffickers and the families and friends of 43 students still have no answers as to what happened to their loved ones.

Families of the missing students have been protesting and today normalistas from Ayotzinapa are blocking Autopista del Sol, only allowing passage of northbound traffic and also occupying a toll booth on the autopista del Sol en Palo Blanco, Chilpancingo.

Some massive protests have been happening in Mexico this past week related to educational issues in Mexico. We expect actions will continue until families and friends of the missing students get some answers. We will continue to update this article as we learn new information.

About Author

Erin Gallagher is a multimedia artist, translator and writer for Revolution News.