Guerrero is a southwestern state bordering Oaxaca to the east, Puebla to the northeast, Morelos and Mexico to the north and with Michoacan to the northwest. The state has seven regions-- Acapulco, Zona Centro [center zone], Zona Norte [north zone], Costa Grande [big coast], Costa Chica [small coast], Montaña [mountains] and Tierra Caliente [hot lands]-- and 81 municipalities. Among these municipalities are the state's capital, Chilpancingo, and Acapulco, its most populous city. The population of the state, as of 2015, was about 3.5 million.
Disappearances in Guerrero
According to the Registro Nacional de Personas Desaparecidas y No Localizadas (RNPDNO), between 2009 and 2018, there were 3,061 missing and disappeared persons in Guerrero. The Observatory’s press database contains 120 cases of disappeared victims in Guerrero during this time period. The press reported the highest number of disappearances from 2016 to 2018, a much later peak in cases than in the other three states (the press database specifically excluded articles about the case of the 43 students who disappeared in 2014 in Ayotzinapa in Guerrero, an exceptional case that generated enormous press coverage nationally and internationally.) This three-year time period, 2016-18, accounts for two-thirds (67%) of all disappearances reported by the press in Guerrero during the decade, with a total of 75 victims.
In Guerrero, just over half (53%) of victims reported by the press disappeared in a group and half (47%) disappeared alone. Nearly 8 out of 10 (78%) of victims were male, 2 of 10 (21%) were women, and two victims were identified as transgender.
When the press reported a location of disappearance, nearly a third (31%) of disappearances occurred in places related to the victim (house, workplace, private property) and over a third (38%) occurred or on means and routes of transportation.
Disappearances were reported in 19 of the 81 municipalities in Guerrero. Of cases where municipality was reported, the highest reported disappearances were Chilapa de Alvarez (26%), Chilpancingo de Los Bravo (24%), and Iguala de la Independencia (11%).
Notably, disappearances in Guerrero tend to involve state officials; from 2014 through 2018, Guerrero is reported to have the most disappearances involving the participation of state officials or security officers in the nation.
In Guerrero, the press did not report a suspected perpetrator in 68% of cases. When a perpetrator was reported, 50% were unidentified private actors (not identified as affiliating with a specific criminal organization).
According to the national registry, RNPDNO, the majority of disappearances reported in Guerrero remain unsolved. The press database supports this pattern. According to the press reports, 59% of victims remain disappeared or no outcome was reported. Nearly 4 of 10 (38%) of victims were found deceased and 1 of 10 (11%) victims were found alive. In Guerrero, the press reported a markedly higher number of deaths in disappearance cases compared to the other states.
In response to the cases of enforced disappearance, various grassroot and NGO organizations in Guerrero have stepped up to support families of victims seeking knowledge and justice. Well-known organizations within the state include Centro de Derechos Morenos, El colectivo de desapariciones de Chimalacacingo, and Fundación de Ayuda al Débil Mental. Community members have organized together to form protests, talk with elected officials, form coalitions with other organizations and raise public awareness about enforced disappearances and impunity. In the wake of the disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, local organizations made up of families of the disappeared are credited with popularizing the technique of searching open fields for evidence of new burial sites, a method which is now used to look for graves of the disappeared all over the country.
Ayotzinapa Case: The "43"
A group of about 100 students from Raúl Isidro Burgos Teachers’ College teaching college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, known for its social activism and indigenous roots, took control of various buses to attend a protest. Taking control of buses to go to protests is commonplace and accepted in Guerrero as it fits in with the larger public narrative of civil resistance. The students boarded multiple buses on September 26, 2014. The details of the events that took place that day still remain unclear. However, by the end of the day, six people were killed and 43 students had been forcibly disappeared. They have yet to be found.
Here is a helpful timeline of the case, created by students at Rutgers University. On September 26, 2014, the students from Ayotzinapa were trying to go to Chipancilgo but the roads were blocked so they decided to instead go to Iguala. Their plan in Iguala was to disrupt an event being held by the mayor’s wife before making their way to the protest in Mexico city to commemorate the 1968 student massacre.
At about 9:30 p.m., the students were riding the buses in Iguala when local police in Iguala began to shoot. There is not a consensus as to if all the students were in buses at the time or if some were hitchhiking outside the vehicles. There was a chase where the students kept urging the buses forward as they were being pursued by the police until they reached a patrol car blocking the road. Some of the students tried to lift the patrol car to clear the roadway, but they could not move it and the police opened fire at the students, with three students sustaining injuries and another suffering an asthma attack. Eventually, an ambulance arrived to take those four students to the hospital, leaving the rest of the students with the police.
The 43 students were disappeared in two incidents:
At 9:40 p.m. a group of the students riding in some hijacked buses were stopped by police close to the northern beltway. The police flushed the students out by pumping teargas into the bus. As they disembarked, the police took them into custody. Some students were able to evade capture and hide in the surrounding woods.
At 10:50 p.m. the police rounded up dozens of students hiding in another one of the buses and took them away from the scene in patrol cars.
A third group of students on buses received word of the other attacks and decided to abandon their bus and run into the woods on foot to hide. The contingency of students hiding in the northern beltway began to emerge from their hiding spots at 11:00 p.m. They returned to the scene of the crime to document evidence and try to contact their classmates. Journalists and teachers began to come as well, and they started a spontaneous press conference until multiple vehicles came and they were shot at by three men. Two men were killed and others wounded and the survivors fled into the surrounding area. It is still unclear who exactly shot them.
The first investigation became almost as infamous as the case of disappearance itself: it was an investigation emblematic of the impunity and government collision with organized crime that Mexicans across the country have witnessed in their own lives. Many human rights experts on the world stage accuse the Mexican government of purposeful mismanagement of the investigation.
México’s Attorney General, Jesus Murillo Karam, did not want to use evidence contradictory to his theory, which he called “the historical truth.” The government account is that the 43 students were kidnapped by local police who handed them over to a cartel that incinerated their bodies in a garbage dump. They also refused to acknowledge that higher level government officials were involved in the disappearance.
This version of events has been opposed by international human rights experts who considered it improbable. At first, the government’s invitation to the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) to provide international technical assistance in connection with the Ayotzinapa case demonstrated its desire to be transparent about the investigation of the internationally condemned crime. But, soon, the government would not allow the international investigators to interview anyone from the army present near the scene of the crime. Ultimately, some international experts stated that they prefered leaving the country rather than lending legitimacy to a toothless effort due to the barriers imposed by the government. It was revealed after the fact that the government also used malware to spy on international experts and lawyers for the families.
The United Nations reported that many of the initial witnesses and suspects in the case were subjected to torture. After considering all this information, the three judges of the First Collegiate Tribunal of the 19th Circuit decided to null the previous proceedings and establish a truth-commission to manage a new investigation. This ruling is significant because voiding the initial investigation cannot be appealed by the government. This new investigation is expected to be led by the families of the disappeared, the government’s prosecutors, members of the National Commission for Human Rights and international experts in human rights and forensics. The truth-commision investigation is ongoing and the families and public are yet to receive answers or justice.
This case of enforced disappearance of the 43 was a turning point in the public consciousness about systematic human rights violations in Mexico. The explosion of public outrage manifested itself in large demonstrations throughout México and around the world. This was the first major case to permeate the international consciousness.
Protest in response to disapperance of the 43