The Others Disappeared from Iguala

The search for the 43 missing normalista students continues in Iguala, Guerrero but little new information is known as to their whereabouts. The GIEI (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes) released two reports in December 2015 and April 2016, both which contradicted the Attorney General’s findings in the Ayotzinapa case. Despite the lack of progress in the case of the normalistas, other bodies are still being found in clandestine graves in Guerrero and throughout Mexico.

A team of citizens have been searching the Iguala hills and making grim discoveries on a regular basis. The Facebook page Comité de búsqueda los Otros desaparecidos de Iguala posts updates of the searches.

Somos El Medio recorded an interview in August 2015 with a member of the search team. Their video (Spanish language) is embedded below. The following is the full interview transcribed into English.

My name is Mario Vergara Hernandez, I’m from Huitzuco, Guerrero. My brother, Tomas Vergara Hernandez, is missing since July 5, 2012.

Screenshot: Somos El Medio

Screenshot: Somos El Medio

When the parents of the 43 students found 5 graves with 30 burned bodies, they realized they were not the students because there were women, the students were all males.

That is where we began and went out into the streets. It could be my brother… at best my brother is there.

More than 350 families went out into the streets to say “that could be my family there in those graves.” That was how the group Los Otros Desparecidos de Iguala was formed. We all have 1, 2, 3, up to 4 family members missing.

On November 16, 2014, it was a Sunday, 30 families united in the center of the city of Iguala to go out to look for our families in graves.

Screenshot: Somos El Medio

Screenshot: Somos El Medio

Why did we go look for our families in graves? Because after those 5 graves with 30 bodies, there were rumors that there were many people buried in the mountains of Iguala.

That Sunday, about 30 families and around 40 national and foreign media outlets went to a place called “La Laguna”.. we looked for our family members, we looked for small hints that indicated the possibility that the ground had been disturbed.

But we didn’t have any experience then. We could only listen to what Miguel Blanco Jimenez of the UPOEG advised us (a community activist who was murdered August 2015).

And then we found a divot and we began to dig, to dig with desperation, with much indignity, all we had was a good heart set to do it, because we didn’t know what we would find. We dug like crazy, desperate people, and we found a bone.

Screenshot: Somos El Medio

Screenshot: Somos El Medio

They had told us, “Where you find something, stop.”

And so we found the first bone and the women began to cry. People began to pray. Many began crying, much impotence. We didn’t look more because they told us to not alter the evidence.

We stopped and we marked the area with little flags that we had brought with us.

Screenshot: Somos El Medio

Screenshot: Somos El Medio

That was how we continued looking for our families in graves. I don’t know how many graves we’ve marked. Some graves have bodies and some do not. We called them positive graves and negative graves.

Until now we have recovered 104 bodies with our “technology and foolishness” – we call a post that has a pointed end and a hammer “technology”.

We find a possible grave and we hammer the post into the ground, then we take it out and smell the post. When there is something below, the post comes out with a tremendous odor. But we don’t care if it smells bad, what’s important is there is something below.

Why do we do this? Why do we dig?

Because the unit for missing people from the PGR came and told us “it’s prohibited to dig, you’re going to have problems if you dig”

That’s how our “technology” of the post and hammer was born.

We don’t just use our noses we also use our eyes because we walk in the mountains and look for possible evidence in the ground. Sometimes when the ground has been dug up it’s another color and this is evidence that tells us something could be buried here.

We also look for curbs of earth because when someone digs up the ground and throws a body in then replaces the earth, they don’t always put all the dirt back since the body takes up some room. So we look for mounds of dirt.

We’ve also realized that we presumed that the assistant attorney, Eliana, who is no longer with the PGR always spoke about specialized teams and now I realize they don’t have specialists to look for graves.

We have searched in places where the PGR had already been, the prosecution of the state had already been through there, SEIDO had gone through already, and we recovered 22 bodies around where they had worked.

The other day we returned to climb Tigre mountain because they were working a grave a meter and a half deep with 3 bodies. There were 2 women and one man.

What we find is all bones. I asked the public prosecutor, Benjamin, “Will you give me permission to dig here? Because I feel there is something here.” He told me, “If you want to dig it go ahead but dig it yourself because my team is busy in another grave.”

I said, “Yes, yes I will dig.”

Always the feeling to find… well to find a person. I always say hopefully I will never find my brother in a grave. Hopefully one day my brother will return walking.

And so I grabbed the shovel I needed because the ground was well loosened. But thank god I know how to use the shovel. I started to shovel and with my foot dug in and removed dirt and in 15 minutes I removed an area 1 meter deep and 60 wide of sediment. I found pants. I found clothes.

I called to the anthropologist, “Anthropologist, anthropologist I found something can you come?” She was working and she got up from the grave she was working on and came over and I said, “Look there is something there.”

She looked and saw the pants. And she was pissed off. She said, “Why did you do this? You know you’re not supposed to do this! Who gave you permission? I’m not going to work this grave!”

Well at that time I was a rookie. I said ok and I backed off. I was nervous that I had caused problems. She continued, “You know you shouldn’t dig and if you dig you have to tell me because you can’t do this!”

I was filled with fear but I told her, I asked the public prosecutor for permission.

“Well I’m not bringing that body up because it’s not done like this!”

I felt really awful. I backed away. The public prosecutor that had given me permission had left. I came back in maybe 30 minutes and I was nervous but I asked another anthropologist please check, I dug here and found a body.

And they looked and didn’t say anything. They just shrugged at me.

And then I thought that person who scolded me should be ashamed. They have no professional ethics. They are not missing any family members, it doesn’t matter to them if someone is recovered or not.

To us, yes it matter a great deal because that could be our family buried there.

At the time those words hurt me a lot, but now I thank Ms Adriana. Her words motivated me instead of beating me down. And I said I am going to search and every time I went out searching I was more motivated.

Since finding the 29 bodies that they told me me our search team couldn’t help with, we have recovered 104 bodies and I say thank you to her for her words because instead of discouraging me, they motivated me more.

Somos El Medio accompanies the team when they go out searching to document what they find.

The timeline of the Facebook page Comité de búsqueda los Otros desaparecidos de Iguala is a constant stream of missing people, clandestine graves and recovered bodies. A collective of families of the disappeared in Guerrero which includes the parents of the 43 missing students and other familes recently denounced that “none of the three levels of government (federal, state and municipal) investigate the whereabouts of hundreds of missing citizens.”

“32 bodies and 9 human heads was the final balance from excavations of 20 clandestine graves on a hillside in #Zitlala, #Guerrero”

The Mexican government has admitted there are at least 27,000 people missing in the country and with no government organization doing the job of finding those who are missing, families of the disappeared are left to do this gruesome work themselves.

Follow #FosasClandestinas on twitter for regular updates on clandestine graves in Mexico.

VIDEO: Los otros desaparecidos de Iguala (Primera parte)

Bernardo Torres
Comité de búsqueda los otros desaparecidos de Iguala
Jose Cardenas
Amnesty International

Post originally published December 10, 2015 with new updates

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