Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mexico's foreign ministry pushes Pope Francis's comment that Mexicans live under a reign of terror

Yep, that's what His Holiness thinks, and the Mexican government apparently wants the whole world to know it. So it started a diplomatic row with the Vatican, generating headlines the world over.

It is part of a pattern. This is how the Mexican state reacts to criticisms, especially of the growing fusion between organized crime, on the one hand, and the police, prosecutors and armed forces that supposedly fight organized crime, on the other.

The Mexican government did it last November when Latin America's most admired statesman, Uruguayan President José Mujica, said that, from afar, Mexico looked like a failed state.

The Mexican foreign ministry called in Uruguay's ambassador, demanding a retraction, and thereby creating a diplomatic incident that guaranteed headlines all over the world highlighting what Mujica had said.... and generating a pretty good ditty from  Mexico's leading practitioner of musical journalism, Guillermo Zapata, better known as El Caudillo del Son.

Now they're going after Pope Francis, who said in what was clearly a private email to a friend ("Say hello to your mother and please don't forget to pray for me ...") that he hoped Argentina could avoid "Mexicanization."

"I was talking to some Mexican Bishops and things there are a terror," the pontiff said. ("Estuve hablando con algunos obispos mexicanos y la cosa es de terror.")

The Pope's pal published it on a blog (the fact that the guy is running for Mayor of Buenos Aires may have something to do with it), and once again, Mexico's foreign ministry has taken umbrage, dispatching bullying communiques that, of course, elicited the required formal apology ... and the perfectly foreseeable consequence that hundreds of millions of people are hearing the truth about what has happened to Mexico thanks to its politicians enlisting the country as a soldier in the U.S. "war on drugs."

And they are hearing this truth from perhaps the only living Latin American leader held in even higher regard than Uruguay's philosopher-president: Pope Francis.

In the United States, some call this the Streisand Effect, a term coined by Mike Masnick, editor of Techdirt, when Barbara Streisand's efforts to suppress pictures of her beachfront mansion only drew more attention to them.

Perhaps it should be renamed the Official Mexican Response effect. Almost three weeks ago, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) issued a statement after Mexican Attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam held a press conference to declare the case of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students all-but-officially closed saying there was scientific certainty the students had been killed by drug traffickers (and not -- oh happy coincidence! -- the Mexican government) at the orders of a bad apple mayor.

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, which had been repeatedly citerd by Murillo Karam over the months to bolster the credibility of his office's investigation, explained why they did not share the Attorney General's certainty, including that they had not been present when the (alleged) remains of the students were recovered from a river, that human remains clearly not belonging to the students (a partial denture) had been recovered from the site where the students were allegedly murdered and cremated, and that satellite pictures confirm that major fires had occurred at the site for years before last September's mass kidnapping, so citing evidence of a big fire there as the definitive proof of the cremation story was hardly convincing.

The EAAF is a non-profit scientific organization. It was created three decades ago at the urging of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the movement of relatives of the disappeared during Argentina's "dirty war" from the mid-1970s into the early 1980's, and CONADEP, the official National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons, created after the military dictatorship surrendered power.

It works with experts from all over the world at the service of the families of victims of forced disappearances to investigate  those events and --if possible-- identify the remains.

For three decades they have been the gold standard in forensic anthropology, initially trained by Dr. Eric Snow, who was one of the founders and most respected experts on a world scale in this discipline.

At the insistence of the parents of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher's college who were disappeared  last September, the Mexican government was forced to accept the participation of this team of international experts in the investigation.

And how did the Mexican attorney general's office react to the EAAF statement demurring from its conclusions?

By doubling down on its effort to close the case, saying the EAAF experts weren't independent experts but only part of the official investigation, that the EAAF lacked competence in fields like ballistics and that's why they were excluded from various searches, and that since they had no independent authority, their verification of the chain of custody of the recovered human remains that supposedly had been dumped into a river was of no significance, and so on.

That last point is a good example of the noty just of the mendacity but also the stupidity of the Mexican government. In its statement, the EAAF stuck simply to the facts. But the point they hammered home was that the one and only bone fragment that could be identified on the basis of DNA tests as belonging to a students was unique: it was much larger than any other fragment and had not burned. The EAAF experts told the Aristegui Noticias web site that "it was like if you had a table of bananas... and Alexander [Mora's] sample was an apple."

The expert said no explanation could be ascertained: "Perhaps that part of the body was protected from the fire, for some reason that has not been determined,  but it could have been something else."

Remember, the government's story is the 43 students were murdered and their remains incinerated in a funeral pyre made up of a bed of stones, topped by tires and then firewood. The pyre burned for 15 hours and reached temperatures of 1,600 degrees centigrade, almost 3,000 degrees Farenheit. The day after, the remains of the students were gathered up in six black plastic trash bags and dumped into a river.

But scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico say flat out this is impossible. They calculate that if only tires had been used for the cremation, at least 995 would have been required. If only firewood, some 33 tons. The tires would have left a pool of 2.5 tons of molten metal from the steel belting; ashes from a firewood-only pyre (mixed with bone fragments) would have weighed a third of a ton, about 120 lbs per plastic garbage bag.

"The hypothesis that [the students] were cremated at the Cocula dump can find no support in natural physical or chemical events," said Dr. Jorge Montomayor, one of the scientists.

Not to mention the practical difficulties, like finding someone to get you tons of firewood and hundreds of tires on a rainy Friday night in Mexico and deliver them miles from the nearest paved road down a dirt track to the top of a ravine in such a way as to create a funeral pyre 50 yards down from there to the bottom of an incline of up to 40 degrees.

And then having perhaps eight, ten or 12 guys transport 43 students to the top of the ravine, executing them, and then throwing their bodies onto the funeral pyre at the bottom without leaving as much as a trace of evidence susceptible to DNA testing ... apart from one (1) bone fragment supposedly found miles away from there in a garbage bag in a river.

But ignoring all that, and granting that what happened is what the government claims, the obvious, blatant suspicion that needs to be refuted about this one bone fragment is that it was planted. That is why the EAAF insists on saying they do not vouch for its discovery or handling. They're saying,  "Why, look at that! Such a nice elephant, and in this room, what an astonishing coincidence...."

The response of the government could and should have been to show the video recordings and photographs of the discovery and opening of the bag containing this bone fragment. The government has already shown bits and pieces of recordings and some photographs of this search. The ONLY way for there to be no recordings of photographs of the key moments in the discovery of this evidence is for the camera operators to have been ordered not to shoot ... or for the records to have been erased or made to disappear.

So what is really galling is that the government doesn't even pretend to present a convincing case.  They are telling the parents, and the world: "Sure, we killed the students. So what?"

A few days after the EAAF statement, the Mexican authorities were at it again. They refused to let the commission in charge of overseeing implementation of the U.N treaty on forced disappearances take up specific cases like that of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, but nevertheless, the Committee's statement on the Mexican government's failure to live up to its treaty obligations was scathing.

The U.N. body noted that Mexico hadn't even complied with the most simple, initial step: creating a master list of all persons reported as disappeared. The Mexican government had said that since December 2006, there had been 23,000 plus disappearances, some 10,000, give or take, under the current administration that took office at the end of 2012.

Again, the government --this time represented jointly by the Attorney General and Ministry of  Foreign Relations-- responded as the aggrieved party, How could the U.N. say something as nasty as that we don't even know how many disappeared there are?

Just think about the pattern. Latin America's most revered statesman. The Pope. The leading experts on a world scale in forensic anthropology. The U.S. commission set up by the treaty against disappearances --which Mexico has ratified-- to help countries live up to treaty obligations.