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Mexico’s Missing: 100,000+ Cases Unsolved as Leaked Military Docs Shed New Light on Ayotzinapa 43

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As news of missing Americans in Mexico dominates headlines, tens of thousands of Mexicans remain missing in cases that have gone unsolved — some of them for decades. This includes the 2014 case of 43 young men from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college who were attacked and forcibly disappeared. Senior analyst at the National Security Archive Kate Doyle joins us with new details about what happened in Ayotzinapa, drawn from the 4 million emails and records stolen from the Mexican Defense Ministry by an anonymous collective of hackers known as “Guacamaya.” Doyle co-produced the After Ayotzinapa podcast with Reveal as part of the NSA’s ongoing work on this case.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. As news of Americans kidnapped in Mexico is making headlines, we look at a story that’s received less attention: the tens of thousands of Mexicans who remain missing in Mexico.

Recently, four Americans who traveled to Matamoros, Mexico — one for plastic surgery — were attacked. Two were killed, two others held captive for days, one shot repeatedly, before they were rescued. Then, there were three Latina women from a Texas border town who went over the border. They’ve been missing since February, after traveling to a flea market in Montemorelos, Mexico.

But, meanwhile, tens of thousands of Mexicans remain missing in cases that have gone unsolved, some of them for decades. This includes the 2014 case we’ve followed closely of 43 young men from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college who were attacked and forcibly disappeared.

We go now to Guatemala City, where we’re joined by Kate Doyle, senior analyst at the National Security Archives, who has new details of what happened, that are drawn from the Ayotzinapa records in the 4 million emails and records stolen from the Mexican Defense Ministry by an anonymous collective of hackers known as “Guacamaya.” They just released a new report, and she also co-produced the After Ayotzinapa podcast with Reveal as part of the archive’s ongoing work on this case.

Kate, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what you have found with what happened to these young men, the Ayotzinapa 43? And talk about this in the context of when Americans pay attention and when they don’t.

KATE DOYLE: Sure, Amy. Thanks and good morning to both you and Juan.

The Guacamaya Leaks document set from the Mexican military has records, as far as we’ve seen so far — we’ve really just only begun to look at them — that go back as early as 2006 to show the level of hostility towards and surveillance of the Ayotzinapa school, where the 43 students who were disappeared in 2014 attended.

In the context of the case of the Americans who were killed and the others that were missing, and the over 100,000 Mexicans who are missing and disappeared, as you mentioned at the top, the Ayotzinapa case is a kind of paradigmatic example, if you will, of, or stands in, if you will, for all of the thousands of missing Mexicans, in that it shows the tremendous impunity that still dominates these cases of disappeared, which are not solved. The people are not found, and nobody is punished.

So, the Guacamaya Leaks documents really confirm suspicions that people had about the military, the Mexican military’s efforts to both cover up what happened, shield itself from any kind of public scrutiny about its own role in Iguala the night the boys were disappeared, the town in Guerrero where they went missing, and to conduct surveillance and spy on the school, the students, their parents, and the human rights organizations that represent them legally, going back almost a decade. And I can talk about specific documents, but, overall, that’s the kind of things that we’re finding.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, Kate, could you talk specifically in terms of how they sought to discredit the parents and the lawyers and even the U.N. commission after the disappearances?

KATE DOYLE: Sure, Juan. I mean, when you look back at 2006, this intelligence report that we found that shows the intensity of the scrutiny that the military was doing on the school itself, the spying, clearly the school was infiltrated, and they used a kind of language of counterinsurgency to describe the students and the school, calling it a breeding ground for subversion.

Then you look at more recent documents, one, for example, another intelligence report from as recent as 2020, that discusses criminal activities in Iguala, the same town, and compares them and conflates them, really, with the social movements that have been started by the parents and the organizations that support them. And in this particular document I’m thinking of, you see kind of parallel strategies in the way the military talks about organized criminal leaders and leaders in the parents’ movement to demand answers for the disappearance of their own sons, who were taken away by police officials in police uniforms in the backs of police trucks and never seen again. So, it’s kind of an extraordinary example of the sort of allision between the way the military views criminals as a kind of conflictive element in Mexico and the way the military views social activists and leaders and parents of missing boys. And it’s a really disturbing tell on how the Defense Ministry considers these parents.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip of Mexico’s former Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. In a 2015 interview, he responded to accusations the Mexican military was involved in the disappearance of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa.

SALVADOR CIENFUEGOS ZEPEDA: [translated] I can’t permit my soldiers to be treated like criminals or to be interrogated so that they are later made to feel that they had something to do with the night of Iguala, instead of being supported.

AMY GOODMAN: Kate Doyle, can you respond?

KATE DOYLE: Sure. That’s so of a piece with how the military has tried to shield itself, really from the beginning of this case, from any kind of investigative body, any kind of scrutiny. Cienfuegos, then-defense minister, yes, refused to allow investigators to interview anybody in his — in the defense institution, including the soldiers who make up what’s known as the 27th Military Infantry Battalion, which has its base in Iguala. And the same soldiers were moving around Iguala the entire night, while these students were being shot at with machine guns, while these students were being beaten. Some of them were wounded, some of them were killed, and then 43 of them were taken away in the backs of the trucks. The soldiers never intervened to stop that. And Salvador Cienfuegos, the defense minister, never permitted the investigators to interview them.

There were other ways in which, Amy, the military sought to shield itself. For example, one of the documents that is in this collection that we posted from Guacamaya shows that when the parents and their lawyers suggested that they should be able to enter the base, the 27th Battalion’s base in Iguala, to see if there’s any evidence there, to possibly conduct excavations or exhumations to see if they could find remains, there are internal memos to the same defense secretary, Cienfuegos, recommending that any detention cells that may be on the base be dismantled and removed, and that soldiers or the commander of the base explicitly refuse to allow the investigators to excavate or dig up the ground of the base.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Kate Doyle, for being with us, senior analyst at the National Security Archive. We’re going to link to your report at democracynow.org. Kate was speaking to us actually from Guatemala City in Guatemala.

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Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Sonyi Lopez. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. Make sure to tune in to our segments through the week leading up to the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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