It was the State: The Forced Disappearance at Ayotzinapa and US Support for Narco States


On September 26, 2014, forty three students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Ayotzinapa Normal School in Iguala, Guerrero in were forcibly disappeared on their way to a protest in Mexico City. Their whereabouts remain unknown. The investigations into their disappearance drew intense scrutiny to the close ties between brutal drug trafficking organizations and the Mexican state. The search for the bodies of the 43, or any trace of them, turned up the bodies of many other people, often in mass graves, who have been casualties of the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico in the years since 2007, when major US counter-narcotics support to the Mexican military began through Plan Merida. Outrage about the disappearance of the 43 students sparked a massive surge in popular protest across Mexico more powerful and intense than any since 2007.


In the intervening year, it has become clear that the official version of the Ayotzinapa disappearance story is riddled with falsehoods and inconsistencies. A recent non-governmental report implicates all levels of the state apparatus in the disappearance:

The International Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) just released a report on their investigation of the case. During [a recent] press conference, they announced findings that significantly challenge the Mexican government’s story. For example, they found that the Mexican government ignored mountains of evidence that contradicted their account and implicated the coordinated involvement of many levels of Mexican security forces, not just local police. Moreover, the burning of the bodies in Cocula as described would have been physically impossible. The amount of heat required to burn the bodies in an open garbage dump in the amount of time available would have been unfeasibly large, and the traces of this burning along with the fuel required should have been readily apparent to investigators, but there were no such traces. The methods used during the PGR’s* forensic investigation have been criticized for failing to respect international forensics standards and failing to use scientific rigor. And in fact, it was revealed . . . that the “forensic scientists” appointed by the PGR were not qualified to do rigorous forensic science in the first place; the study was performed by an electrical engineer and a civil engineer.

But we have more than circumstantial reasons to suspect the involvement of the administration. The witness testimonies that the government accepted as true contradicted each other and contradicted the physical evidence, some of which was withheld until months after the official report, and it appears that the government extracted testimonies that were friendly to the official version through the use of torture. What’s more, they ignored the most important witnesses: the surviving normalista students themselves. And following their testimonies, which is corroborated by other key pieces of evidence, the federal and state police and the military were also indisputably involved in the attack.

Finding some level of communication between these groups was not difficult for the GIEI, since there is already a system in place that records such communications. The military and the different levels of police in Mexico use a network called C-4 to coordinate their activities, and the GIEI obtained records from the C-4 in Iguala through the National Transparency Law. . .

The C-4 records make it clear that the military and all levels of the police in the area were actively tracking the normalista students that night, and all groups were aware of the attacks on the students by local police, but none of them intervened, nor made any objections or signaled any intentions to intervene in the communications between them. The C-4 records made during and immediately before the attacks – that is, precisely those records that could act as the smoking gun indicating that the attacks were centrally commanded by the military or federal police – are unavailable because they have been censored by the government.

All of this suggests that the attacks were not the spontaneous, overzealous reaction of police officers to unruly students commandeering buses. Rather, the attacks were coordinated, and almost certainly commanded from above with some level of direction or at least approval from state, federal, and military agents.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that over 100,000 people have been killed and at least 30,000 disappeared as a result of the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico. Yet no serious reform of any kind has been enacted, and the massacres and disappearances continue unabated. The narco-state is completely unmasked, and there seems to be no force capable of, or willing to, change it. (1)


On January 6, “at least 16 protesters and members of community police forces were killed by federal forces in the State of Michoacán, most in cold blood. That very same day, [Enrique] Peña Nieto [Mexico’s President] was in Washington meeting with his “friend” President Barack Obama, who took advantage of the occasion to ratify the US government’s blind support for the corrupt and repressive Mexican government. ‘Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico,’ he said.” (2)


Closer to home, the uprisings against police brutality in Ferguson and Baltimore have drawn attention to discriminatory policing and corruption in the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement is exposing and fighting against systemic racism and repression that serves purposes similar to state repression in Mexico and Central America.


Guatemala’s largest protest movement since the end of the civil war has won the resignation of and criminal charges for President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti, whose militarization strategy for the ‘war on drugs’ made him a close partner to the US, despite his personal involvement in planning and executing the genocidal counter-insurgency of 1981-83. In El Salvador, a major movement against corruption has also emerged. During the Spring and Summer of 2015, Honduras has seen massive protests against the corrupt regime that came to power through a military coup in 2009 that the US supported. (3)


Experts on Mexico and Central America and human rights advocates have for years advocated demilitarization of the ‘war on drugs,’ and an end to US military and policing counter-narcotics support for regimes with ties to cartels and records of human rights abuses. Yet, US policy remains unchanged: US arms continue to flow into the region, and corruption and human rights abuses by the governments of Mexico and Central America are of little concern to US policy makers. (4) Here is the US, police continue to kill poor people, especially people of color, with impunity. There are connections between the realities of police impunity in Central America, Mexico, and the US, that we ought to try to understand moe clearly.


*The PGR is an institution in Mexico similar to the US Office of the Attorney General


1) Stephan Norman, “What Happened in Iguala?” Mask Magazine, September 2015, <;

2) John M. Ackerman, “The Consolidation of the Mexican Narco-State,” Latino Rebels, August 17 2015, <;

3) Greg Grandin, “Popular Protests are Spreading Across Central America, and Washington Is Getting Nervous,” The Nation, July 7 2015, <;

4)The Mesoamerican Working Group, “Rethinking the Drug War in Central America and Mexico,” CIP Americas, January 21 2014, <;

Nicholas Greven is a Latin American Studies student at IU Bloomington. He is from Ogilville, Indiana. He is interested in radical social struggle, the ‘war on drugs’, and US military intervention.


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