Mexico admits role in 1970s ‘dirty war’ disappearance of singer


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REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s government formally admitted responsibility Thursday for the 1974 disappearance of a protest singer during the country’s “dirty war” against left-wing guerrillas.

Rosendo Radilla Pacheco, 25, who wrote ballads in support of the rural social movement, disappeared after being detained by soldiers in the western state of Guerrero on Aug. 25, 1974. His disappearance was long seen as an emblem of the iron-handedness of Mexico’s government during the 1960s and 1970s, when it was ruled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.


The Radilla case made its way to the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which in 2009 determined that Radilla had been held by the army for weeks after his detention. Radilla’s family never heard from him again. The court ordered Mexico to compensate his relatives and publicly acknowledge its responsibility.

On Thursday, Mexican officials did just that.

In a ceremony in Atoyac de Alvarez, the Guerrero town where Radilla disappeared, Acting Interior Minister Juan Marcos Gutierrez Gonzalez declared plainly that the government had violated the singer’s rights at a time when abuses were widespread.

“Rosendo Radilla Pacheco was a victim of forced disappearance during a sad period in our country, known as the ‘dirty war’ of the 1970s, in which the government made use of all means at its disposal to silence voices calling for justice, freedom and democracy,” Gutierrez said.

“It was a time in which the government censored dissident ideas, in which, besides poverty, people also suffered the arbitrary acts and abuses of an authoritarian government.”

Gutierrez said Radilla acted “with great commitment” in trying to help coffee growers and farm workers better their lives.

It bears noting that Gutierrez represents a government ruled by the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, which faces a serious challenge next year from the surging PRI. The PRI was booted in 2000 after seven decades in power.


The Radilla event was to have been led earlier this week by Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora and his deputy for legal affairs and human rights, Felipe Zamora Castro. The two officials and six other people were killed last week in a helicopter crash outside Mexico City.


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-- Ken Ellingwood