Seeking to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship.
On a recent Sunday, scores of families showed up at the Catholic Church of Nuestra Señora de la Merced in a working-class neighborhood of this vibrant port city.
They came not to attend services, but for a distinct purpose: to give blood for possible DNA matches with human remains recently unearthed in a suspected dumping ground for murder victims on the northern fringes of Veracruz. Police technicians were taking the blood samples.
In September 2014, 43 students from the Rural Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa were forcibly disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero in southern Mexico. In the aftermath of this event, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Mexican government, and the representatives of the victims’ families created an Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, by its initials in Spanish) to provide technical assistance and follow-up measures to the Mexican government in the investigation. The GIEI presented its final report on April 24, 2016.
Please join the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) for a conversation with four of the experts of the GIEI to discuss the main findings of their investigation, what their work demonstrated about Mexico’s criminal justice system, and how the investigation into the disappearance of the 43 students can move forward after their departure from Mexico. The Experts will be joined by a legal representative of the students’ families.
Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts
Carlos Martín Beristain (Spain)
Angela Buitrago (Colombia)
Francisco Cox Vial (Chile)
Claudia Paz y Paz (Guatemala)
Senior Associate for Mexico and Migrant Rights
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center
Eric L. Olson
Associate Director, Latin American Program,
Senior Advisor, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center
The official scenario, according to the Mexican government, of what befell the forty-three students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Normal School, in Ayotzinapa, in Guerrero state, on the night and morning of September 26 and 27, 2014, is generally referred to as the “historical truth.” Say those words anywhere in Mexico, and people know what you mean. The phrase comes from a press conference held in January, 2015, when the head of the government’s Procuraduría General de la República (P.G.R.) at the time, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, announced that the forty-three students had been incinerated at a trash dump near the town of Cocula by members of the Guerreros Unidos drug-trafficking gang, after being turned over to them by members of the Iguala municipal police. This, he declared, was the “historical truth.”
As had already been widely reported, the forty-three students were among a larger group of militantly leftist students who, that night in Iguala, had commandeered buses to transport themselves to an upcoming protest in Mexico City. They’d driven from Ayotzinapa that afternoon in two buses they’d previously taken, and then, the government said, they took two more from Iguala’s bus station. Three other people were killed in initial clashes with the police, and most likely with other forces, in Iguala that night; many more were injured. According to Murillo Karam, the “historical truth” was partly drawn from the confessions of detained police and drug-gang members, including some who admitted that they had participated in the massacre of the students at the Cocula dump, and claimed to have tended the fire and disposed of the remains afterward. Some of those remains had allegedly been deposited by gang members in a nearby creek. Nineteen severely charred bone fragments had been sent to a highly specialized lab in Innsbruck, Austria, which had yielded one positive DNA identification, of a student named Alexander Mora Venancio. That identification seemed to support the P.G.R.’s story that the students had been killed at the dump.
The group of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR, experts investigating the disappearance of 43 education students in southern Mexico last year said Monday that the government was acting slowly in granting access to soldiers from the 27th Battalion based in Iguala.
The five members of the group said in a press conference in Mexico City that they received a response from the government on Sunday that said “the state continues analyzing the source of the request.”
There have been several attempts – on screen and on the page – to convey the horror and the disbelief of the feminocidio and the humbling defiance of the dead girls’ mothers. But McLoughlin’s film is in a class of its own in showing and handling not only the barbarism of its subject matter, but its delicacy, and the sensitivities inherent in covering it at all. As Maguire learned while painting portraits of prisoners in the jails of Ireland, as he did for many years, the sitters stay, he goes home. Narrators of stories of this kind, if they care, have a fear of exploiting grief as they walk the high wire between narrative and voyeurism. For the first time in a report on the feminocidio by foreigners, manipulation is entirely absent from the telling.
This is in part due to the craftsmanship of its visual narration. And it’s in part due to the extraordinary undertaking of the film’s “presenter”, Maguire, who tasked himself to paint (in a way that becomes all-consuming, almost obsessive) portraits of scores of these murdered girls. These portraits he then presented to the girls’ mothers.
Blood Rising was premiered in Dublin last year at a packed screening presented by a mother called Elia Escobedo García whose 29-year-old daughter, Erika, was one of those abducted, tortured and murdered. The Dublin screening was followed by another in Galway at which Elia and the director broke down, leaving the “entire audience in tears”, as McLoughlin recalls. Its UK premiere was at the Soho Curzon last month; soon it will tour Britain, presented by Elia and Bertha Alicia, mother of Brenda Berenice Castillo García.