New Details of Mexico’s ‘Dirty War’

Times Staff Writer

The Mexican government and military committed “crimes against humanity” through a “scorched-earth” campaign against rural guerrillas in the 1970s, according to a draft report released Sunday of the first official investigation into Mexico’s “dirty war” against leftist rebels and activists.

The investigation by the country’s “Special Prosecutor for Social and Political Movements of the Past” was commissioned by President Vicente Fox about a year after his election in 2000 ended decades of one-party dominance here. The Washington-based National Security Archive published the leaked draft Sunday on its website.

“The authoritarian attitude with which the Mexican state wished to control social dissent created a spiral of violence which ... led it to commit crimes against humanity, including genocide,” the draft report says.


The alleged crimes outlined in the report were committed from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s under three Mexican presidents. The special prosecutor, Ignacio Carrillo Prieto, received the report from a team of 27 researchers in December.

Military and security forces executed or “disappeared” hundreds of Mexican civilians and “armed militants,” the report says. Thousands more were tortured or illegally detained.

The extensive documentation contained in the report -- including records from the Mexican military, police and Interior Ministry -- is “absolutely unprecedented,” said Kate Doyle, director of the Mexico Project for the National Security Archive.

The report details “death flights” from military bases in Acapulco and other places, in which the bodies of dozens of detained leftist activists and guerrillas were surreptitiously dumped into the Pacific Ocean.

The report also documents a Mexican army campaign to deny food to residents of areas in the southern state of Guerrero where guerrillas were operating. These and other abuses, the report says, amounted to genocide as defined by international law.

Doyle said her nonprofit group published the report because copies had been circulating among writers, historians and intellectuals in Mexico.


“The way that this has leaked out into the hands of a few people has echoes of an old style of doing things in Mexico,” Doyle said.

Sources in the human rights advocacy community said they feared that prosecutor Carrillo was delaying publication of the report because of pressure from the army to censor the findings.

Carrillo has been frustrated in his attempts to prosecute a number of high-profile officials, including former President Luis Echeverria, who was interior minister during the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre of student protesters.

On Sunday, as word of the leak spread, some victims’ relatives were critical of the special prosecutor.

“It’s sad, but since the prosecutor’s office was established, there have been no results, no one has been sentenced,” said Roberto Gonzalez Contreras, 60, whose brother Alfredo disappeared during a 1971 Mexico City student demonstration.

“What we reproach the special prosecutor for is his lack of fight, his unwillingness to struggle to the end,” he said.

Carrillo’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

Many of the accusations in the report have been made before, as human rights groups here try to piece together what happened during Mexico’s so-called dirty war -- an episode far less well known than the repression that occurred elsewhere in Latin America.

Before the release of the special prosecutor’s draft report, there had been no official reckoning of the events in the late 1960s and 1970s when the government fought leftist guerrillas.

The report’s authors listed hundreds of police documents and witness accounts that they said showed hundreds of “disappeared” people had died in police and military custody.

The report also offered new detail on the Mexican army’s counter-insurgency in Guerrero, where teacher Genaro Vazquez had launched a Marxist guerrilla movement in the late 1960s.

The Mexican army, the report says, “devastated the region, committed a true genocide, killing them with hunger, bombing the area, illegally taking prisoner hundreds of residents to create panic.”

The report says the army engaged in “pillage” of some villages and describes how soldiers entered Los Piloncillos, rounded up six men and executed them in the center of town.

“The investigative methods consisted of submitting the detained to torture so that they would identify the people who were linked, in any way, with the guerrillas,” the report said. “The torture was so savage and widespread that many had their ‘will broken’ and collaborated with the army.”

Some relatives of the disappeared said Sunday that knowing the truth of what happened a generation ago would not be enough.

“We’re sure that very soon the special prosecutor will disappear because he didn’t do anything, it was all just a scam,” said Teresa Torres Vargas, who lost a son at the Tlatelolco massacre. “What we’re hoping for now is that the case files aren’t lost and that one day the guilty are punished.”


Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.